I’ve been thinking about what I was taught as a child lately. My parents raised my siblings and me to be good people. We were taught right from wrong. We learned how to take care of ourselves in a basic sense. What I realized is that I never learned how to set boundaries with other people as a child. I’m sure many people as children are told to do as they’re told and that their opinions don’t matter because they are children. To be clear, children do not have the decision-making capabilities that adults possess. I think when the message isn’t nuanced, kids can absorb that what they want and need on the whole doesn’t matter. 

Have you ever played a game of telephone? By the time the message is whispered to the last person in the line, the message has changed and its original meaning is lost. I think this is what happened to me as a child when it came to my trying to communicate with my parents when I was uncomfortable in a situation. I would point out that someone or something made me feel a certain way that wasn’t positive. Whenever I would go to my parents with how I was feeling and wanting them to fix it, I was greeted with what I now know was a tired and pained tone of voice. They were already aware of what I was bringing up. They knew Uncle Bob wasn’t engaging with me because of depression and they knew other relatives were prone to handling stress in ways that could come off as hurtful to a child who didn’t have the context to understand what was happening. I think I was shushed then because having to think about one more uncomfortable or painful instance wasn’t something they felt they could handle with the other stress they were already managing. What I didn’t understand at the time was that they weren’t trying to shut down my discomfort as much as they just didn’t have the bandwidth to explain and soothe what I was bringing to their attention. Growing up parents seem bigger than life, almost like superheroes. They seem like they’ve always been adults with life figured out and have all the right answers. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that while my parents are people I admire greatly, they are only human. What got lost in our game of telephone was what they were trying to communicate. There was nothing they could do to change entrenched dynamics and I heard how I felt about the dynamics didn’t matter. I heard that pointing out what is hurting me was a problem. I took that lesson and that continued to be my internal narrative for years. I would shove down anything I was feeling and leave conflict bubbling inside of me, unresolved. 

It was only as I started spending more time in therapy in my early twenties that I started to understand that to be clear is to be kind. Humans aren’t mind readers and part of being an adult is taking responsibility and accountability for how I feel. It’s up to me to communicate my needs to those around me and have boundaries so that I’m a healthy individual. For a while, I thought boundaries were meant to keep other people out of areas that I wanted to keep private. I understand now that boundaries are meant to keep me in places where I belong and keep me out of places I don’t need to be. Worrying about how other people lead their lives when it doesn’t impact me isn’t helpful. I need to be concerned with what I can control. I can control going to sleep on time every night, not eating my emotions, and improving my job skills. If someone needs help or I can render aid in a given situation, then that’s all well and good. Before doing so, however, I need to be sure I have permission to help and that what I’m doing is actually what the person actually wants and needs. While it is distressing to see people you care about making choices that harm themselves, it’s also not my life to live. I have a pile of challenges on my side of the road to tend to at any given moment. When my boundaries start slipping, I have found that often I am unsatisfied with something in my own life and the energy is better refocused trying to understand why I’m projecting outwards onto someone else. 

If the reader of this post is struggling with boundaries, I would say that I know the work involved in building the boundaries you want can be hard and tiring. I would also say you’re worth being well and having what you need to be grounded and at peace. 


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