This is Where I Draw the Line

With boundaries, this is where I draw the line. In general, I am patient and willing to work with people to find a reasonable solution. While I can be accommodating, I am not a pushover. There is a point at which I draw the line.

That’s the definition of a boundary–the point at which you draw the line. Living a calm, peaceful life requires good boundaries. Making decisions becomes easier once boundaries are well-defined. Children behave better when authority figures maintain and reinforce consistent boundaries. I’ll go so far as to say strong boundaries are critical to thriving.

Knowing or believing this doesn’t mean it’s always easy to draw a line and stick with it. There are enormous social pressures that can erode our resolve. There’s the fear that our parents or children will no longer accept us when we require them to respect a new perimeter. There are concerns that we will be ostracized by co-workers or disparaged on social media. And those things can happen. But when you are true to yourself and set well-thought, well-reasoned boundaries designed to create a positive, healthy environment in order to take care of yourself, it will improve your life. Period.

That will remain true even if a particular family member abandons you. If that happens, it is likely that you do not have a healthy relationship with that person now. Having to face that reality brings an opportunity to redefine your interactions or move on without guilt.

If a group chooses to ostracize you when you intentionally take care of yourself, that group does not have your best interest at heart. It may be time to reflect on the quality of your work in such an environment. Are you able to do your best? If not, it may be time for a change.

Your life will be enhanced by limiting contact with negative forces on social media in favor of positive experiences in person.

On Gluten-Free Labeled Foods
If I have experienced more than one dermatitis herpetiformis rash from a specific food that is labeled gluten-free, I do not eat it again whether or not it is recalled.

The great thing is, you don’t have to begin with terrifying boundaries to improve your life. You can build courage and strength by being true to yourself in everyday situations. I practice such boundaries daily. In fact, this is where I draw the line…

I do not eat anything a company labels gluten-free if that company has frequent recalls or more than one gluten-free product that triggers an autoimmune response.

For Restaurants
I will try any restaurant. If I encounter repeated errors in my orders, an eye roll if I ask for a new salad instead of one off which the croutons were removed, resistance in accommodating my shrimp allergy, a language barrier so great I do not believe I can communicate my dietary limits, an adverse response from a seemingly accommodating kitchen, or a refusal to make any necessary substitutions, I no longer patronize that restaurant regularly and may choose to stay away altogether.

I also stay away if the food is not enjoyable or is both mediocre and expensive.

With Physicians
If a physician will not willingly release my records to me, I will end our relationship.

If the office staff is consistently difficult, rude, and/or incompetent, I will move to another clinic.

If the doctor consistently does not listen and/or is not willing to discuss possible treatment plans, I will move on to another physician who includes me as part of the team. While Patient and Family Centered Care is the goal of many healthcare providers, it is not uncommon for a doctor to fail to include the patient’s input when forming a treatment plan.

If I discover a physician has lied to me regarding test results, we are done.

If a doctor diagnoses the cause of recurring pneumonia as something all-in-my-head, I will find a doctor who is willing to test that theory with an actual regimen of diagnostic tests.

Unfortunately, I have had each experience listed here. I no longer trust that the doctor is always right so drawing a line to improve my health and safety is not difficult.

For Vendors
I will not use a vendor’s service more than once if he raises the price on a quoted job after the job is done even though no changes were made on my end (including deadline). If he honors the quote, but informs me that he erred and cannot do that or a similar job for the same price again, then I will happily send him additional business.

If a vendor misses a critical deadline without giving me a heads up, we are most likely done. I understand that problems arise, but rarely is it impossible to communicate that problem.

When a company deliberately or repeatedly misrepresents product quality, specifications, or safety, I will think and research carefully before choosing any item from its product line.

With Family and Friends
I hope for straightforward, genuine interactions. I am willing to give wide berth when I recognize someone is under duress. I will let temporary lapses or inadvertent mistakes and bad decisions slide unless and until a pattern emerges that is violent, destructive, toxic, or otherwise harmful to me or to children who cannot defend themselves. That is where I draw the line.

A Deal is a Deal
There are times when I cannot consciously explain in the moment why the line is where it is because it is not an intellectual decision. It is visceral.

I once sold a gas kitchen range because I was about to move to another state. The range worked the morning that the buyer unhooked it and hauled it away. The next day, the guy showed up at my door and told me I had sold him a broken stove.

I was in my early 20s and home with only my grandmother and infant son. I did not open my screen door, but I remember talking to him through it as though it were made of steel.

I calmly, but strongly assured him it had worked prior to him moving it. There was a prolonged conversation in which he argued the opposite and I did not budge. Finally, he left.

After he drove away, my grandmother looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you had that in you. I would never cross you after hearing that!”

I don’t remember feeling angry. I just stood there thinking I knew I had done nothing wrong and there was no way some stranger was going to convince me I had. I suppose you could call it the courage of conviction. I’m not sure. I just know there’s a point beyond which you cannot push me. Period.

And that is where I draw the line.

Beer Goggles vs Fear Goggles

Beer goggles vs fear goggles – which are worse? Fear fascinates me. I see its effects in my choices. I feel it intensely at the most unexpected moments. I feel its power over my interactions with those who are afraid. I’ve seen fear prevent compassionate parenting, business success, relationship longevity, personal satisfaction, creative achievement, and informed healthcare choices, not to mention joy, peace, and happiness.

fear
Fear Goggles

I don’t think much about beer, but I have spent many an afternoon at happy hour trying to alleviate the deep feeling of restlessness I carried with me for the much of my life. My friends and I spent a lot of money on expensive wine. We formed bonds with our favorite bartenders. We talked too loud, cussed too much, and went home too late. A lot of it was fun and sometimes it momentarily colored how I saw things.
beer
Beer Goggles

So, which leaves you worse for the wear – beer or fear?
-Both can affect how you perceive the situation around you.
-Both can keep you from exercising good judgement.
-Both can hold you back at work.
-Both can create strife within your family.
-Both can cause you embarrassment.
-Both make some people aggressive and obnoxious.
-Both make some people withdrawn and sullen.
-Both can make you physically ill.
-Both can leave you feeling exhausted.
-Both can cause you to drive erratically.
-Both can wreak havoc on your finances.
-Both can result in ill-advised liaisons.
-Both can cause you to feel shame.
-Both can create a monster boss, husband, wife, or teen.
-Both can lead to a betrayal of trust.
-Both can cause you to neglect your responsibilities.
-Both can be toxic.
-Both come with interesting labels.
-A little of either can have a positive effect.
-Enough of either can paralyze you.
-Either can bring you to destroy your life.

The biggest difference I can see is that beer is an option and fear is unavoidable.

In fact, it is precisely this difference that makes it critical for us to be aware of, and have a strategy for handling, our fear. If we do not, it can easily spiral out of control or leave us feeling numb. Left unattended, fear can sap our strength, our power, our resolve, and our joy as fast as any addiction leading us to make unhealthy choices or preventing us from making healthy ones.

Embraced, fear offers us a mechanism for both protection and improvement. It signals to let us know where our boundaries are. We then have a choice to honor that boundary or risk changing it. Of course this happens very quickly and often at a subconscious level. Allowing ourselves to fully experience fear with the confidence that it will dissipate rather than overwhelm can turn our lives in a whole new direction.

If you have ever been forced to live with, or in, fear, please know that you deserve to feel safe, secure, loved, valued, important, and supported. You are not damaged beyond repair. You have simply suffered wounds that will take time and care to heal. You are worth the effort!

Here are some of my favorite resources to assist you along the way:

http://www.traumahealing.org/

http://rhondabritten.com/

http://www.havetherelationshipyouwant.com/confidence/

http://brenebrown.com/books/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Can you stop just existing and thrive? You can, and you are worth it.

Can you stop just existing and thrive? You can, and you are worth it, but you may not be living that way because you may not believe it way down deep. Why do so many of us feel so bad about ourselves?

In this age of headlines and 24/7 talking heads we lunge from crisis to crisis. Our culture is swept up in rivers of bad news, glaring failures, dissatisfaction, and united finger pointing at whomever we can identify as a potential villain. NFL players have taken the stage this week led by Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.

What has resulted is a narrow focus on the behavior of professional athletes. Not even women’s rights advocates have suggested that all professions should purge their halls of those who physically assault their partners or children. Why is the NFL special? Let’s purge elementary schools, colleges, newsrooms, courts, churches, investment firms, manufacturing facilities, the trucking industry, pipe fitters, doctor’s offices and mental health facilities as well. If we don’t, what point are we making?

And that’s my point. Most of the time, it feels like we’re just finger pointing and creating a villain of the moment – someone who can make us feel better about ourselves while we contrast our public behavior from theirs. What we sometimes forget is that most of the violent incidents we see aired were not believed to be public. They were private moments. We know this and if we’re willing to tell ourselves the truth, we know that we would not look good if our most vile or shameful moments were plastered on a TV screen.

All of us have erred. All of us feel shame. In this commonality of human experience we can find compassion, empathy, and healing or we can find condemnation, comparison, and hate – peacefulness or warmongering.

The problem with focusing our energy on the condemnation of other people in order to make ourselves feel better, or momentarily superior, is that this behavior systematically prevents our own improvement. As we elevate ourselves in contrast with others, we become less and less willing to admit when we have erred in a similar manner for fear that an astute observer may remember our prior condemnation of this behavior and hold us accountable. We will go to great lengths to support our fantasy that we not like those we vilify.

As we feel the internal conflict inherently created by trying to live a fantasy, we are forced to disassociate from our authentic feelings and real truth. Until we reconnect with these, we simply cannot live fully. We will be able to make superficial change, but our inner turmoil will remain. We will never thrive.

Unfortunately, many of us are products of family systems that denied our reality. We had mothers who failed to report our injuries from our father’s physical violence, or fathers who failed to acknowledge the real danger we experienced when our mother passed out and almost burned the house down with us in it. Of course there are millions of versions of this story. The point is that when our family systems normalize this behavior while simultaneously requiring us to hide it, we are trained early on to deny the truth of our experience.

With a cultural bias toward public condemnation and universal opportunities presented by social media to anonymously criticize, it can feel daunting to embrace your truth, especially when it doesn’t match up with social convention. So many of us develop a habit of selling ourselves short.

If we grew up as targets of abusers, we may carry this a step further. The scenario goes something like this: deny our truth, sell ourselves short, blame someone else for holding us back, feel angry, release that anger in inappropriate ways or use it as a defense that prevents us from receiving love and support, suffer the consequences of our behavior or perceived lack of support and continue to make choices that cause us to feel like a victim. Victims do not recognize their power. If they did, they would not choose to continue to live like victims.

If you are existing rather than thriving, we support your desire for change! No matter who you are or what you have done, you deserve appreciation and love. We cry with you as you grieve your losses. We accept your less than perfect behavior even when we can’t condone it. We understand that when we tell ourselves the truth, you are the same as we are and given similar circumstances we are capable of making the same choice you have made.

Forget what you think you “should” do. We encourage you to do at least one thing each day that makes you feel free, safe, happy, light, or content. We also encourage you to allow yourself to feel your anger, fear, sadness, and longing in order to begin the process of letting it go. You do not need permission or approval to embrace the unique gifts and journey you have been given. They are your birthright.

It does not matter how many times you have been told you are worthless. Repetition does not make it true. Whoever told you that was lying to you to make you believe you are powerless. It does not matter how much time you’ve spent alone because a parent did not nurture you. You deserve love, attention, and affection and there are people who will show you love when you find the courage to let down your defenses. You are not valuable because of what you achieve or what you own. You are valuable because you are here. Let your legacy be how fully you live. If your energy is consumed by attaining material wealth at the sacrifice of your relationships or your health, you are living a life limited by material possessions. Such an existence may appear full from the outside, but you know the hollowness inside the facade.

The path to thriving is not all easy, but it is all worth it. No matter where you began or what you have endured, today begins with a choice. You can choose to live your truth or you can be confined by someone else’s. Can you stop just existing and thrive? Yes you can, and you deserve it. The truth you choose will determine whether you exist or whether you thrive.

Epilogue:
When you need a bit of inspiration, check out the stories of these survivors of violence, neglect, and abuse who have found a way to move past horrific events in order to thrive. Know someone else inspiring? Share with us in the comments below.

ESmart
Elizabeth Smart
IVanzant
Iyanla Vanzant
PConroy
Pat Conroy

JWalls
Jeanette Walls

OWinfrey
Oprah Winfrey
BClinton
Bill Clinton

RBritten
Rhonda Britten

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Inspiring Lessons of Connection from Parents with Critically Ill Children

The past few days, I’ve had a chance to see both the best and worst of humanity. The stark contrast presented by a unique week of interaction has me pondering the importance of connection, personal power, fear, and our contributions to our own misery.

Okay, admittedly that’s a lot of territory so, for now, let’s look at the best and see if there’s anything we can learn that will help us improve the quality of our lives so that our families can thrive.

My week started with a photo shoot of several families who have children that are critically ill, injured, or have recently received a transplant. As I asked each family if they were having a good day, I received varied answers. One family’s son had just had his chest tubes removed after his third open-heart surgery. He is three. The mom told me that she was grateful to have learned it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. When you are told your child may die, it only matters who you are and what’s in your heart. A family that had arrived in town because the mom went into labor on an airplane and we had the closest airport, moved carefully because of her recent Caesarian. Her new daughter is still in NICU, she is having to shower in a communal bathroom, and her husband has been unable to start his new job. She calmly instructed her 3-year-old son who has to wear his blue sweater several days per week because there’s been no chance to locate other clothes. She wasn’t much for talking; her quiet smile said it all. One young mom wrestled her 4-month-old son who recently had a heart transplant. He has gorgeous red hair, a feeding tube, a mask over his face, and he cries incessantly. He was frightened by the photographer’s strobes. As he wriggled and screamed, his young mom remained relaxed and gentle with him. Her unflappable serenity shines through in the photos.

All day long, I kept expecting to see people at their worst – exhausted, frightened, struggling, hopeless. What I kept discovering was that I was seeing people at their best. They may have felt exhausted, frightened, and helpless, but what I experienced was calm strength and total presence in the moment. Without time or energy for the usual niceties or pretense, connection was natural, easy and inspiring. Over and over again, I felt an immediate connection. With each meeting of our eyes, each smile or look of empathy, I knew my presence made a difference. I felt honored, humbled and powerful.

For these families, life has been stripped down to the absolute essentials. Their challenge is to embrace each bit of kindness, joy, or relief that appears while surrounded by the most difficult of life’s realities. If they choose to spend five minutes wondering why their child must suffer when others don’t, they know that’s five minutes they aren’t fully relishing the time they have with their child. What a choice!

It’s easy for most of us to draw a contrast between our everyday lives and that of these families, but maybe there’s something we can learn from them and apply to our everyday interactions:

Because these families are painfully aware that the time we get in this life is limited and uncertain, they focus on making the most of each day. We can all benefit from this type of focus. Our priorities will then allow us to rid ourselves of the activities or friendships we have chosen that do not feed us or contribute positive energy to our lives.

While they have real reasons to worry, these folks recognize that worry is a distraction that keeps us from being present in the moment and thereby prevents us from fully connecting with each other. It is through this connection that we can give and receive empathy, care, comfort, and love. 

Although presented with heart-wrenching circumstances, the families I observed show up each day to face the situation and make difficult choices. We too are faced with everyday choices that affect our health and quality of life. Do we choose to cower in denial or do we gather our courage and make the choice that best serves our overall well-being even if that’s not the easiest choice?

In the role of parent, the adults recognize that they must function as adults. If they weep and wail and act helpless, their children will become frightened. If they are disrespectful to the nurses or staff, they may inadvertently jeopardize their child’s care. If they decide that they just can’t handle the stress of the hospital, their child will be left alone. These loving parents do not choose to burden their children with adult matters so they summon their best selves and find the strength to cope with each difficult day. How often do we fail our children by neglecting to summon our inner strength to set and enforce limits on sugar consumption, screen time, rude behavior, or frivolous spending?

When parents are separated for days or weeks by taking shifts to provide a continuous presence in a child’s hospital room, the importance of adult time to connect without the children cannot be taken for granted. Are we remembering to value our connection with our partner? Do we make time and space for connection on a regular basis? Do we present a united front to our children?

As days turn into weeks and the world begins to shrink to the size of the hospital room, these parents must find small ways to care for themselves and keep a connection with the larger world in order to remain inspired. There is no energy to feel guilty for a few “selfish” moments; in fact, there’s a realization that feeding their own spirit is not just important, but critical. Some of them make sure to take a walk and watch the sunrise or sunset. Others read a book that allows them to empathize with the characters. Some schedule a meal out once a week so they can get out and people-watch. Some moms just take a long bath and a nap or get a massage. Do we measure our worth in self-sacrifice that causes us to lose our identity or feel guilty when we take care of our spirits?

This week in the midst of tragedy, I had the privilege of seeing the best. I also had the experience of seeing the worst. This contrast reminded me that life-changing events are a chance for people to reveal their real character. Sometimes you learn that your partner, sister, aunt, mom, or dad is too fearful to be supportive, too needy to put another’s interests first, too interested in comparison to have compassion, or too threatened by real connection to let down their walls and be there for you. Can we have compassion for their weakness and the courage to let go of our expectations of more from them so that we can recognize and be open to receiving what we need when it presents itself? 

When we allow ourselves to see the truth, we may be faced with other difficult life decisions. Can we be grateful for a chance to face our fears, embrace grief, loss, and change in order to move forward and heal ourselves?

While we may never have a critically ill child, we will all face trying circumstances. Some of us will choose to live in chaos, pain, worry, and dissonance without ever recognizing that we’re making a choice. If you are struggling at the moment, can you tell yourself the truth and begin experimenting with tiny changes in your behavior? Can you take inspiration from what resilient parents have learned? 

 If so, are you willing to share your story? We’d love to hear it.