Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Boundaries

For reasons best kept private, I've been thinking a lot about boundaries lately.  Specifically, my lack of healthy boundaries as an adult.  I've spent a lot of time in introspection, recalling various times I've stumbled across a boundary, or failed to erect one.  I used to wonder,  "What is it about me that caused ____ to happen, or caused ____ to treat me that way?"

In college, we Education majors spent a lot of time observing in local schools.  My junior year, I was assigned to observe in a 3rd grade teacher's classroom for an hour a week.  I loved it.  I helped her grade papers, walked around and interacted with students during independent work time, and performed various tasks she set me to.  I felt like I was important, a part of her team, a little cog in the wheel of the learning taking place in the classroom.

Everything continued on hunky dory, weeks compounding into months as the semester wore on.  I noticed some dirty looks from a few staff, including the grumpy looking principal, but as the school in general seemed to be saturated with a negative mood, I did not let my heart be troubled and carried on in my happy little bubble.

Then, one day my professor came on site, as she would from time to time to observe us, and caught up with me in the copy room.  "Danica," she said, "I need to have a word with you."

"Ok,"  I said, "let me just finish these copies for my teacher."  I had been waiting in line for the copier and my turn had just come up.

A look crossed over her face, maybe anger, maybe displeasure, I can't be sure, but she said severely, "No, you need to come right NOW."  Embarrassed, I tucked my papers to my chest and hurriedly followed her out of the room.  At that point, I had no idea what was going on, but had a sinking premonition that it couldn't be good.  I was extremely confused.

My professor (whom I simply adored up to that point, teachers pet that I was) took me to a store room and sat me down at a broken child's desk.  "There have been complaints about you from several of the staff, Danica," she commenced.  I stared at her.

"What is it?  What have I done?"

"They say you're ... too bold.  Arrogant."  At this point I was completely flabbergasted.  Confusion quickly turned to hurt, and tears started to flow as she talked on.  I honestly don't remember any more of the conversation, except for the point when I whispered between my tears, "Help me, Jesus", and my professor stopped talking for a split second to give me a strange look.  I mostly cried, cried a lot, cried huge, ugly, sobbing, hiccuping tears, the kind that take your breath with their unkind rhythm.

To this day I still haven't been able to figure out what it was exactly that I did so wrong, wrong enough to warrant the little closeted session with  my professor.  All I can come up with is that I carried myself as if I was an equal to the other teachers and staff, which I guess I wasn't supposed to do, being a lowly college student.

Now, back to boundaries.  Coming out of that situation, the talk with my professor completely crushed me because I knew, since it came from an authority figure, the criticism MUST be true.  There was no room in my mind for her to be wrong, or mistaken (Could the staff have meant to complain about a different student and somehow gotten us mixed up?  After all I had classmates who simply didn't show up for their observation appointments at the school), or misinformed.  I was in the wrong.  And I spent years revisiting that conversation, trying to figure out what it was about ME that was so offensive to the rest of the school staff.  I accepted the shame and guilt because obviously I was in the wrong somehow.

That was the first boundary I failed to erect.  I shouldn't have accepted shame and guilt unquestioningly just because the accusation came from an authority figure.

I  may have unintentionally crossed over a boundary with the other staff, with my apparently misguided confidence, but I'm sure if that is true, the failure on my part was due to me not reading the cultural and social cues correctly.  Regardless, I know that I did not do anything heinous enough to justify my professor's handling of the affair.

Looking back at that situation, having learned about boundaries and given myself the permission to erect them, I can realize that I didn't have to let that conversation with my professor destroy my sense of self.  I didn't have to give in her perception of me.  Just because she said something about me, did not make it true.  Only I am in control of defining myself, by the grace of God.  As Popeye says, "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam."

I read this on a blog recently:

Do any of these sound like you?
I have to always say yes to others, or else I am selfish.
I have to always hide my hurt, or else I am unloving.
I have to treat other people as faultless, or else I am holding a grudge.
I have to keep my wants and needs to myself, or else I am a burden to others.
Yes!  I replied silently.  Yes, yes, yes!  It is so incredibly freeing to realize that not everything is my fault, and I do not carry the blame for other peoples' emotions, feelings, thoughts, words, or actions.  And above and beyond that, it is ok for me to advocate for myself.  It is ok for me to assert myself in a situation where I am being taken advantage of.  It is ok, and even healthy, to set those boundaries for myself.  As the icing on the cake, on top of everything, comes the realization that I really do deserve that voice.  And it's ok for me to say it!!

If any of this resonated with you, I'd highly recommend the Boundaries books, by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud.

6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Why, Stephanie? I'd like to know your opinion.

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  2. Empathy? It's never fun to be called out like that. Also, people shouldn't let issues progress that much. A competent lead teacher should have said something.

    I should have clarified the story makes me sad, not the part about learning to establish boundaries.

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  3. Also wanted to clarify that I don't think you should feel guilt/shame for whatever happened. Just the part about siting there and crying while someone you trusted made you feel bad made me sad.

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  4. When I read those questions in that article, they really resonated with me too. It was like someone had read my heart.

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