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of names and boundaries

June 21, 2011

 “Being able to say, ’it’s mine and you can’t have it’ is a developmental necessity. If between the ages of two and four a child is not given permission to feel and say that, if a parent does not defend a child’s right to have what’s hers — including her feelings — but instead tells her that she has to share, or that she’s selfish, that same kid will grow up not able to be generous. How can you give away what you’re not supposed to have?” (the author’s unnamed therapist, quoted on p. 153, Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money by Geneen Roth)

I was that child. I think the most destructive result of this upbringing was that I did not develop healthy boundaries. In fact, because boundaries were such a liability, I barely developed them at all.

I’m an introvert, so I experience the world outside myself, then I bring data and my impressions back into the seclusion of my own mind, where I try to make sense of it all, and decide what to do with it. My extrovert siblings seem to have swallowed the crazy-making whole, without thinking about it. That does mean they were spared my agonies of trying to make sense of gibberish. Here is an example: Input A – whenever I spend time with my parents, and certain other people, I feel scared and hopeless. But my parents insist they love me unconditionally, even though they say my being “weird” and “too sensitive” is why I have so few friends. Apply Algorithm Z to process and transform this data – my feelings must be unreliable. Words are more important than actions. Output B –  therefore whenever I feel scared and helpless, it’s because the person I’m with likes/loves me. If I actually feel good and hopeful, something is wrong.

In middle school and high school, I sought out boys and girls who were actively cruel to me, because I thought that meant they wanted to be my friend. I found kind people (the very few I ever encountered) puzzling, uncomfortable, and kind of boring.

At age 18, I found myself in a relationship that was dangerous enough, both physically and emotionally, that I was finally able to see that my feelings had been right all along, no matter what anybody else said. Actions are what really matters, and they educate your intuition. If someone tells you that they love you as they are stabbing you, they are lying to you. They cannot be trusted. And people who defend that person’s actions do not love you either. Even if they are your parents.

That was the beginning of the end of my relationship with my parents, although it took me 20 years to heal and grow strong enough to actually break ties.


I trust my judgment about other people, but I’m still working on developing boundaries in other ways. I have great difficulty setting goals because I grew up hearing that the things I wanted the most were unsuitable, inappropriate, and embarrassing to my parents, who worked very hard to keep me from achieving them. (And then they derided me for having “no ambition”.) So I feel very conflicted about even having goals. I take one step toward nebulous ideas that might become goals, then allow myself to be distracted by other things that will not help me do anything I want, but might please some other person. Or I talk myself into believing that these distractions will “lead to” something somehow better than my current goals. But really, it’s all about fear. What if I turn all my intentions and resources to this goal I desperately want, that I have dreamed about for years, and what if I can’t make it work? What will I do then?

I need some successes to bolster my self-confidence, to keep me plugging away. And sometimes distractions offer short-term successes. My recent foray into graphic design was one such. I do have hopes of one day writing a book that I illustrate with my own photographs or drawings. Now that I have designed an exhibition catalogue, that goal seems much more doable. But prolonging the detour, by doing other graphic design projects instead of writing, is another way of giving in to fear. And pushing away my own heart’s desire.

I am reminded of this quote by Vincent Van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

The more I write, the more I know what I have to say, and why it matters.

So the name change of this blog acknowledges that I am a writer first, and everything else second. And it feels good.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 23, 2011 16:48

    “I was finally able to see that my feelings were right all along, no matter what anyone else said.” Very powerful message, I can relate to it.
    I felt “scared and hopeless” around my parents and certain siblings; they just didn’t understand me or care to know me. I even thought I was adopted!
    Thank you for sharing your story…it is very interesting.
    Bee well!

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