Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Lovefraud: Healthy Friendships, Healthy Boundaries
Being An Enabler
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been what I would call one of life’s enablers – a giver, carer, supporter and fighter for the rights of other people. I have been one of those people who will stick her neck out to protect others. I will stand up for rights, and fight against injustice. I still do it to a large extent. That, I believe, is part of what makes me successful in my chosen profession as a leadership and team development coach.
At work I am known as being someone who says it as it is and will stand up to the bully. I also encourage others to do the same, be it in their professional or personal life. I am the person who helps others identify their core values, to facilitate their discovery of what really makes them tick, to guide them in clarifying their focus for what is important to them. Not what’s important to other people – their family, their boss, their colleagues, their friends – no, what’s important to them as a human soul. For most people it can feel weird to become the centre of their own attention. For many, they have previously measured their success or failure, their likes or dislikes, their progress or regression through other people or situations.
I am grateful for my skills, and feel privileged to enjoy a career in the field of human development. I am lucky enough to work with people, often on a deeply personal level. It is a position of trust that I value extremely highly – I know I am lucky to do the work I do, and I am constantly enriched by the progress that people make through coaching and development. It’s incredibly rewarding!
So, being an ‘enabler’ therefore is a good thing…. Isn’t it? Well, yes it is…. And there can also be a downside, as all of us who have experienced any kind of abusive relationship will testify.
This is what has hit home to me once again this week. This is where I have discovered another aspect to my own blind spots. Since becoming free from my sociopathic husband, I have been much more mindful about the friendships I keep. Some have gone by the wayside. Others have strengthened. New ones have started, and old forgotten ones have returned. It’s been – and continues to be – an extremely cathartic and enjoyable process. And, to be honest, I thought I was doing pretty darned well!
It would appear not. It would appear that I’d once again slipped in to the trap of bending over backwards in too many ‘friendships’ that really didn’t warrant that level of attention. It appears now, that in my general sense of happiness and well being, that I had let some less than healthy aspects of some relationships thrive and take space right in front of my eyes. I’d been caring for cuckoos in the nest – blindly feeding and nurturing them to the detriment of other healthy friendships, including the one with myself.
It was my friend, Beatrix, who gave me some incredibly wise advice last summer. I’d been struggling against a backlash of unpleasant emails from somebody who I expected to know better. I felt shocked and exasperated and found myself wailing at my dear friend “But I don’t understand! I thought we’d moved past all this! We have had a really good relationship over recent times!” She looked at me at this point, and put her head to one side, a wry smile on her face “You know what, Mel?” she said “It’s amazing how many great relationships anyone can have when they bend over backwards to make them so…” She was right of course. My natural fall-back position of carer and giver meant that I had been the one putting the vast majority of effort and flexibility in to that particular relationship. I could continue doing that (and feel like a doormat in the process) or I could gently but firmly stand my ground, letting the relationship transform in the process. I chose to stand my ground, and kept that particular person at a healthy arms length.
It was Beatrix, again, who has put me on the straight and narrow today – thank you my friend. When I shared the stories of what I’d experienced over the past few days, she simply shrugged. “All of those people have behaved in exactly the way they normally do” she said “you already knew what to expect from them – so what’s the point in being upset? You’re the one who’s being unreasonable because you’re expecting them to do something different – that’s just plain crazy. Just because you’ve changed and grown, doesn’t mean they have!”
Once again she was right, of course. With each of the examples I gave her, she reminded me gently that I’d already decided some months ago to keep my distance in each case. And as my life and experiences have continued to be more joyful and rewarding, I have become more tolerant and understanding of others. And yes, as a result, perhaps I forgot some of my boundaries.
Unconsciously I had once again been putting myself out – bending, flexing, staying open, being tolerant – and in the process allowing myself to put up with situations which, while in some cases were not actually harmful to me, in all cases were certainly less than supportive.
No wonder I had been feeling angry! No wonder I’d been confused! Whilst the circumstances of last week can hardly be called ‘abusive’ they have certainly pushed the old buttons from when I have been in an abusive relationship. Betrayal, abandonment, isolation, shame – all of those insidious emotions started to re-surface. Not enough, it has to be said, to overwhelm – certainly sufficient to knock me a little off balance, and to start the “What am I doing wrong? How is this happening again?” questions poking and picking at the scars that had long since healed.
Standing My Ground
In all fairness, the behaviours of those specific people last week were probably not worthy of a prison sentence – perhaps just a caution, or a sharp rap on the knuckles. But because of what I have been through, as for so many of us here, I will no longer tolerate anything that is not supportive to me. The glaringly obvious fact that I had been blind enough to anticipate supportive behaviour from people who have shown me their true colours on countless occasions in the past, left me feeling shameful and angry. You may remember that I’m writing my first book, and that has involved going over a huge amount of old ground. So yes, I was feeling angry at my past. Yes, I was feeling angry at the way so many people who were meant to care for me, even in my childhood, have treated me badly. So yes, it’s fair to say that my emotional responses have been perhaps a little more intense than usual.
But they are no less valid – no matter the strength, or the underlying reasons.
I am standing my ground. Fairly, squarely, and with my head held high. Friendships, to me, are about a healthy symbiotic relationship. Where two people meet honestly, to share ideas, to grow, to laugh, to help each other, and to enjoy each other’s company. As the blinkers continued to fall from my eyes last week, one particular person asked whether I would remain friends with them. I responded honestly and as gently as I could. I said that in view of what I had realised, I would never turn them away if they asked for help – but that I didn’t think I would continue to be a friend. Not, at least, in the way that I value and measure my friendships.
If the only way to maintain a friendship is if I continue to bend, flex, stay quiet, support and understand the other person – while ignoring the emotional bruises I am getting in the process – well, then that’s not, in my world, a healthy relationship. It doesn’t make the other person an enemy – but if I continue being a friend on those levels, then I am being an enemy to myself. I am giving myself the message that I’m not worthy of having people around me who love me for who I am. I am telling myself, just as I was told as a child and later on by my husband, that I’m not good enough. That I’ll never measure up to much, and that nobody could possibly love me.
Well you know what? That just isn’t true. So, my friends, although I might have re-built my boundaries this week and created more distance between us, you have all helped me tremendously – thank you. It’s said that people come in to our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Well, as time continues, my lifetime friends are becoming more and more valuable to me – and top of the list is my relationship with myself.
Thank you for reading, I hope this has been useful! With love and blessings