on Compassion and Setting Boundaries

Long-time followers of this blog will know that, in sharing the ups and downs of my path, it is incredibly important to me that I keep shit real. We as people are encouraged to write about the good things, to talk about the good things, to share the positive stuff, to put a positive spin on things, to put on a happy face. I don’t believe that this is always a bad thing – I believe that there is honest sincerity in the “fake it until you make it” adage, and that for some people that works. I also know that for some, airing things publicly is the worst thing they can do in order for them to move beyond whatever “it” happens to be. I’m not going to make that call for anyone else. For myself, in knowing myself, in knowing my quirks, and also in knowing what has helped me, when reading about other peoples’ experiences, I can say: transparency. Keeping shit real. I love my gods, I love the conscious living that I strive for, I love my family, I love this semi-secluded lifestyle Beth and I have going on. But there are ups and downs. It’s not perfect. There are struggles, some the type you would expect, and others the type that you really can’t prepare for. And, more often than not, the struggles fall somewhere in the huge range between the two extremes.

Currently, I’ve got some stuff going on in the non-spiritual part of my life centered and is more potential hassle than actual big bad thing. I’m hesitant to label people as toxic, and I’m always mindful of compassion when dealing with people I’d rather not be dealing with. I’m also wretched at standing up for myself, and unexpected questions (“Can we do X?”) throw me for a loop and wind up with me making ‘maybe’ responses that I later feel badly backing down from. Giving our word matters, and never mind that there is a huge difference between ‘giving my word’ and ‘maybe’; in my default mindset, my wants and needs matter less, so it’s nothing to sacrifice my time/comfort/own goals in order to do this other thing for this other person who isn’t really much in the way of a friend. There is added grey areas when I find myself conceding that said person is likely being as good of a friend as they know how to be. It is simply not where I’m at in my life. Worse, we have nothing that I rate as important in common. They are not spiritually minded; they are more social/more extroverted/they are not interested in metaphysical stuff/writing/history/anything really that we could have common ground in, and I am more a listening ear than anything else.

There is no perceivable-as-kind way to say, ‘We aren’t really friends, you aren’t really friend material for me, I’m not interested in cultivating a friendship’. That said, how much of my own comfort do I give up to try to be kind to someone whose presence is not welcomed in my life? Does it matter, to a point, that that sounds terribly cold? Am I so concerned about compassion for others that I’m ignoring my own compassion, and self-care?

So, currently: I have a full time job outside the home. I have a very full and fulfilling spiritual practice that I’m not willing to give up even a little bit. I have a chronically ill partner, two chronically ill (one of which is also terminally ill) family members, and, thanks to humbling support of some generous fans, a steady part time writing job that I desperately need to find more time to sink into. (Website! Formatting! Editing! Things to learn and do well!) That doesn’t count the friends and family I am struggling to keep in steady contact with. I’m not saying I’m closed to meeting new people and making new friends – but I really don’t want to do that in ‘real’ time, in ‘real’ life. I certainly do not want to get together with people to go shopping or to hang out and chat small talk stuff or bitch about the annoyances of our daily lives. That’s not to say that I don’t do those things, because I do. But, I do them with my family.

That thought brings me to: my idea of family does not meet the cultural standard for ‘family’. Because when I say ‘family’ . . . there are layers, right? It’s a group of concentric circles. There’s a hierarchy. I’m fucking tribalistic when it comes to understand human relationships, and that’s not about to change. Even when we’re talking about global communities, that falls in a tribal landscape for me. So I have immediate family, and the extended family and it goes out from there. I don’t really seem to have casual friends – if you are a trusted member in my heart, you’re part of the family, ranging from immediate to extended – and, you need not be human, is another bit that is maybe different from ‘normal’ society’s understanding of family. The hierarchy, one’s placement within those circle, is largely dependent upon 1)how much you factor in my day to day life and 2) how dependent upon me you are for your well being, shelter, care, etc. Call me cold, but being a blood relative doesn’t get you an automatic ‘in’ – though in my life, those who are blood are pretty high up in those circles. I have more blood relations that I don’t really know one way or the other, and I have one in particular who, despite a shared history, is not my family, will not be my family, is a hair’s breadth away from being part of the “and everybody else in the world” crowd.

The friendships that I cultivate, the people that are part of my “spiritual family”, are inside the family circles. They are trusted and they get to see bits of me that other people may not. I don’t have casual friendships – I have family, and I have acquaintances. This is my preference.

This is the important part for me. I like it this way. I’ve cultivated my life to have it be this way. I live a semi-secluded life. I don’t make spur of the moment plans. I want weeks advance warning. Hell, the people I adore and miss terribly, I still need to make phone dates with as much to factor in our schedules as to give myself time to psych myself up for the phone call. Interacting with people is exhausting for me, and it’s part of my full time day job. It’s not not exhausting because sometimes it’s the people I love dearly. (I’m more willing to talk to people I love dearly when I’m feeling like I’d rather scream than have a conversation, than I am willing to talk to people I’m ambivalent about) I have my home life the way I want it to be. My time home, away from errands and away from the day job, is my retreat from the world at large that I need and, more to the point, want. This is what I keep getting drawn back to. Want. This is what I want. And is it my responsibility to help other people who aren’t part of my family to gain what they want, simply because I am good at putting my own wants aside for other people?

I am naturally a care-giver type person. This is not a bad thing. I am able to provide for my family with this particular skill set and ability and willingness to set my own issues aside when they need me. I’m easy going – for the most part I don’t have day to day plans when it comes to projects and goals, and I don’t care enough about a lot of things to get overly worked up. I’m way more of a beta type than an alpha type personality. But in this, in establishing boundaries and feeling like I have a right to said boundaries, this is to my detriment. I’m 36 this year; this is beginning to feel pathetic.

I’m trying to institute stock answers. “I’ll have to check my schedule.” “You know, that sounds like it could be fun, but I really don’t have the time.” They feel forced when I practice them, but they’re not exactly untrue. The truth is: I have two days off a week. One day is for running errands and spending with Beth, our only day off together. The other day is my writing day. So I’m not lying when I say I don’t have time. It may be “I don’t want to give you that time,” because essentially that’s what I’m saying – but shouldn’t that be a given when said person is not my partner? But my stupid brain. I say things like, “I’m working that day,” and it runs with “but you’re not working at your real job/you can write any time/insert all excuses they could think of here.” Given enough breathing room I arrive at knowledge that, if what is important to me isn’t a factor to them at all, they have no place in my life. But out of the blue questions don’t give me that breathing room, so “I’ll have to check my schedule,” is better. Really, what I want is to be comfortable saying, “No.”

And I’ve tried – because bitching aside, said person is not someone I dislike, although in my course of not standing up for my actual wants, there’s an association of dislike, and that’s on me really, my fault for not honoring those boundaries in the first place – I’ve tried to give said person some of my time, now and again, and then they get graspy about it. Clingy. Let’s do more things, let’s go places, let’s hang out. The kindest answer at this point, simply, no. If that makes me an asshole in their eyes, then I’m an asshole.

Situations like these, I wish so badly I had an easy way to say, “My house is my cloister and I leave it only when I must.”

(Our Pagan Cloister. Beth, maybe we should rename our house? Hrmm . . . )

I know that this is something I need to get under control. I know that this means, most immediately, there is going to be some “breaking of my word”, and disappointment on their part. The question is: am I okay with that enough to put my family and writing and wants first? The answer is: yes. But it’s still going to be annoying and bad-feeling-making to deal with. Why is it on me to care about other peoples feelings and what they do with them?

Frustrated. Keeping it real, and right now, real is frustrated.

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7 thoughts on “on Compassion and Setting Boundaries

  1. (((((hugs))))) You’re not an asshole for wanting to be with your family and get your writing done ahead of hanging out with co-workers you only sort of like. And it *isn’t* on you how she feels about that, especially since she’s repeatedly manipulated you into saying yes, and will clearly take a “maybe” and turn it into “but you gave your word.” You just need to expect future invitations from her, and then you won’t be caught off guard. (Is it bad that I hope she reads this somehow? She’d be mad, but it would make things so much easier for you after the initial reaction–which would probably only be the silent treatment, anyway.) She didn’t even ask about the dog after he had to be rushed to the hospital; for me, that’s enough to not even care how she feels. She’s utangard.

  2. I am linking arms with you in this one, because sister, I so fully understand where you are with this one. What my mother always reminds me is that the only person’s happiness I’m in charge of is my own, and I have no control over what other people feel. She also likes to point out to me that sometimes being overly giving isn’t compassionate for anyone, too.

    Boundaries and assertiveness. This is the theme for Fall 2014. 😉

  3. I have a few comments.

    >>>I say things like, “I’m working that day,” and it runs with “but you’re not working at your real job/you can write any time/insert all excuses they could think of here.”<<>>Am I so concerned about compassion for others that I’m ignoring my own compassion, and self-care?<<<

    Yep. Another kernel of useful from my mentor is when feeling as if [something] *has* to be done, visited, accomplished, committed to one is to ask, "Are there guns involved?" Because if there are not actual guns involved, then you do have a choice. Use it.

    But overall I have found use of the "I'm sorry, I am unable to attend" with no further explanation (and few people push for the reason and if they do they get a repeat of the answer or a simple, "I am not at liberty to say." If they push past that they would receive silence. It is rare for folks to just leave it go when no excuse i given for them to try to work around.)

    You are not an asshole. For any of your feelings and wants. The above mentioned phrasing felt awkward when I first used it and I felt a pang of guilt because we are pushed to offer up weak "whys" when we decline an invitation, but that wore off quickly with the freedom it gave me and when I saw people were okay with that response in ways they were not with "reasons".

    "I'm sorry, I am unable to attend" is a gift that keeps on giving. 😀

  4. There are a lot of specific points I could highlight for commentary and agreement, but I’ll pick just this one to keep it short.

    and I am more a listening ear than anything else.

    Ugh. I’ve attracted more than a few of those myself, maybe every introverted person does. And its worse when the other person then goes and mistakes it for a real friendship, which of course it isn’t because said person is almost always way too self involved to notice that I’m a person, too. There is always some measure of relief when the association comes to an end (even if I otherwise like the person), its just too tiring and I don’t have the energy for it.

    Joining the chorus here that I’m out more than I want to be already and my two days off to recharge are mine damn it, is a perfectly reasonable thing to feel, say and do.

  5. Funny, because one of my lessons this year is KNOWING that I do not need others to validate that what I feel, want and need. But I am grateful for your post because, I somehow feel like “being reclusive” is not OK. and I had just told a close member of extended family the other day that driving 250 miles a week and working full time took all the energy I wanted to spend away from home and my sanctuary. I also recognize that I am becoming more introverted as I get older, not less.

    The work you and I and all of us do in the world depends on our ability to love and take care of ourselves first, then those nearest and dearest to us. If we choose without duress to extend ourselves further, we draw energy from a limited bank at any given time. It is part of our sovereignty to say who and when and for what activity we will engage. There is no reason to feel bad about it; culling is a necessary part of our lives on all levels, it makes room for new growth.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Christine

    • So, I’m utter crap at staying on top of comments, and responding. I’ve only just seen this one. I’m sorry. Being reclusive is okay, damn it! It would be a thing in the word, it would not transcend so many spiritual paths (and leave spirit paths altogether to touch people who are not religious) if it wasn’t a valid, real need that certain people experience.

      I wish you well in your embracing your growing introvertedness. (Yes. That’s a word. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to type it. 😉 )

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