Stop Crossing My Boundaries
I’d only been working at the domestic violence shelter for eight months when a full-time position as the Family Resource Advocate became available. I felt the pinch or the sting of being unqualified and undereducated for the position I was currently holding, so it didn’t occur to me to apply for the newly open assignment. My supervisor made a couple of references to me needing to update my resume, but my first inclination was to fear that meant they might be moving me on. It never occured to me that she was inviting me to apply for the position. Finally, one day, she very pointedly stated that if I intended to apply for the position I needed to do it NOW as they were already interviewing for it. I scrambled. And, upon formally submitting my interest in the job, the Intervention Coordinator told me that she and the Executive Director were hoping I would apply for it. Mike drop. Me???
Here I am, three months later, and I’m rocking my new position. I love working with community partners to solve problems and secure resources for our clients. I love watching my clients go from being so afraid to go in a grocery store that merely riding in the company vehicle is a milestone to securing employment, attending college classes, and navigating the bus system on their own. I love my bright aqua corner office with two sunny windows. I love sharing a very dark sense of humor with my supervisor, drinking coffee with her every morning, and learning from someone with over 40 years of experience in the field. I love that my children are welcome at my place of employment and that my supervisor brings a dog to work. I’m as comfortable there in a dress as I would be in sweats. The position is dynamic. My co-workers are real, down to earth, and compassionate. The work is fulfilling.
However, there are some troubling symptoms of one bigger aspect to the new job that have caused me some distress. I feel like my boundaries get pushed…..in a field that is all about helping others establish boundaries!
During the interview my Executive Director told me that he was concerned about this blog and would ask that I stop writing if I took this new position. His concern was that I would burn out, that vicarious trauma would destroy me if I lived, ate, and breathed DV and trauma inside and outside of work. So, I quit writing. I want this blog. But, I need a viable income. The choice grieved me, but I was confident it was the right thing. I felt a bit disturbed by him telling me what I could do outside of work on my own time, but I understood his concern and his desire for me to step away from the work in order to keep myself emotionally balanced.
Still, it has eaten at me.
My supervisor is an incredible woman and acts more like a mother mentor than my superior. She empowers me to “take ownership of this position” and gives me the freedom to explore pathways that are comfortable for me. I arrive to work each morning to find that she has already set up my pour over coffee and even knows exactly how I like it. She checks in with me during difficult days just to make sure I’m doing okay. And, as much as I appreciate her and enjoy her company, I find myself just wanting to escape to my home on some days. It isn’t that I don’t want to have lunch with my boss. I just want to have lunch with my children.
And, it eats at me.
My new husband has proven to be quite a selfish, uninterested jerk, and I regularly entertain the idea of divorce. I devise exit plans routinely, and I live with one foot out of this marriage. While he uses extremely separatist language–yours and mine–regarding our relationship even when direct references would be more appropriate, he continues to use unifying language regarding his ex–ours, we. While he demonstrates no sexual interest in me and has issues with ED, he recently told me that he struggles with lust. He said that though he’s never committed adultry, he admitted he lusts with his eyes. He deletes messages on his phone and keeps it turned upside down. And, this weekend I overheard him asking his online gaming buddies if they had recently played with a particular female gamer, as though he was looking for her or missing her online presence. Then, he mentioned that he’d noticed she changed her profile picture and emphatically stated that “she is hot!”. This came only about an hour after he had once again rejected my physical advances, stating that we were just intimate (five days prior). When I share with him that I’m hurt by his rejection and neglect and I am curious about his phone habits, he claims that I’m disrespecting his boundaries and am abusing him by attempting to control his ability to have friends outside the marriage.
His accusations elicit a strong emotional response in me.
It Doesn’t Mean They Are Always Toxic
Working with survivors at various stages of recovery is fascinating to me as a survivor. I get to watch myself, in a way, in a third person aspect. I’ve been where they are. I’ve held similar thinking patterns. I’ve experienced the same paralyzing fears. And, it helps me to realize that as intense as those feelings and fears were at the time, they were not correct. They weren’t even helpful. That realization allows me to draw back now in my present stage and ask myself if the intense emotions and fears I’m currently experiencing are helpful or correct. Are my executive director and my supervisor purposefully disrespecting my right to decide how I spend my personal time? If so, does that make them covertly abusive? Am I disrespecting my husband’s boundaries by wanting to see who he’s talking to or by listening to his gaming conversations? Am I trying to control him and isolate him?
I have noticed patterns of black and white thinking in my clients and remember believing similar premises. It became a tug of war in my spirit when I saw my abuser do something kind or when a usually loving friend said something hurtful. I took my abuser back when he said he was sorry or bought me gifts. And, I unfriended close confidants because of the insensitive words they spoke in their misguided attempts to help me through my painful trials. How could my abuser be bad when he was being nice in that moment? How could I ever trust that friend again when she was capable of being so callous? Black and white thinking.
We are all sinners. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. We all have it in us to good and to do evil. It seems that survivors get hung up on the behaviors, especially once we finally begin to learn about the Power and Control Wheel and abuse dynamics. They can become an arsenal for judgment rather than a catalyst for discernment if we aren’t careful. And, it’s easy to forget that intent is key. Does their behavior feel good to me in this moment, but is their intention wicked? Or, do their words sound hurtful to me, but are their intentions good? This feels like a boundry crossing, but is it another’s attempt to help me grow as an individual? Or, are they legitimately trying to gain power and control over me?
Rich, deep relationships are catalysts for growth. There is security in receiving forgiveness. Our humility is nourished when we realize that someone accepts us, faults and all. And, our compassion is developed when we accept others, faults and all. It’s in that grey zone that we recognize, experience, and enjoy the raw humanity in ourselves and others.
When my executive director asked me to give up this blog, was he attempting to control me? Was his desire to see me die a little bit as a person by taking away something so important to me? No. He was merely expressing a concern for a valued employee and attempting to give protective guidance and recommendations that would preserve my mental health for the long run.
Is my supervisor trying to monopolize my time and isolate me by not allowing me to see my children in the middle of the day? No. She knows that I’ll go home and put in a load of laundry, go over school work with the kids, and fix them lunch, and she knows that I need someone to take care of me in order to keep going. She’s actually sacrificing her own time to ensure I stop taking care of others for 20 to 30 minutes each day.
Am I emotionally abusing my husband by asking him why he deletes his messages? Are my tears and my pleading an attempt to manipulate him into giving up all outside relationships? No. I’m trying to reach out to him and obtain a loving and faithful, God honoring marriage. I’m requesting financial and sexual accountability from my life partner.
I feel like my boss and my supervisor are crossing my boundaries, but they are, in actuality, looking out for me. I’m probably struggling a bit with adjusting to being someone’s employee after being self-employed for almost eight years. I want paid days off and insurance and a retirement account, but I also want autonomy. My husband feels like I’m crossing his boundaries when I’m, in actuality, looking out for our marriage. He wants a wife to cook and do laundry and bring in money to pay bills, but he wants to go out to eat and go to movies alone and hang out in bars and spend money on himself without accountability. He wants to maintain addictions and relationships with other women, but he also wants someone else to shoulder half the responsibilities of life. He’s probably struggling a bit with adjusting to being married.
Boundaries are critical. They must be guarded and affirmed. But, they also need to be kept in perspective because they are, after all, simply a tool for helping us relate to other human beings. Are we using our boundaries as weapons? Are we using them to maintain our own bad behaviors? What is our intent in establishing boundaries with others? And, what is their intent when they appear to be encroaching on our boundaries? We can’t misuse the ideology of boundaries to support our black and white thinking or to cover our own sins.
Image borrowed from Pinterest