One Way of Healthy

After dealing with Mari’s e-mails in the last post, I had some time to reflect and I faced doubts about how I had handled it.  Not to say that I am berating myself because it was the one of the first times I tried to assert myself.  Maybe I should have gotten her number and called her (instead of trying to clarify what happened via e-mail) went through my mind.

When Mari brought up subtly my choices in food and took it further by insulting things I like to do (writing, drawing, exercising, etc.) and the food dish I brought, I had wondered if I had provoked these attacks.  Did I build understanding through conflict with my approach or help create a potential battlefield?

I focused on the positive shift: the fact that I wasn’t going into the evening angry because I was going to eat something I didn’t want to eat.  In the past I have giving in to my boundaries in order to be ‘seen’ as less difficult and I have reacted passive aggressively toward others not realizing that I was angry with my decision.

Even with the subtle comments and insults, I didn’t react to them.  Instead, the evening was easy-going and I took her comments in stride and enjoyed the evening.  This was a small factor into why the evening went well, the other factor that helped was the other couple’s behaviors.  They behaved in ways that were healthy and addressed Mari and her husband’s inappropriate behaviors very well.  Besides the lesson I learned from asserting myself, I also learned from interacting with them.  Here is a list of behaviors I noticed, none are new, only it was refreshing to see them in action.

1. They Listen (I mean really listen)

This seems like a no brainer.  The OC (other couple) let others speak and waited their turn.

2. They Empathize

The OC have an adult daughter who is taking university entrance exams.  She failed the first round and is re-taking them shortly.  When telling their daughter’s story the mother clearly empathized with her daughter’s angst when it comes to taking standardized tests and seemed to be in tune with what her daughter felt yet, let her daughter navigate her path.  She wasn’t preaching or speaking about solutions for her daughter.  She was neither critical or unconcerned when telling her daughter’s story.  She was empathetic.

3.  They openly share their opinions and feelings and accept others’

Conversation flowed from topic to topic and on many subjects we differed in opinion.  The OC readily accepted others’ views and voiced their own.  This helped create an atmosphere of sharing.

4.  They speak for themselves

What is interesting is that the husband and wife of the OC spoke for themselves.  It was the manner in which they presented their feelings and opinions that spoke to their individulaity in the relationship.  Of course, they spoke of their common interests as well, yet at the same time I got even a better idea of who each of them were by how they told their own story.  I was able to better discern the differences in the their personalities by how they spoke.  It was clear that they were not enmeshed but still connected!

5.  They speak up for those that don’t have a voice or who haven’t found it yet

There were several times during the evening that Mari made subtle insults about my exercise routine, my enjoyment of writing, etc.  Such comments, I wondered, could have been provoked by my initial assertions and boundaries (as an attack).  I missed some insults however, the OC didn’t.  They addressed them as they came up, sometimes I didn’t realize I was being insulted until the OC said something to show their support.

At one point, Mari makes a forceful comment to her toddler daughter about her food and the OC also addressed Mari’s comment in a way that illustrated that they had the child’s back (welfare).

6.  They fight the ILLOGICAL, not the ASSERTION

Mari talks about how the women in a certain European country (she travels there for work) always are dressed nicely and well manicured and that she felt like a total slob when she works out of that office.  Everyone waits to let her finish her story.  She then adds that she can’t understand how they do it.  She states that she works ungodly hours and that these women leave at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  The OC says “It looks like you found your answer to your question.”

At another point, Mari states that they can’t travel because of the toddler daughter (and tilts her head towards her).  The OC address the illogical reasoning in blaming the child.

7. They know their limits

The OC set limits.  Mari had said in the beginning of the evening, “Men are cooking, women are drinking” and the OC didn’t follow this suggestion.  They also set limits on when the conversation wasn’t inclusive or involved insulting what another person said or did.

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The Boundary Discussion

The first three months of 2014 were a struggle for me.  It was different than how I usually experience depression, I was under-functioning to the point that DH needed to over-function (bless him).  I knew that the origin was from not protecting myself well enough during the FOO holiday visit last year and it didn’t help knowing I was heading back in three months.  I thought about canceling the March visit but something in the back of my head said “it is time.”

I needed to do something drastically and desperately different because I couldn’t have another three months of being ill – emotionally and physically.    I read two boundary books and I began to put together patterns in myself.  Although I have set boundaries in the past, I always withdrew them later.  I would set a boundary once and then allow it to be adjusted the next time.  Rewind, play, repeat.

My pattern with boundaries were at extremes.  I’d shut down and then feel guilty/shame about it.  I wasn’t able to set them in a way where I kept myself healthy and allowed for flexibility.  After reading Katerine’s books and bloggers’ advice I focused on my time boundary with my FOO and my in-laws.

During the March visit, I set and held my time boundary with my FOO and then next up were my in-laws.  The first evening with DH’s father (FiL) I started to feel drained.  I woke up the next morning not feeling 100%.  I told DH that I wasn’t going over to FiL’s apartment that day and that I would meet up with DH that evening for dinner with friends.

This one sentence was met with ‘negotiating’ techniques.  You see, DH negotiates for a living and he is good it.  In the past, I would suggest not participating and I would allow myself to be convinced otherwise or would hold the boundary once and feel guilty after and give in the next time (rewind, play, repeat).  I hadn’t connected the dots with my patterns like that before.  The ‘negotiating’ attempts went like this (paraphrasing):

  1. “Come over today and take the next day off.”
  2. “What am I going to say to my father about why you are not there, I am sick of lying.”
  3. “You sound sarcastic as if this is fun for you.”

All of these tactics worked in the past because these are the three I am most vulnerable to in this order: 1. Reasoning/Rationalization 2. Debasement (I’m the victim) 3. Social coercion (through criticizing) – 3 out of 6 manipulation techniques that Braiker² highlights in her book.

DH and I did not want to go down that path again and luckily in her second book³ (“Where to Draw the Line”, p. 154-155) Anne Katherine talked about speaking with others (who are affected) about boundaries in advance.  I used her guidelines and wrote down questions that DH and I answered separately and then we discussed our answers.  It worked well for our last visit this summer and we plan on using them for our upcoming FOO holiday visit.  The purpose is to have a clear picture of what you and the other person wants/expects.

Boundary Discussion Questions (based on Katherine’s How to Create Successful Holidays Guidelines):

  1. What activities would you like to do? (my answer: see good friends, workout, downtime, shopping) Any specifics? (example: preparation needed, order of events, etc.)
  2. Who would you like to be included/see during this event(s)? (I listed the people I would make time for and DH listed his – where we agreed we went together, where we didn’t we went separately)
  3. What are our time limits/constraints with the people we will be seeing? (this can also be used for food, money, etc.) (my answer: I will participate in two meals with FiL and BiL)
  4. What are each person’s responsibilities (when interacting with our FOO)? (combined: use “I”, not “we” statements, let me answer questions directed towards me the way I want to answer them – if you find it inappropriate give me the feedback later, no triangulation, no lying)
  5. What has not gone well in the past, what did you dislike about the past events/holidays? (my answer: I need planned downtime to recover from my FOO and DH’s FOO and I will help FiL only on tasks that he physically cannot do himself)

The conversation was eye-opening and surprisingly we stuck to most of our answers during the summer visit – there was some negotiation. 😉  Katherine also suggests to review our answers after the event.

What worked well:

  • DH handled triangulation well
  • DH handled his father’s attempt to manipulate him into doing something he didn’t want to do
  • I didn’t fall into my severe under-functioning state after the visit

What didn’t work well:

  • DH tried to control my ‘changed’ response to questions from FiL that were directed to me
  • I over-functioned in anger and shame for DH, I need to give him room to feel his own emotions and process it himself

Footnotes

¹Katherine, Anne, M.A. (1991). “Boundaries – Where You End and I Begin”. New York: Simon & Schuster.

²Braiker, Harriet B., Ph.D. (2004). “Who’s Pulling Your Strings? – How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life”. New York: McGraw-Hill.

³Katherine, Anne, M.A. (2000). “Where to Draw the Line – How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day”. New York: Simon & Schuster.

katherine