Blog: Boundaries and standing up for myself

March 2018

Last week I was traveling back from helping my mom move to a care home. In the train I found a man in his 60’s sitting on my reserved seat. He was this kind of man who give me slight creeps. I said that he was sitting in the seat I had reserved. With an excuse he got up and let me sit in my seat at the window. His jacket was still hanging next to my seat. And if I wanted to hang my coat, I would have had to hang it over his jacket. I could smell from a meter distance that he was a smoker. After a short hesitation, I took his jacket from the hook handed it to him with the words: ‘I’d rather you take it away. You are a smoker and then I would smell it all day.’

I guess he was a bit surprised but accepted and put his jacket onto the luggage rack. 

I sat down in my seat, feeling relaxed and only slightly uncomfortable with this man sitting next to me. I quickly immersed myself in a private bubble of enjoying my lunch and later reading and working. Withstanding the urge to make conversation, which my good breeding does expect from me. I needed a safe, private space and was very glad that I could create it by focussing on myself and the little space I had to myself.

Only later that day when I shared this experience with my husband, I realised what big step this was for me. Just a few weeks earlier I wouldn’t have had the guts to step up, hand him his jacket and say that I don’t want the smell all day. I would have hang my coat over his, wrapping it around his jacket so I wouldn’t have my face in his coat sitting there, and by that making sure the comfy, soft inner lining of my coat would absorb as much of his smell as possible. 

I would have made polite conversation or at least would have felt very guilty for not doing so. 

So what changed? What gave me the power to act differently this time?

My core belief ‘I have to fulfil every spoken or unspoken expectation, only then I have the right to exist’ is with me since I was very little. It forced me to fit in and to cross my own boundaries over and over again. It made me sit still in class for decades, and endless meetings while there is such a longing for movement in my body. It made me get good grades, but never shine too bright. It made me kiss men, not knowing I didn’t want to.

So, where does this change come from?

Since last summer I’ve been working with realising and setting my personal boundaries in various ways. From reflecting back about situations, what really was going on inside of me, over teaching and exploring personal boundaries in a workshop and learning how very different every participant experiences personal boundaries, to actually going through a process about a situation where I didn’t set my boundaries (read my earlier newsletter on this) and actually practice in a role-play how to set them in a similar situation.

And then last week in a practice exchange with a colleague I discovered that I have this core belief: ‘I have to fulfil every spoken or unspoken expectation, only then I have the right to exist’.

I could connect to the constraining effect this belief has and also to how angry I am about it. I want to shout out: ‘No! I don’t want this!’ And how there immediately comes the thought; ‘When I say ‘no’, I’d offend people. I disappoint them…. and I loose my right to exist.’

I could sense in my body how this inner fight paralysed me, sense despair and being overwhelmed and I connected to how I long for freedom and autonomy, unconditional acceptance and love.

Connecting to this core belief and to the bodily sensations, feelings and longings connected to it changed something in me. Like I gradually, step by step make myself free of this restricting belief. 

It is not done yet. But I will keep working on it. And I already celebrate the power I get from this work. The power to stand up for myself and say ‘I’d rather you take your jacket away.’ and feeling only slightly guilty about it.

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