Rugless No More

rug woven ragHow many times in your life have you experienced the sudden fall from a metaphoric rug being pulled from under you? That expression is a vivid one. We can all envision the slipping, stumbling, staggering suddenness of stability ripped away. Sometimes it's stability of financial resources that is lost, as when a job unexpectedly ends. Somtimes it's stability of emotional resources, as when a key relationship ends. 

Sometimes, in these falls, stability of self-concept is lost. There's a sense of shifting to a parallel universe, where people are suddenly not who you thought they were. Sometimes, it feels as if identity is the rug that is pulled. 

Here's an example of that last one. I recently learned that a group to which I used to belong had some pretty serious concerns about the impact of my behavior on another member of the group . . . more than 10 years ago. What I heard is that I behaved in some of those random ways that humans do, when we're focused more on ourselves than on our impact on others. Somebody felt hurt, as it turns out. Not just hurt, but "eviscerated." And I am just now hearing about it.

The sense of falling is enhanced by the fact that this particular group prided itself on direct communication . . . as in, speak directly to the person with whom you have a problem, rather than about them, to others.  Apparently, though, my team all flocked around the wounded party and shared their horror at my devastating behavior. They all knew. My tribe -- fellow professionals, all committed to direct communication -- they talked about my behavior with each other and not one of them talked to me.

In the moments after I learned about this unknown past history, all my rugless experiences of the distant past reared up their ugly little heads as if to say, "Welcome, sister. We know you!" Yet, as moments-after became hours after, those ghosts of the past realized their mistake. This rug is a bit rippled, but still under my feet. I still stand. Partly, that's because learning about these events validated some guesses I had about this bit of my history. Mostly, I didn't fall becuase I have such great boundaries now.

I know I write about boundaries a lot in all my blogs -- the Childhood Treasure  or Team Success Facet of Independence from our toddler time. Well, here we are at why. Boundaries are crucial to a happy life! Lack of boundaries was the root of the original eviscerating situation and healthier boundaries are what kept me upright now. This is how boundaries work in real life:

  • The person eviscerated had no boundaries at that time (she agrees) or she wouldn't have experienced my random behavior as being a message about her self-worth. 
  • The friends who flocked around her pain had weak or no boundaries, so her victimhood resonated with theirs, which launched them into caretaking mode, thus strengthening the sense of righteous wounding in the orignal victim.
  • Neither the victim nor the friends who flocked confronted me with the impact of my behavior, likely due to lack of boundaries again. I know that, without healthy boundaries, I could not calmly and lovingly talk with someone about behavior that hurts. Without boundaries, I was afraid of the response I'd get, afraid I'd be hurt again. Perhaps, in my mind, the offender had become a bully or mean person. My stories kept me silent. Whatever their story was, it kept my team silent.
  • Back then, my boundaries were not as healthy as they are now, so I admit I may well have been defensive if confronted. Yeah. People do that defensive thang. All of us. Love and commitment to shared values are supposed to overcome that.
  • Hearing about this history now, I have not lost my center. I maintain my grounded awareness that I am a loving, kind, generous-hearted person who does not intend to hurt other people with my randomly thoughtless or self-centered behavior. I apologized for my previously unknown impact, made so many years ago. I feel fine about myself; I have no regrets, no self-incrimination.

Before my boundaries became as healthy as they are now, news like this would have been a definite rug ripper. I would have been falling and then writhing on the floor for weeks, months, or years over it. I might still be verbally beating myself up, second guessing my true nature as a person, for the next decade or more.

No more. Here's what healthy boundaries feel like: 

  • Others feelings don't hurt me.
  • I am not responsible for fixing others.
  • Nobody has to validate my sense of who I am.
  • I am enough.

Bam! That's it. I feel sad that I hurt someone I love, and I absolutely know I was not the generator of her pain. Her emotional reaction was to a story of disrespect that she conjured up from some pretty random behavior. I can still take responsibility for that impact, without owning the story that I caused the pain. 

I promise you this: the hallways of life are more fun to walk when the throw rugs are all removed. That statement, right there, is boundaries in a metaphorical nutshell. 

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I finally received the DVD with the video of my March TEDx talk in Kansas City! Yay! However, the files are a mystery to me -- can't figure out how to play the video, let alone upload it to YouTube! Working on it...!

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Dr. L. Carol Scott.

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