I had a small win yesterday that felt like a big victory in the moment. If you don’t have any issues around codependence and maintaining healthy personal boundaries, this will not sound like a win at all. It will sound perfectly commonplace. However, if saying no, or feeling guilty for letting someone down, are challenges you’re familiar with, then you’ll understand the significance.
It was a tough day, starting with some draining moments of miscommunication at work, and topped off with a particularly emotional therapy session, digging into the nitty gritty of hurt and resentment. By the end of that session, I was feeling raw, and spent.
As I walked back to my car, mulling over the guidance from my therapist and considering next steps, I glanced across the street and made eye contact with a particularly bedraggled looking fellow who was gunning right for me. As soon as our eyes met, he yelled, “Hey miss, can I ask you something?”
That was my response. Firm, clear, and with zero hesitation.
He turned right back around and continued on his way. I got into my car and congratulated myself. Well done Sash. That was it. That was you putting up a clear boundary.
Historically, in an encounter as I just described, despite being alone and approached by a male stranger who appeared less than sound of mind, I might still give them the opening to make their ask. And even though I might refuse the request, I might then feel guilty, or question whether or not I had been cruel.
This kind of thinking is partially due to my Catholic upbringing. Be kind, be generous, be a good person, even at risk of your own personal safety. I have put myself at great risk in the past given my general difficulty in saying no or potentially letting someone down, even perfect strangers.
The primary driver for this mentality is complicated relationships from my childhood that affected my ability to understand my role in other people’s happiness. If, as a child, you’re made to believe that someone else’s emotional well-being, particularly that of an adult in your life, is dependent on you, it can mess with your perception of your role in relationships for many years to come. Until you do the work to heal those misunderstandings, your struggle with boundaries will affect you in more ways than you care to acknowledge.
I first acknowledged my issues with boundaries around 10 years ago. I was in my early 30s, divorced, and still experiencing a string of unhealthy attachments.
I’ve come a long way in those 10 years, and in that process, I’ve learned to celebrate small wins like the one I had yesterday. The more I can reinforce the moments where I choose to take care of myself first, the more they become instinctual, the more I release feelings of guilt or unnecessary ownership over someone else’s emotional experience.
If the struggles I’m sharing in this post resonate with you, I encourage you to seek help from a therapist and/or join a 12-step program like Al-Anon. Also, please feel free to reach out to me and share your experience. If I have any guidance to offer, I certainly will.
Celebrate the small wins! The small wins are what add up to big change over time. In the comments below, share a win you had recently so we can all celebrate with you.