Lesson #14: ...But know your limits
Last week I wrote about learning to tolerate discomfort, and continue separating the anxiety-driven thought process from the other processes in my head.
The flip side of this, and another lessons from time on the couch, is that you need to know your limits. Tolerating discomfort - let's say, as a woman - can be a tricky thing. Society aggressively pressures us in the media, in our homes, in our schools, when we're walking down the street, to tolerate a LOT of discomfort.
Casual sexual harassment? Stop taking it so seriously. Offended by catcalling? What's wrong with you, bitch? Feeling that disgusting slime of sexism covering your skin when you deal with family dinners? It's just in your head.
I'm able to tolerate a ton of discomfort. And I think I've learned that for me, unlearning that threshold requires creating intentional limits IN ADVANCE, when I'm calm and at home and have the ability to do some self-reflection.
"Did you ever ride bumper cars?" Therps asked once.
"Yeah like at kids' birthday parties or whatever, sure."
"So you're a kid - driving around in this little car that is supposed to hit other cars. And it's fun, it's play. But that's because there's a rectangle outlining where the cars can go. If the cars could drive off the space and this was happening out in a parking lot, everyone would feel differently."
"Yeah because that's not where that is supposed to happen."
"So you're driving your bumper car without knowing there the limits are."
I've spoken about boundaries before, but it's woven into a lot of my lessons because that's how hard it's been for me to understand and create them. Tolerating the discomfort of things that are scary but exciting, that are worth doing that make you feel like your best self - that's one thing. Tolerating discomfort that pushes beyond your limits of what you're ok with, what makes you happy, what makes you feel safe - that's different.
I worked in a toxic job for a long time. It took me two years to realize it was not just dysfunctional, but actually toxic. It took another year to realize enough was enough. I've had this happen in a number of interpersonal relationships as well (which, for those of you who are steady readers, are already figuring out.) But now I have a sort of list of limits.
If someone makes me feel small or unsafe, I no longer spend time with them - even if it means being rude, loud, disrespectful, or hurting their feelings.
If I feel so angry or frustrated by what someone is saying, I give myself permission to walk away or exit the conversation - without an apology, explanation. I no longer believe that as a woman of color I am required to exhaust my own emotional energy in order to engage in "dialogue" with another human being.
If I am undervalued in my work or in my relationship, I have a limit of taking a step back and taking pause and reassessing. Of asking for what I want and need - "Any chance we can get a wall in place over there so I can ram that guy with my little red bumper car and have some fun here? Yes? Excellent, let's keeping riding."
It takes time. It takes practice. I find that therps, a dose of meditation and/or quiet time, meds and good friends help me to navigate when the fear is of success or of rejection and when it's something more. When it's of aggression or someone else's entitlement.
And it's ok to have limits. It's not some badge of honor to have no limits and tolerate everything. I think it makes you stronger.