Some may or may not know that I have a huge deficiency in interpersonal relations. They are often a strict mystery to me, and any understanding I’ve gained about them has come from years of memorizing “rules” based on countless faux pas I’ve made. Despite what I’ve learned, there is still so much that seems as foreign as algebra to me, yet these very same things seemed automatically wired in to most everyone else. I think it’s fair to say that the only way I’ve managed to keep any meaningful relationships going at all is because others manage to see that I do sincerely care, in spite of my errors.
So I wake up at 5 AM worrying, of all things, about boundaries. Why? Because the issue keeps coming up. Whether it’s in mentions of what merits the divorce of a spouse or how to treat an emotionally sick friend, personal boundary issues keep theming back into my life. It happens to be one area I continue to be baffled about.
In addition to my social cluelessness (which I’ve often wondered if it’s a mild form of Asperger’s lol), I also think I’m moderately codependent. The two factors together have resulted in me living a life with very few boundaries with others. I think that has actually lent toward some of my more unhealthy patterns, so naturally I want to find a way to bring a balance to this area….I just don’t know exactly how.
It’s especially important to me now that I know I’m carrying a daughter. I don’t want her to grow up and pick up my patterns, habits, and ways of thinking/feeling, but the only way to succeed at that is to change them in myself first. I want her to be healthier than me, and to know how to live her life in a better way than I’ve known to live mine. Since I’m nearly halfway through this pregnancy, there’s really no time to lose.
It’s not that I don’t know anything about boundaries or where they should be. In fact, if we are talking about lives other than my own, it is often pretty clear. If I were to simply apply the same rules to myself that I would advise to others, as though I were an indifferent third party, I’d be living a very different life. But I guess subjectivity won’t permit simplicity, so I have to start from the beginning and figure out where I am, where I need to be, and how to get there.
I do realize that boundaries are based on values. We decide what’s most important in our lives, and decide what we should accept based on those values. That’s easy enough. I wish it could be applied across the board, but there are caveats which exist (in my view) which prevent that.
For one, family. Islamically, I am encouraged to maintain ties with my blood relatives. I’m not the only one who understands this to mean that even if your family is full of addicts, saboteurs and jerks, a Muslim is to do their best to keep in touch with them and show them kindness and generosity. And while this doesn’t mean one can’t have boundaries like “you cannot drink when you’re visiting my house”, it does mean you can’t cut ties with anyone….even if you would’ve cut ties with them were they not related to you.
It just so happens that my immediate family has people that fit all of the above descriptions. What makes it worse is that the majority of my family is composed of people I’ve either never known growing up, or never spent substantial time with to have a very close relationship with. So inside me there is a conflict about remaining open and connected with people who not only are almost strangers, but are very different from me in terms of lifestyle and morals. These are not the sort of people I would choose for friends, but because they are family I figure it all doesn’t matter and ride on as I understand I should.
But that’s probably where the root of my confusion lies, because if we have no choice about remaining invested in family -no matter who or how they are- what makes it fair to set stronger boundaries for friendships or marriages with others who want to be a part of our lives? If the sickest people we know are those most closely related to us, what’s the point in being more restrictive in our dealings with those who aren’t related, but are not as sick?
And I guess that’s my main question: Are boundaries only about what’s fair to ourselves? Or should we consider what is fair to others? How do we decide what’s fair to others, and when it’s appropriate to make a sacrifice for the sake of a relationship? Or maybe even many sacrifices?
I recently was trying to sort out this dilemma about a particular girlfriend of mine who recently resumed a relationship with a man who abused her, even in spite of several risks against her family. I sought advice, and it was unanimously that I shouldn’t “cut her off”, even though I didn’t see the value in continuing the friendship. One person who responded advised me to think about why I am in that friendship, and what I get out of it. I’ve been doing exactly that, not only with her but all my friendships. It’s a good question to ask in general, I think.
And what I’ve discovered so far is that the majority of my relationships (with non-family) have been mainly for the sake of the other person and less for myself. With a few exceptions, I extended friendship merely because it was requested…never really thinking if I wanted it myself or not. Quite honestly, with my social limitations having resulted in a lack of friendships overall, I didn’t feel I was in a position to be choosy anyway.
Granted, sometimes this didn’t work out for me, and I found myself taken advantage of or used. But because I tend to be resilient (and codependent, of course), I never let this lead me to changing my approach. Without getting into all the thinking patterns I have that sustain such a dynamic, I can ultimately say that I figured I could “afford” to be used, whereas most others perhaps just couldn’t.
Even now trying to consider a way forward, I don’t know what I’m doing. I think of friends I have with strong boundaries, but sometimes I think it goes overboard. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable “cutting someone off” where another might. Don’t we owe others (besides family) something more? Or is it really all about our own comfort levels? I think if I had the answer to just that question, I’d have a lot more clarity and focus. I tend to feel that I owe others more than I owe myself, because I’m seasoned at going without and I know how to function at that level.
And that brings it back to what I think Shukurah is owed. In my mind, she is priceless so she deserves beyond the best, beyond the most. For her I would change from white to black if it meant her excellence. How can I teach her to be charitable and merciful, but without jeopardizing her own self worth? How do I instill in her a sense of self worth, when I am staring at the possibility that I may not possess much of my own?
Lots of questions, forged by years of factoring myself out of the equations. How much should I factor myself in, though? I don’t want to be one of those people who has such ridiculously high standards and expectations, that they have essentially given up any chances of intimacy. I also don’t want to be someone who thinks that I have to take anything given by others, because it’s the familiar thing to do.