I had this amazing exchange with Staci Jordon Shelton the other day that culminated in this gem: “…gaslighting ourselves in the name of “compassion” is a no.” – Staci Jordan Shelton
I have done this my entire life up until very recently. Twenty twenty was the beginning of the end of that for me because the pandemic and all that came with it for us globally and for me personally sent me spiralling into a severe case of burnout. Before *waves at all of that* I had the capacity to ruminate on why a person might behave the way they’re behaving, suss out whatever wound they were lashing out from, figure out how to accommodate that wound so that they wouldn’t lash out at me anymore, and forgive them. After *waves at all of that* I found myself at and even over capacity. Volatile, some might say. I had no boundaries before. Suddenly I started getting some (because if I didn’t, I was literally gonna die), and I started saying things like “We don’t do that here” and “No unsolicited advice please” and “That’s gaslighting” and “No” and “I need less of that, and more of this please.”
At that point, I started losing people. And, listen. That shit hurt, but I’m a grown ass woman in therapy so I’ve come to know that we all have the right to decide who is a good fit for us. We all have the right to respond to a newly placed limit or boundary with “that’s not what I signed up for, bye.” We all have the right to respond to “this is what I need.” with “I haven’t got it to give.” We don’t owe anybody our friendship. We don’t have to like everybody. We don’t have to tolerate everybody. We don’t have to accommodate everybody.
We get to curate our lives so that they work for us, so that there’s *space* for us, and so that it gives us life force, and as soon as I started to really integrate that (some time around 2022, tbh), I started to realized that all of the above applies to me, too, and I stopped asking myself questions like “why is this person behaving this way?” and started asking myself questions like “do I have the capacity to deal with the way this person is behaving towards me?”
Here in 2023, the answer is almost always “no”. Because I’m *at capacity*. It is a kinder thing, I think, to just admit that and go where I am not pushed beyond my limits. I’ve done the whole “I can tolerate this because I know this person has xyz reasons for doing it” my whole life. I did it for the entirety of my marriage. I’ve done it for years in friendships in which I felt like I was “The Bank Of Effy”. I’ve done it for years in friendships in which the threat of abandonment was *constant*. I did it in friendships where I was being *lied* to. I erroneously believed that I had a spiritual imperative to be as tolerant as possible and to allow people to act out around me and ON me in the name of compassion and kindness, because listen. None of us are perfect. We all have flaws. We’re all going to fuck up. We all hurt each other. Right?
When you’re at capacity, you’re at capacity. When you’re out of life force because you’ve been giving it away to all comers without sourcing any for yourself, you’re out of life force. Mana bar empty. Zero spoons.
I’m at that place. I’ve been at that place for a while. And it’s time to stop gaslighting myself in the name of “compassion”, because it isn’t actually compassion. It’s people pleasing. It’s self-abandonment. It’s self-abuse.
We all get to decide how we wish to be treated. We all get to decide what our limits are. I had to learn what mine were, and as I learned, I had to move the bar, which meant some people lost access to me. And, look. I get that this shit hurts. I do. But I don’t owe anyone access to me unless they came out of my body, and even then, there are limits.
It would be FANTASTIC if we could all walk around with a QR code somewhere on our person that a new friend/acquaintance could scan that listed our limits, but unfortunately, that’s not a thing. Instead, we have to engage with people and actually *bump up against* each other’s limits in order to figure out what those limits are. And in some cases, a person doesn’t even know that they have a particular limit until that limit has been tested. And some testing of limits calls for what I call “rupture and repair”, which means you say “nope” and the other person says “ope, sorry”, and you work together to figure out how to be in each other’s lives in a way that best serves you both. But some testing of limits calls for a yeet. Some things can’t be come back from, and you, and only you get to decide what those things are.
I have soft limits and hard limits.
For example, I can be friends with an MLM marketer even though I hate MLMs with a passion. As long as the person doing the MLM knows that I am *not to be sold to* and respects that, we’re cool.
I can be friends with an anti-theist as long as they don’t sneer at my witchy woo woo.
I can love someone who has a substance abuse disorder but I have hard limits around people being belligerently drunk around me.
I can hang out with and even enjoy people who’ve done nothing to examine their unconscious content, but I will be wary of their projections, and if I get caught in the crossfire, I’ll quietly take my leave.
I have hard limits that are there to protect my already traumatized ass from further traumatization. These include:
People who have an unearned sense of entitlement to my time, energy, attention, presence.
Sarcasm. I love being roasted by my friends, and I *live* for good banter, but as soon as sarcasm or “biting wit” is used *in anger*, I’m out.
Passive aggression. That shit causes me so much cognitive dissonance that I go into fawn, and nope. If you make me go into fawn, you’re not for me.
Racism, misogyny, trans- and homophobia, xenophobia, othering.
Abusive behaviour of any kind – at me or around me – yelling, name calling, gaslighting, cold shouldering, triangulation. Again, if you’re triggering a trauma response in me, it’s a hard no.
Ambivalence. I get trauma bonded to “come here go away” humans.
People who use threats of abandonment as a way to try to manipulate a change in my behaviour or as a ploy for attention. If you tell me you’re going to end our relationship, boom. The relationship is over. There is no coming back from that for me. Hard. No.
All of the above are very much a part of being human and it doesn’t make you a bad person if you’ve engaged in those ways, especially if you’ve caught yourself and course corrected, but they’re a hard limit for me *because* they are unsafe for me. They create trauma responses in me, and sometimes even trauma bonds in me. I am over here trying not to be a cautionary tale about the suicide rate in those with C-PTSD. I’m trying to save my own life, here. So this is serious business. I have to be super careful about who gets access to me.
And, okay, some of the people that engage in the above *are* bad people, but most aren’t and I know that. Most are just wounded in ways that are incompatible with my wounds. We will *not be good for each other*. Sparing each other this kind of bad chemistry is a *kindness*.
It’s a kindness to walk away from me if you find me too much.
It’s a kindness when I walk away from you if you’re shredding my nervous system.
Sometimes, kindness looks like leaving.
I’ll leave it at that.
Picture for tax.