Bullies, Boundaries and Being Nice or Being Strong

I’ve had a sobering experience that’s reminded me how much work I still have to do on not rescuing other people at my expense.  I started riding lessons before Easter.  I loved my first lesson, loved the school, loved my horse, my teacher.  But in my second lesson the teacher yanked my foot out of the stirrup and pushed my leg up at a horrible angle to adjust the stirrup.  It hurt like hell, but then it seemed fine.

Until later.  Obviously I’d pulled something.  She’d pulled something.  It went from sore to agony.  I had to stop riding.  5 weeks and R1500 later, with more costs to come, I’m finally just beginning to mend.  Still lots of pain, still feeling like death from the anti-inflammatories which I’ve had to cut down on anyway because they’ve been giving me seizures.  so I’ve just got to suck it up and take the pain.  Can’t stand, can’t sit.  It’s been bloody scary.  Nightmare city.

You’d think my teacher and the admin would have done everything in their power to apologize, and try to help me feel better.  Well, they tried to make me feel guilty.  I paid for 14 lessons upfront and have had 2.  But when I first asked – nicely – for credit, I was reminded I signed an indemnity form saying that if I injured myself I absolved them of responsibility.  Don’t remember a clause saying if the teacher injures me it’s my fault.

When I explained that the teacher’s actions had injured me, I still tried to be nice about it.  Big mistake.  I got more of “it’s not our fault”.   Okaay.  Here’s the sobering part.  I doubted myself, and upped the “be nice” mode.  Why do I do that?   It’s old stuff.  I’m afraid to say to somebody you hurt me.  Every time I’ve tried it significantly in my life I’ve been as significantly nailed, or criticized for being aggressive.  Something in me sees that as a fate worse than death.

There’s still a part of me that so wants people to love me and like me and is so scared of being punished that I want to let it ride when I’m hurt.  I just couldn’t say this is bullshit. The teacher hurt me so please take responsibility.  Instead I made a trillion excuses for them.  It didn’t make them be nicer to me, of course.  In fact the teacher said the injury wasn’t her fault because I came to the lesson with a sore back anyway.  Which I didn’t.  But I got confused.  Were the drugs in my system messing with my head?  Was I trying to make them pay for something that was really my responsibility?

But how long can you be nice to somebody who doesn’t give a damn that they’ve hurt you?  Fortunately, sanity returned.  So I called up and said, the teacher is responsible and I’d like credit for 12 lessons.  End of story.   I got the credit, but begrudgingly, almost spitefully, and only when I got aggressive.  It was godawful.  The prophecy fulfilled.  Stand up for yourself and you get punished.  It’s hard to explain why it was so painful.  A really vulnerable part of me got exposed there.

But all is not lost.  My muscles will recover and my life will get back on track.  And I’ve learned a good lesson.  The people who don’t like me to stand up for myself when they hurt me – I don’t need them to like me.  I don’t like them, and I don’t want them in my world.  So if I start standing up for myself all the time, in big things and small things, I’ll whittle those people right out of my life.   As for being nice?  Gag.  It’s enough now.  Time to step out of this piece of history.

Setting Boundaries and Claiming your Life

If you knew you had 2 hours left to live, what you would do with those 2 hours?  I know what I’d do with mine.  I’d hot foot it to the piano, where everything about who I am and what I am makes sense right at the core of me; my body feels comfortable, my mind is at peace and I’m at one with myself and God.  It’s physically wildly pleasurable, and the energy that’s generated in my body feels atomic.  Life has prospect and meaning, and I have vision of it.  I’m working hard all the time while I’m playing, but it doesn’t feel like work.

I got up today, switched on my computer, had breakfast, read some of the script of Chinatown.  Planned my day.  It didn’t include piano.  I thought about what I have to do.  My heart sank.  I looked at the piano.  My heart sang.  Piano and heart singing won the day.  Three hours later I sat looking at the place I’d gone to while playing and thought about what the ideal life for me would be, how I can achieve it, and whether what I’m doing now is getting in the way or moving me towards it.

People always say you have to know what you want before you can have it.  I think it’s true but what gets in the way?  All the crap in your head that tells you you should be this you should be that, this will make you important, that will make you lovable and a valuable member of society.  While those messages are playing out, it can seem as if you really want what they’re promising.

A lot of it is about what other people believe you should want, or what they believe you have to do.  Often they haven’t thought it through at all, or they might have lived it out and actually it hasn’t worked for them.  Don’t pay attention to yourself, you have to be practical, not everybody can have what they want, everybody has to do things they don’t like doing, if you don’t have money you haven’t got any options, beggars can’t be choosers.

Mind your own business? It’s a dirty phrase when it means be real and true to yourself and don’t meddle in other people’s reactions to you, don’t rescue them.  You need something? Don’t ask  because it’s good to give, but it’s shameful to have to receive.  The messages all seem to have one core element: don’t put your boundaries down, you’re not allowed to, for one reason or another.  It’s harmful to society, or to your community or your relationships, or your honor, whatever.

It isn’t though.   What it’s harmful to is your capacity to identify what you want out of your life.  And it’s true that if you can’t identify it, you can’t claim it, so you can’t work towards it.   If you won’t claim it because it’s too hard to put boundaries down, life won’t rescue you.   Lately I’ve experienced myself putting them down without apology, leaving no room for debate.  This is what freedom is. I’m in charge.  I get to say “this is okay” and “this isn’t”.  I have absolutely nothing to lose.

And everything to gain.  The more I do it, the clearer my vision becomes for my life.  I know what I want.  I want a life where I have time and energy to play as much piano as I want.  Where I have one writing project at a time, and an income from my writing that allows me to have choice of where I live in the world and mobility.  That much I’m real clear about.  I’m even clear about how to achieve it.  For the first time ever.  What’s the title of this blog?  That’s right, Stepping out of History.

Twelve steps of learning how to say no

These are the twelve steps of the process of learning how to say no.

Step one: you say yes all the time, no matter what, and you believe it’s because you’re being kind and thoughtful and that that is a good thing.  The chances of you being Catholic are pretty high, but it’s not cast in stone.  Be nice.  Be a good listener.  Everybody loves you.  You’re so sweet, so kind, such a good person.  That makes you feel fantastic.  All Mother Theresa-like.

Step two: you realize that you’re always being slapped around in one way or another, or else people never want to listen to you, and nobody ever thinks about you.  You don’t in any way think this is your fault, because you’re being nice.   You accept it as your fate, your challenge.  You tell yourself you mustn’t be angry, you must just be nicer.  Turn the other cheek.  Love your enemy.  Embrace him or her in a pink bubble of love.

Step three: pink bubble seems to keep bursting, and you start to notice how much being slapped around actually hurts, that it doesn’t make you feel very good.  You wonder how people don’t realize that they’re always talking and you’re always listening.  You try not to get angry because anger is negative, right?   You apologize for yourself all the time.  You force yourself to be positive.  You sigh at how selfish they all are.

Step four: you can’t escape it, being slapped around and having nobody listen to you is hideous.  You realize it’s your fault, because you’re not as good as everybody else, you deserve it.  You can’t stop yourself getting angry, resentful.   You start not wanting to be good any more.  You just want to avoid the abuse, or you want people to just shut up.  You don’t realize that you’re actually telling them, by silent but very effective means, that it’s okay to walk all over you.

Step five: you find somebody who knows more than you do.  You listen to them.  You let them love you, you let them show you.  Whooee.  That feels good.  Weird, but good.

Step six: your anger takes over.  You notice every little infraction, every abuse, every moment of being ignored.  You start wanting to hurt people.  You don’t let yourself, but you want to.  You blame them.  You still don’t realize that you are the one who’s saying “go on, use me, abuse me, don’t listen to me, it’s okay”.

Step seven: you start not being so nice.  People start noticing, and withdrawing from you.  They start saying things like “I don’t know what’s happened to you, you used to be such a nice person”.  Your thoughts are not ones you’d care to make public.

Step eight: you start getting positively aggressive, refusing to listen at all, butting in when people are blathering on and on.  You start not answering the phone, you pull away from everybody and still you blame the world.  You’re angry at God, the universe, your neighbor, your mother, your brother, whoever.  You start expressing that anger in the privacy of your own world, in ways that don’t hurt anybody or you.  You still don’t realize that it takes two to tango.  You get disillusioned by life.  You know you want things to be different.  It’s all god’s fault.  You cling to the person you reached out to.  They keep on supporting you, telling you there’s nothing wrong with you.  Something within you gathers momentum.

Step nine: you start noticing that there are some people who don’t ever get abused or slapped around or walked over.  You wonder what that’s about.  You can’t get rid of the idea that though you’re blaming God, everything is really your fault.  You realize this has dogged you all your life.  You face the truth of it.  It hurts like hell.  You want to run but the person you turned to helps you stay and face your demons.

Step ten: you start realizing that you no longer let people walk all over you; that you’re even beginning to recognize the ones who want to do it.  You avoid them.  You actually start saying no.  You still get really angry at them because you’re not totally sure it’s okay to say no.  You’re get furious that they dare to ask, dare to try and slap you around.  A lot of it is still their fault.  And underneath that, it’s yours.  It’s very confusing.  Who’s fault is it really?

Step eleven: you make the connection that some people know how to say no without getting angry or defensive.  They just say no.  They don’t justify themselves, or enter into debate.  No.  It’s a very short word, and they know how to say it.  They give a clear message.  You realize they’ve got some kind of knowledge – that it’s completely okay to say no.

Step twelve: you begin to make another connection: all my life I’ve been saying yes, go on, abuse me, talk me to death, walk all over me, grab all the attention, be the most important one.  You see that you’re the one who has given the green light, because you didn’t believe you had the right to say no.   Or you were afraid they would leave you.  You didn’t think there were any other people in the world you could hang out with.  But you see that you were wrong.  It’s been fine to say no to the people who walked all over you, because you didn’t want them in your world anyway, not if they didn’t want to do give and take.  You start drawing people towards you who do give and take naturally.  They don’t have an investment in using or abusing.  They know how to talk, they know how to listen.  This is a remarkable discovery about the human race and the nature of cause and effect in human interaction. Give people clear messages.  Learn how to do it if it’s difficult.

Now you’re going places.  Now you understand that you’re the one who has to change.  You’re the one who has to learn how to be clear and give clear messages.  You’re the one who has to sometimes say no.  And even better, you see that you can!  Freedom lies ahead!

Setting boundaries

Boundaries.  It isn’t enough to say to some people I’d like you to respect me so please don’t lie to me or try to take advantage of me.   In fact that approach never works because the people who would respect it and me DON’T NEED TO BE ASKED.

This man who wanted to employ me to write articles said he was abiding by the rules of the freelance agency through which he advertised and I placed a bid.   After I wrote my blog he emailed me to say he would honor the contract, and sent me an article to write.  I did it.  I was proud of myself, and pleased to realise it wasn’t really difficult, that if I worked for about 6-7 hours a day at it I could earn what I need to stay alive and even have a bit extra.  It’s an interim measure, but that’s what I need at the moment.  I thought about being able to get my car fixed, and buy more memory for my computer and get my piano tuned and buy underwear – even a good warm jersey and jeans for winter.   Have more interesting and properly nourishing food…  Yum.

When I submitted the article I reiterated my fee – which he had accepted.  I lay in bed feeling excited and not able to sleep.  I woke up this morning relieved that I’d found a solution.   Until I got an email from the fellow saying he refused to pay my fee and pretending he was poor and couldn’t understand English very well.   La la la la la.   I knew he was lying, but although without hesitation I said I wouldn’t work with him unless he honored our contract and worked through the agency, there was a part of me that wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.   I hate believing people are slimy bastards.  Well, he made it obvious to me, because he reiterated the bullshit.  So I repeated myself.  He said ok.  And I thought that was the end.  Then blow me down if he didn’t say he had 5 more articles for me and I could work for him any time.

Oh.  Did that mean he agreed to my terms?  No.  He just thought he could seduce me into agreeing. By giving me a little nugget of work and promising me a lifetime contract.  Thought he could push my boundaries over.  But didn’t I just tell him?  Obviously not strongly enough.  Everything I’d said had made absolutely no impact on him at all.  Because some part of me wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Some people take that as an access route to “yes ok”.  It’s like they can smell it in you, your hesitation, your unwillingness to acknowledge that they are total scoundrels and don’t give a damn about you, just want to use you.

Here’s the lesson.  Once your gut tells you OR THE EVIDENCE SHOWS YOU that they are scoundrels, DON’T GIVE THEM THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.  DON’T.  Say no and walk away.  Keep it simple.  If they’re going to respect you, they’ll do it without having to be told, your alarm bells won’t go off, you won’t be trying to figure out if they’re telling the truth or not. If they don’t do it instinctively, it doesn’t matter how nice or believable their words are, it’s ALL BULLSHIT.

So I learned my lesson, albeit a bit late in the day, and said adios, don’t contact me again.  I shan’t reply if he does.

Damn.  Could have done with that job.  But it’s not the end of the world.   At least I got some sort of response and it took me a day to put my boundary down.  Now I want a better, legitimate one.  I’m a decent writer, somebody must want to hire me.   Somebody who wants to pay me more than $1.2 per 500 word article.  I can write 5 a day, which means, working 10 hours a day every day, I could earn $180 a month.

If I go and live on the streets it could work.   I want decent opportunities, not crap ones.   Well, I’ve wondered about all those article-writing opportunities, now I see what they’re about.   Rank exploitation.  Not for me.  I will find another way.  I will let another way into my world.

If you say yes you get what you say yes to.   You have to claim your worth, your value.  You have to set the boundaries.  Well, consider mine set.  So it’s back to doing work that isn’t paying me yet, and looking for other work that will.  And promoting my blog.  And writing my script and my bio and and and.  Piano.  Singing.  Italian has gone out the window for a while.  I should be depressed about all this but I’m not.  I feel certain today that saying no to the bad stuff keeps the door open for the good stuff.

Well now, that’s a good Stepping out of history thing.