Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reader Question

A reader of yesterday's post asked, "...where the line is between creating peace and being a doormat."

An excellent question. I experienced continued recurring abandonment as a small child.
I learned not to trust, and to believe both that I was unlovable, and unable to love. This, with the various abuses of my childhood, also made me a person who was vulnerable to accepting unacceptable behavior in the name of "love." As long as someone would regularly declare love, I would accept appalling behavior, as I did with my first husband.

In Al-Anon, I heard it said that I have an intrinsic value - I matter because I exist. The first hundred or so times I came across that idea I shrugged it off, because it felt so far removed from my reality. When I heard other members speak of unacceptable behavior, and how it damaged their self-esteem, I couldn't relate because I couldn't begin to grapple with the concept of self-esteem, I had only self-loathing.

It was through being accepted and loved by the other people in Al-Anon, that I could try to treat myself with love and respect. From page 51 in Courage to Change:

"...I suddenly realised that there was still one person from whom I regularly accepted unacceptable behavior - me! I was continually berating myself and blaming myself when things went wrong. I never gave myself credit for my efforts. I told myself I was homely, thoughtless, lazy, stupid. I would never say those things to a friend. I realised that until I started treating myself like a valued friend, I would be standing in the way of my own recovery."

I had to believe that I was a valuable person, and that I didn't have to accept unacceptable behavior in order to receive love. This was not an easy process, because it meant dismantling all the ideas about myself learned as a very small child, and it meant being willing to let go of my anger.

Nowadays, when I'm thinking of saying nothing, of letting it go, I need to check my motives. Am I making this choice because I know I have no control, no power? Or do I have something that I'd like to say about my feelings, or a boundary, but am afraid to state it aloud for fear of retribution in the form of a scene, coldness, or more bad behavior?

What will I gain from saying this, and what will I gain from letting it go? I can't change other people, and I lose my serenity when I try. Repeated efforts to "make someone hear " only result in frustration for me. If a boundary has been crossed, I can speak up, and make it plain I won't tolerate that, but if another person is determined not to respect my boundaries, perhaps I need to re-evaluate the relationship.

I will not tolerate certain behaviors from the alcoholic, and there has to be a consequence for the continued trespass of my boundaries, or they become meaningless. I choose what those consequences are going to be, and I try to choose wisely, with the help of my sponsor and other program friends.

If you aren't sure, ask someone else in program, "What do you do when your boundaries are continually ignored? How do you deal with it?"  Ask for their experience, strength and hope. I have found that in order for the alcoholic to have respect for my boundaries, I must, too. I must be willing to take the flak, hassle or grief I know I'll get, and keep going. My self-respect has to matter to me first, before the alcoholic will respect me.


  1. Bookmarked for future reference!

  2. It seems to be so common amongst those of us who grew up in a drinking household that we feel unloved and unwanted. And then as I got older, I thought that I had to accept the unacceptable in order to be loved at all. Now I am glad to be who I am and if others like me, so be it. If they don't, well...maybe I'm better off.

  3. Treating myself with Love and respect...It all begins with me.
    My negative self talk was and can be debilitating. Today I am learning to have compassion for myself even when I can't have compassion for myself. Acceptance where I am at in all my fallible human characteristics.
    Progress not perfection.

  4. Oof! This boundary struggle with my Qualifier is ONGOING (it pops up over and over when I reflect); am i being too harsh? not firm enough? what is my motive for setting boundaries? (punishment? teaching a lesson? anger?) and your good point - what is my motive if I DON'T set a boundary? (fear of being unloved or abandoned?).
    I LOVE these lyrics from Wicked's "Defying Gravity":
    'Too long I've been afraid of
    Losing love I guess I've lost
    Well, if that's love
    It comes at much too high a cost!'
    To me it speaks of this boundary battle of trying to hold onto something falsely that I may have never had anyway...
    Thanks for inspiring thought in me!