All the reasons I don’t defend my own boundaries

I wish I was better at defending my boundaries. I am honestly so bad at it.

I have this problem where, even though I totally understand how important it is for people to respect each other’s boundaries, and even though I am both willing and able to go to bat *hard* for other people when their boundaries are being violated, I always, always instinctively err on the side of not rocking the boat when it comes to my own.

Either I will say nothing and hope that the violation ends soon (in situations like street (or public transit) harassment), or if I do say something I heavily downplay the importance of the issue. Like, I am so fucking ingratiating about people misgendering me – and sometimes that is actually fair, because hey, they didn’t know any better/they are genuinely trying and I can tell, but also, that shit *hurts*. Sometimes a lot. And I know I could do a better job of making it clear that people really should be trying harder, because it doesn’t hurt them to slow down enough to think before they speak (or at any rate, it probably doesn’t hurt as much as having my identity erased).

Part of this is that I don’t like to admit that I am hurt by things. I don’t like to admit that I *can* be hurt by things. On some level, I don’t trust people not to take advantage if I draw them a precise picture of what things hurt me in what ways. Which is genuinely unfair to most of the people in my life, and I am working on that.

Sometimes the problem is that, by letting someone now they are hurting me, particularly around my gender, can be a catalyst for in-depth conversation about my gender that I don’t necessarily feel like having. Like, this is not a thing that is relevant right now maybe except for the fact that I really need you to stop calling me a “girl” right now, mmkay?

I have an overwhelming desire to not seem “difficult”, to not be perceived as “causing problems”. Even while I *know* that if someone is hurting me or violating my boundaries, they are the one being difficult and causing problems. Even though I know that I am trying to *solve* the problem. But because everyone else doesn’t want to have to see the problem, I know I will be seen as the person violating that bullshit social contract about making people feel uncomfortable.

I have had problems in the past, with people whom I trust enough to actually outline important boundaries explicitly, where I have had them make it about themselves, where I have had them explain to me that they are hurt or uncomfortable about the fact that I have boundaries, where they have explicitly or implicitly guilt-tripped me about having (those) boundaries at all. In the extreme case, any time I tried to set a boundary with my abuser (especially sexually), the thing I had set a boundary around would always magically become extremely important and vital to him, and the boundary-setting had the opposite effect I intended. He would constantly poke and prod and push at it, far more so than ever would have happened if I hadn’t said anything to begin with.

So many times in my life I have sacrificed my own boundaries because people have made it more painful for me to defend them than to just let them violate me. And all of this has made me extremely circumspect about setting boundaries with anyone, ever. And it makes me extremely touchy about it when I do. Which is shitty all around.

Pro-tip: when someone tells you they don’t want to do something with you, accept that as a fucking ‘no’. Don’t make it about you – it’s fine that maybe you would have like to do that thing, but you get to express your disappointment exactly *once* before it becomes pressure and a violation of the boundary. I promise you that you were heard the first time. Don’t manufacture excuses to talk to them about that thing to try and make them see that they should be comfortable with talking to you about, because that accomplishes the exact opposite of making you seem trustworthy. It demonstrates that you can’t fucking well be trusted to respect their explicitly stated boundaries. (And *still*, when I was in this situation, by the way, I was nice about it and tried to simply reiterated my boundary, while simultaneously walking it back step-by-step (to my extreme detriment) to account for the other person’s stated discomfort about the boundary’s existence. Sometimes I hate me.)

I have had so many people be so shitty to me about boundaries both explicitly and implicitly stated, that I sometimes feel like I have no idea what to do anymore. I know that my boundaries are going to be violated. It is going to happen. And I rarely have the energy or the wherewithal to deal with violations of explicitly stated boundaries. I (almost) prefer not to tell anyone about them so that if I get hurt all I have to do is blame myself – and really, I just find it so much easier to beat up on myself and wallow in self-hatred than to actually try to deal with other people’s genuinely shitty behaviour toward me.

What I really need to learn is how to respond effectively when it happens. I need to learn that I deserve to be treated better and start writing people off (or at least downgrading my relationship with them) when they don’t make the grade. I need to learn that it is ok to get angry.

But also, I know that in the moment my immediate response to this kind of threat is to go into total shutdown, to become so trapped in my head that I can’t communicate anything more complex that small talk, and that very very often it can take me days or weeks (or sometimes, however long it takes for me to get some distance from the person who did the thing) to figure out how to fully articulate what caused that to happen and to convince myself that it’s not just my problem that I have to deal with.

I am tired. There seems to be a never-ending list of reasons for me to avoid stating and defending my boundaries. I have no solutions. What are all y’all solutions to this kind of bullshit?

The Conflation of Virtue and Weakness

Weakness-Strength1I had a realization about gaslighting recently. You see, gaslighting only works if it’s victim is willing to consider the possibility that their perspective is wrong, if they are willing to consider other people’s perspectives and incorporate new information into their world-view. It works even better when the victim trusts the perpetrator, believes them to be acting in the victim’s best interest.

This is the thing that makes so much abuse so insidious (and also just plain maddening). Predators and abusers literally take advantage of positive character traits and virtues in their victims.

Because being willing to consider other people’s perspectives? This is an absolutely necessary part of making your social justice work intersectional. It is necessary to recognize oppressions that you don’t personally experience. It is vital, in other words, to being able to fight the good fight.

And trusting our loved ones to act in our best interest? Well, this might not be a virtue in and of itself, but being able to do so is a pretty important part of being a healthy human. No one can survive as an island, and sometimes we have to put our well-being in the hands of others.

Abusers take advantage of other positive traits as well. In any romantic context, you’ll get the abusive tropes of “If you really loved me, you’d…” or analogous sentiments, which play on the victim’s desire to be a good partner, and their desire to make the person they care about happy. It takes advantage of the selfless aspects of love, without any reciprocation (Because if you really love them, you won’t ask for anything in return, amiright?)

And then there’s this other thing that happens. Abuse survivors are often framed as having made mistakes, and having allowed themselves to be taken advantage of. You were naive. You were stupid. You were, ultimately, weak.

Trusting people? That makes you weak. Loving someone and being willing to sacrifice yourself for their happiness? Weak. Being willing to consider the possibility that you are wrong about anything ever? Sooo weak.

Even if you don’t have anyone telling you the abuse was your fault, I think it’s very common for survivors to feel like they have to change the things about themselves that made them vulnerable in the first place.

This makes me really sad, because so often this is the way the narrative goes, and we get derailed into trying to figure out how to cure these weaknesses that are really virtues, and harden good people into assholes, instead of actually figuring ways of discouraging/preventing abusive behaviours in the first place. We want to turn the predators into virtuous people, not strip the virtues from victims in order to prevent their future victimhood.

I just wish I knew how to do that. All I know right now is that we need to stop repeating the damaging derailing tactic of examining all the weaknesses and mistakes of the victim. Because I don’t want to live in the world where no one has the loving, caring, open qualities that can make a person vulnerable to abuse. That’s not a solution I can accept.