Posts Tagged ‘trauma’

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy lately, both because of the upcoming presidential election, and because of some bad luck I had recently with property crime. Detroit Today had a segment yesterday about criminal justice; host Steven Henderson pointed out this might be one of those rare issues on which things actually get done, as liberals’ and conservatives’ views align.  It’s like seeing a unicorn.

The BIG ISSUE with criminal justice is the purpose and the results.  Or at least, that’s what I take from the endless debates about costs and treatments and outcomes and recidivism.  We need to know what we’re putting people away TO ACHIEVE, and if we’re actually achieving our goals.

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When I teach classes, I often talk about boundaries, those gold plated ideals that make relationships healthy (or not).  Boundaries are really difficult to pin down, even for someone who’s been leading lectures and groups about boundaries for a bit over five years.  In short, they are your limits, what is and is not okay with you.

Boundaries are important to address for anyone, but particularly in cases of abuse and trauma.  Most survivors of childhood trauma (including, but not limited to, abuse) have no concept of their limits mattering.  

When they say “no”, it is not respected; their bodily autonomy, their pain, their mental and physical being, are of no consequence.  Living through this often means adults who are at the extreme ends of the boundary spectrum.  Either one rarely says “no” because they believe it is meaningless, and do not feel comfortable speaking up for their needs (think of a person who is uncomfortable with a full body hug, but does not pull away or ask others to stop, or someone who tells you their life story after just meeting you), or can be completely closed off, avoiding all physical and emotional contact with others, for fear of being taken advantage of.  These are when we have boundary issues.

All people desiring healthy, rewarding relationships need the ability to set limits with those around us (and know what our limits are).  However, just because boundaries are with others does NOT mean they get respected, and this is where things get a bit sticky.

I can assert my boundaries, but that doesn’t mean you’ll respect them.  You have control over you, and I have control over me.

As an example, one of my close friends is constantly calling other people “pussy” and “faggot.”  I find both of these words extremely offensive; not only do I have close LGBTQ friends, I am acutely aware of how language perpetuates prejudice and oppression (with often fatal consequences) and shows my friend’s incredible privilege as a cis, straight white male.

I have repeatedly asked him to not use the words; I have tried to open up discussions about how language is super powerful; I work to make him realize how stupidly offensive it is to use these words.  However hard I try, I cannot control what he does.

If I assert my boundaries, and they are not respected, I have a choice.  I can continue to assert boundaries, and I can leave.  Sometimes, the best assertion is a clear consequence and an I statement.  Put on your learning cap!

I feel ___________ when you ___________.  I would like it ____________.  If you continue ______________, I may have to leave the room/conversation.

I feel uncomfortable when you use the word faggot around me.  I would like it if you could try not to use those words around me.  If you keep using these words,  I may not be able to continue to be around you.

At that point, you can leave and come back, ensuring you follow through on your consequence.  And it’s worth looking at – why would you keep spending time with someone who doesn’t respect your limits, or the basic humanity of human beings?

At the end of the day, you cannot love others using the language of murder, torture, oppression and hate.