Regret, Type 1: Broken Personal Boundaries

In 2015, I wrote this piece about No Regrets, and it’s recently come back up in conversation.

@Lilianthorn mentioned self-image issues leading to regret, and I said that regret, to me, is more a boundary issue than a self-image issue, and she asked me to clarify.

I started to write, and realized this might be a better writing on boundaries…

To clarify, soft personal boundaries are often a result of self-image issues, so there is that link. I don’t think it’s as direct as posited, though.

regret

feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).

So, there are two aspects, In the case of my No Regrets writing, I’m speaking specifically to regrets over what HAS been done.

And generally, people regret things they’ve done because they crossed their own picket lines, broke their boundaries, consented to things they did not want to consent to, etc.

Continue reading “Regret, Type 1: Broken Personal Boundaries”

What Is Strength?

In a comment on [my blog] on one of my writing earlier this week, I was asked:

“I hear all the time and see it everywhere on social media. What exactly is a strong woman? what makes a woman strong?”

This hit a bit of a button with me.

I wrote about [The Lie Of “But You Are So Strong…”][https://fetlife.com/users/50648/posts/4688824] in October, 2017. I ranted a bit about how frustrating it was to listen to people I love give up on themselves and their situations because they weren’t as “strong” as me.

So, I have opinions about what strength is, and what people mean by this when they say it.

In any gender. Although there are differences in how traditionally masculine-presenting people are treated versus feminine-presenting folx, and I’ll mention that.

When they say “strong,” they often mean unemotional.

Well, for the masculine sorts. For the feminine, they often mean “more like the masculine sorts.”

They don’t see a break down where they think a breakdown should be, or would be, were it them. So, it must be because of strength.

The challenge with this is that sometimes takes a stronger person to share that emotion and be vulnerable. Also, maybe there is no visible emotion because while for the beholder it’s a deeply touching topic, but the “strong” person is experiencing it differently.

Or, like I did when @selene73 and I were in a hit and run that totaled my car on a Friday night at about 11pm, I simply dealt with what I had to deal with over the weekend, and waited until Monday morning to break down, when I felt like I had the time and space to let it all out.

Is that strength?

Or is it practice?

When they say “strong,” they often mean confrontational.

Or ‘takes no shit.’

This is often people who stand up for what is right as they see it.

And when they call this strong, they are right. It takes guts to risk confrontation and people disliking you over opinions. It takes practice for most people to feel comfortable getting here.

It’s strong, too, when those confrontations are done on behalf of others who cannot (at that time) step up themselves.

However, when confrontation (especially physical) is the ONLY way people solve things (or the go-to), they are not necessarily strong. They are more likely to be bullies, just as weak as the rest of us, in their own ways, and fighting hard to protect that soft underbelly.

When they say “strong,” they often mean non-confrontational.

I know. It’s contradictory. But so are humans.

In some cases, strong is code ‘takes all the shit slung in jest, without whining and making others defend their hurtful “jokes.”‘

Of course, always avoiding confrontation weakens us. We don’t stand up for ourselves and our needs and we don’t stand up for others.

When they say “strong,” they often mean capable or efficient.

Being organized is not being strong.

It is a strength. And a very very good one to have.

However, organization is more like an assist to strength. You can do more, lift more with the structure of organization than you can without.

A single mom of three with two jobs can seem a lot stronger (and feel it) when she has such mad organization skills, that things rarely go wrong.

When things are disorganized, even the strongest person can get overwhelmed by the minutiae.

When they say “strong,” they often mean helpful.

I mean, if you’re here helping me up off the ground, it must be because you’re strong, yes?

Sure.

Or maybe you just have better leverage right now.

It’s easy for me to help people. In many cases, easier than helping myself.

Does that make me strong?

No.

Same with…

When they say “strong,” they often mean more experienced.

Being secure in the knowledge of 10 years of mindful study and practice is not strength. It’s just knowledge.

It might have taken strength to get that knowledge.

It might have come easy.

Simply having it isn’t strength.

When they say “strong,” they often mean they are authentic.

Which is fair. It does take a certain type of strength or courage to be totally and completely authentic. To be yourself, despite pressures to fit 100% into the norms of society.

But authenticity itself is not strength, although it may be indicative of it.

When they say “strong,” they often mean dominant.

Which is bullshit.

Actually, what a lot of people mean when they say strong is “dominant man.” I have interacted with people who claim that the ONLY reason a woman might choose to be dominant is because she is hurting from past relationships and weak.

rolls eyes

Yeah, can’t be the same for men, nah.

Thing is, I know plenty of submissive people who are strong. Many who are stronger than those who take the dominant or leadership role.

Sure, many dominants are strong. Many are weak as well. This is people. We are a mixed bag, regardless of the box you put us in.

When they say “strong,” they often mean…

What do people mean when they say “strong” in your experience?

What do YOU mean when you call someone “strong?”

I look forward to your thoughts.

Fuck No, I STILL Will Not Compromise And Neither Should You!

Actually, you can do whatever you want and makes you happy. It’s none of my business.

You see, I’ve written a bit about compromise in the past—to mixed results.

Some people just “get it,” or want to, because what I’m saying feels right.

Others, reject the idea in toto. They take offense at my way of relationshipping and my explaining it in writings, as if that means that their way is wrong.

Just like ethical non-monogamy is right for me right now, monogamy can be right for you—or not. Or swinging, slutting, or being totally alone…it’s none of my business what you and your potential partner(s) choose for your own life.

In the just over two years since I wrote, Fuck NO, I Will NOT Compromise!, I’ve discussed the idea with hundreds of people from many different angles, and I’ve refined my thoughts.

I’d like to present those to you, not to convince you—there will always be many ways of living love—but to show you one more of those many ways, and this one MAY be what some of you have been searching for.

Or not. Like I said, none of my business, really.

Continue reading “Fuck No, I STILL Will Not Compromise And Neither Should You!”

How Empathy Traps Us

Let’s talk about empathy. What is empathy, really?

There are three types of empathy:

  • Emotional
  • Cognitive
  • Compassionate

Empathy is powered mostly by mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a class of neuron that modulate their activity both when an individual executes a specific motor act and when they observe the same or similar act performed by another individual.

In other words, these little thingys in our brains MIRROR what we see others doing. See people feeling sad? Mirror neurons put on their “feeling sad” pants, and boom! We feel sad, too.

That’s emotional empathy, feeling what others feel, “putting yourself in their shoes.”

Emotional empathy is a super power. It syncs you with others. You can comprehend and feel their pain as your own. Also their joy. WOW!

Emotional empathy is necessary to human evolution and it’s fucking amazing. It can also burn you out: A study by three Australian researchers found that, under stress, emotionally perceptive individuals reported higher levels of depression and hopelessness.

They can feel what others are feeling, and it adds to their own. Absorbing other people’s pain is exhausting, especially in therapeutic or care-taking fields, or in dysfunctional relationships. Over time, it can burn you up.

(I’m missing some function in this area. It’s called ASPD. That’s where I’m “broken.”)

Then, there is cognitive empathy. This is a result of active listening and attention combined with results-oriented observation, leading to more and more accurate insights into what people think and feel.

It’s essentially turning your brain into a database of findings that lead you to more accurate understanding and predictions over time.

I can do this, after years of practice and care.

There is a big difference between the two, though.

Because those who have emotional empathy, especially those who have it strongly, FEEL what others feel, and often don’t know the feelings aren’t theirs.

This is the trap.

Because when those rushes of feelings flood over you, it’s not easy to separate them from your own.

Now, this may not happen to you. Let’s go over a couple of examples:

You’re in a great mood, waiting impatiently for your mate to get home, so you can tell them all about your amazing news.

They get home, and they’re a bit cranky. They listen to your news, and they just don’t get super-excited. In fact, they seem kind of annoyed.

You immediately get annoyed, like really annoyed. How dare they?

You’re walking along on a beautiful sunny day feeling down.

Then, you see a baby laughing and smiling. Suddenly, your whole outlook brightens. You can do this. It doesn’t seem nearly as bad as it did just moments before.

Your partner begins to cry, and your eyes well up.

You suddenly feel sad as well.

Of course, these are simplistic examples.

And even without innate empathy, you might feel shadows of these things: annoyance that your partner did not share your joy; brightening a bit, because babies are cute; feeling sad that your partner is sad.

With innate empathy, though, you will feel what you feel, and feel what they feel. Their feelings may affect your feelings, change your feelings, heighten your feelings, or even drown out your own feelings altogether.

Like when one partner is cranky, and the other picks up on those feelings, and feeds them back, so partner one is now cranky AND annoyed that their partner is being cranky, too, which now affects the second partner, adding to their distress…

And so on.

And that’s the trap.

Trapping us in our feelings with another.

YES, it’s good to know how the people around you feel and care. That’s not a trap. In fact, I view that as a sort of magic that I wish I had WAY more of than I do.

It’s NOT good, however, to feel their feelings as if they were yours, and not know where your feelings begin and theirs end.

Because, not only is it more difficult then to find any sort of solution, with both of you flailing about in emo-land, but your sadness might be mixed with your own experiences and feelings, while theirs is with their own, which could create two terribly different experiences.

I had someone once accuse me of causing shame to someone in public.

I know I can miss such things, and I was horrified. I went to the person, and apologized. They were surprised. They were, indeed feeling shame when I did what I did, but it was at something else, and what I did actually alleviated the issue.

The person making the accusation felt the shame and attributed it to what I was doing, because that would have bothered them, which was totally different from what was happening in the other person’s head.

Which is why I posted this last Friday: When They Lose Their Shit…, about allowing the person’s whose emotions boil over to have their time, and to not react with our own responses, emotions, and such.

Because it’s too easy for someone’s upset to upset us, and a simple issue to become a knock-down-drag-out fight (literally or figuratively), when setting the emotions we feel aside to pay attention can give us the space we need to see and solve.

So, we turn to compassionate empathy.

Compassionate empathy may stem from emotional empathy or cognitive empathy. It’s how we engage with it that matters.

It’s a sort of mild detachment, separating of ourselves from another, and allowing them to fill the “them” part of us with their feelings, while keeping our personal emotional boundaries in place so all those feelings don’t spill over into the “us” parts of us.

Unless of course, we WANT them to fill us with their joy, their love, their desire, their tenderness…

And that’s cool.

However, to take on their despair, their hopelessness, their sorrow? It’s hard to find the way, even together, when both sets of eyes are filled with tears.

So, how do we do this?

When we feel another’s suffering infusing us, we put that in the “them” part of us, and focus on what we can do to help.

Instead of focusing on the suffering, focus on the relief. Instead of feeling hopeless, feel hopeful. Look for the ways to create change, to help, to share your own joy or strength or resoluteness.

Look for a way to pull them out, to offer a hand.

And avoid the trap yourself.

A few more writings on empathy and the desire to help:

The Healthy Boundaries Series, I-A: Oversharing

Healthy Boundaries & Oversharing

A little over a week ago, I wrote [the first in a series about healthy boundaries,][https://fetlife.com/users/50648/posts/5526094] and in the writing, I mentioned oversharing, which struck a chord with many.

However, I think that it’s important to clarify what I mean by oversharing in the context of healthy boundaries and connecting with others.

I just looked up the word, and here’s the definition:

o·ver·share

/ˈōvərˌSHer/
verb
reveal an inappropriate amount of detail about one’s personal life.

And this it is. But who gets to decide what is an “inappropriate amount of detail”?

To me, the only answer is “I do. Me.”

Or you, if we’re talking about you and your level of sharing.

That is the key when it comes to personal boundaries and creating healthy limits.

Sure, other people can judge us for what we choose to share. They may back off, or determine that we are WAYYYYY too out them for them.

That’s true. And that’s their right.

Heck, people do that with me quite a lot.

However, that’s THEIR boundary issue, not mine.

Because when it comes to my healthy boundaries, I get to decide what I’m willing to share at any level of a relationship (or stranger-ship), and what is good for me to do so.

What my healthy boundaries are.

For example, I share a lot with you. All of you. People I know and people I don’t. And some of you may read what I write about my life and think, “Ugh, that’s too much.”

Or, when I’m on an early date, I’m quite frank about my freak flag. And I scare A LOT of otherwise enthusiastic people off.

And that’s OK. I’m comfortable with what I share and how I share it, because I’ve thought seriously about it, and discussed it with people who matter to me, so whether you think it’s too much or not, I don’t feel uncomfortable with you knowing XYZ about me.

On the other hand, I will often refuse to speak about the same things one-on-one via private message.

Weird, huh?

Well, to me, it’s more intimate and suggestive then, and it’s more wank-fodder-y feeling. Which I find gross, and so I decline. Because my personal boundaries guide me well and I feel good about them.

And often, then, the opposite reaction comes at me, “Why you no want to tell me these details about you sex, huh?”

In their eyes, I may be under-sharing.

IDGAF.

Because personal boundaries are about me protecting, respecting and honoring me, not anyone else.

Just like yours are about protecting, respecting and honoring you, and not me or anyone else.

So, as you think on your own personal boundaries, start with worrying less about what might “scare others off,” or “make you vulnerable,” and think more on what feels GOOD and RIGHT to you.

Maybe ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you sharing because you think this person deserves/needs to know?
  • Are you sharing because you hope for something in return (attention, love, pity)?
  • Are you sharing as a reciprocal conversation (they shared something comparable)?
  • Are you sharing because you’re nervous?
  • Are you sharing because you want to impress?

And

  • If you share this now, and you get a negative reaction, or it ends your interaction, will it still be right to you?

And if it feels good and right, your are sharing just enough for where you are right now.

And as you grow and learn, you can adjust/experiment with what might feel good and right to you based on the results you get and what you want from your interactions.

The Healthy Boundaries Series, I: Emotional Intimacy

Healthy Boundaries

I’ve been asked quite a lot about personal boundaries and how to set them, how to recognize what is a healthy boundary and how to enforce the boundaries we have.

I’ve been kind of noodling on this for a while, and I feel like I’ve got a good idea of how to tackle it, now, so I’m going to start with a biggie: Intimacy—in this case, emotional intimacy.

In each part of this series, I’m going to give examples of a boundary being too soft, too hard, and what a healthy boundary level looks like.

I’m also VERY open to your thoughts and opinions and questions as we go, including suggestions on other boundaries that you’d like to see covered.

Let’s start!

Too Soft Boundaries in Intimacy

People with soft intimacy boundaries tell way too much too soon about their personal lives, often either scaring people off or signaling they are vulnerable to less-than-pure intentions.

They are commonly referred to as “oversharers.”

It’s more than that, though, because there are many ways to be open and transparent without necessarily having weak intimacy boundaries.

It’s often a combination of oversharing AND making themselves overly vulnerable to people who have not yet matched their level of investment and disclosure in a relationship.

Too Hard Boundaries in Intimacy

These people avoid any vulnerability or closeness in relationships, period. Many avoid emotional relationships altogether, usually to their detriment, as it leads to loneliness and a sense of alienation/isolation.

This is often the result of being hurt in the past, and it’s totally understandable. It’s still not healthy.

Sure, this could be good for a time of healing, and reflection. However, never stepping back out of that hard shell will ultimately stifle your experience in life.

Healthy Boundaries in Intimacy

These people value their own thoughts and opinions, while also being open to others.

They share pieces of their life, and look for others to share in return, creating an evened-out give-and-take of vulnerability and deepening of the connection.

They’ve probably thought about about what and how much they’re willing to share with “just anyone,” and what they prefer to keep to themselves until they know people better, and they stick to those personal boundaries, even under pressure, or when they REALLY want someone to like them.

They realize that sharing too much, too fast can overburden and stress others, leaving them in an awkward and uncomfortable position.

They also protect their own well-being by being clear when they don’t want to be involved. This may be because they don’t currently have the bandwidth, or because they feel like it’s none of their business.

People with healthy intimacy boundaries share without expectations, and don’t feel that they MUST return any specific reaction when others share their own stories. It’s all about consent and personal investment, and they invest based on what they’re willing to offer of themselves at any given time.

What are your thoughts?

What can you add to this conversation?

Do you find yourself often in one of the not-as-healthy patterns? If so, what can you do, to make it feel more healthy to you? How could you practice healthy boundary setting and maintenance?

Did I miss anything that you feel should be added?

Relationship Anarchy Has The BEST Ideas!

A venn diagram with two circles overlapping. And arrow pointing to the overlap says, "The sweet spot for friendship, love, romance, sexytimes, etc."

Now, don’t get me wrong. Relationship Anarchy are not the only way to do it right, and in fact, many practitioners probably screw things up at least as much as the national average.

I’ve written before that polyamory is not for everyone. And I mean it. Some people are inclined to be monogamous, and that’s cool. Some are not. That is also cool.

It’s about finding what works best for you and your partner(s).

So, back to some of these relationship anarchy core ideas.

Unlike many might believe from just hearing the term bandied about here and there in polyamory and other circles, it’s not an “anything goes” philosophy where what you do is all about you and blind to the effect on others.

Not at all. There are commitments and love and drama and fun and… well, let be a bit more clear, and just dive into it.

Put Yourself First

One of the core tenets of relationship anarchy is to put yourself first. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that honors the needs YOU have and allows you to help others meet their needs as well.

Romance Is Not Greater Than Friendship (or vice-versa)

Yesterday, I answered a call for sources for an article about why people might want to keep developing their friendships once they have a significant other. Like that’s a question that needs to be answered.

But even is that’s a no-brainer for you as it has been for me, you might still (like I have in the past) be putting your romantic relationship first pretty much always.

Relationship anarchists allow relationships to grow based on connection, not just on the concepts of sex and romantic love. Friend may often (and continually) take precedence over some romantic or sexual lovers, and that’s OK.

It also means that doing the things with friends we might normally do for/with lovers, like having a “date” night for connection, complimenting them, and being physically (not necessarily sexually) affectionate is OK, and lifts us up with companionship.

Relationship Anarchy Examines WHY

Why this relationship? Why this step?

The default relationship pattern we see in most of our culture has been given a moniker: The Relationship Escalator, because an escalator only goes one way:

  • Meet
  • Date
  • Commit
  • Marry
  • Kids

And so on…

Relationship anarchy chooses each step, and also makes the point that it is also perfectly acceptable to step back to a previous relationship style, or sideways into another, not just go blindly forward.

What about THIS person calls me to THIS relationship style?

Set Personal Boundaries (and keep them)

Relationship anarchy is more focused on personal boundaries in relationships, rather than rules.

Healthy personal boundaries are a positive focus.

“I choose this path for me,” rather than, “You’re not allowed to do that.”

It’s finding the sweet spot (see above), and realizing that two people will never FULLY overlap, but that OK. Awesome, even. You have things you enjoy together, and things that you enjoy apart.

Recognizing that allows people to grow and thrive as individuals, even within couplehood or polyhood.

The Takeaway

Again, I’ll point out that I’m not advocating one relationship style over another.

I’m saying that some of the precepts of RA can be valuable to any relationship style, and can help you grow as a single, a couple, or a group.

Put Yourself First, Without Guilt

A still from Meghan Trainor's video, "I Love Me."

A while back, I wrote about always putting yourself first, And a lot of the private messages I got were asking about how to do that without feeling guilty.

Because we are raised with the message that we are to give to others, even at sacrifice to ourselves, and it’s very hard to overcome that.

I think people naturally equate putting yourself first with being a selfish asshole, and that’s not it at all.

In fact, I believe that by putting myself first, I’ve been able to open up and give far more than I ever did before. But that’s neither here nor there.

When talking about putting yourself first, I don’t mean grab the first (and biggest) slice of cake, or the last cocktail wienie, or bilking someone out of their pension. Continue reading “Put Yourself First, Without Guilt”