Everything I needed to learn about boundaries I learned from my garden.

Okay. Let’s imagine.

You have a lovely garden, full of climbing roses and lilacs and other colorful flowers that make you happy.

Your neighbor across the side fence has crabgrass and volunteer tomatoes from seeds dropped by birds in flight and walnut trees springing forth from nuts buried by neighborhood squirrels. And oxalis. There’s always oxalis. (It’s pretty till it takes over your whole garden.)

This neighbor pays no attention–for them, what happens in the front yard stays in the front yard. Their mess of weeds is quickly working its way between the slats of the wood fence. However, the foxtails are now cozying up with the geraniums halfway across your yard, so you decide to try to make the neighbor see the error of their ways and see the much more logical and let’s face it, RIGHT, way of yours.

You practice in the mirror. “Hey, neighbor!” you say to your reflection in a cheery tone, “here are some cookies I just baked. I wondered if we could chat a minute about our front gardens,” you say, holding up an imaginary tray, smiling pleasantly.

You find yourself quite convincing, so you try it face to face. They take the tray of cookies but stare at you like you’re speaking Space Man when you perkily mention they should take care of the weeds on their side of the fence and keep them out of your garden.

You think, I must not have said it right. What better words could I use? Or maybe they’ll listen if I make them pie instead of cookies.

You keep trying–pie after cake after fresh squeezed orange juice. Still the neighbor takes the gifts but ignores the weeds. Their weed seeds are falling on your fertile ground, but your words are falling on cold, lifeless gravel.

So where am I going with all this floral flatulence?

Last week I shared some of the ways I’m learning to retrain my brain and do life differently. Then I promised to blow your mind with an amazing tool I’m finally beginning to understand. (Okay, so there was no promise of mind-blowing. There was, however, the promise of a tool. I was trying to get you so excited that you will come back every week to see if perhaps your mind will be blown this time.)

BOUNDARIES. All this garden-speak is about learning that you can control what’s in your own garden, but you can’t control what’s in your neighbor’s.

Most of my life I worked under the misguided idea that I just hadn’t found the right way to get that neighbor to clean up their side of the fence. Turns out, they can even plant weeds in their yard on purpose, who knew? Because, after all, it’s their yard, not mine.

Our individual job in this world of analogies gone wild? To simply mind the fence and all that is on our side of it. Stop taking them cookies. To stop using our words when that other person isn’t even listening. It’s not only a waste of your breath, it’s a waste of your cookies.

The other person’s weeds can represent many things: negativity, blame, shame. Guilt. Patronizing opinions. Manipulation to get you to bring them those cookies, even though they’re totally messing with your lantana.

If we are to take care of our own responsibilities–the space on our side of the fence–we may need to build a better fence so the foxtails can’t get through. We may need to find a method to stop the weeds from growing if they do make it under the fence. Point is, we need to use our precious energy to cultivate the beauty in our own garden. We need to recognize that all the sweet talking and baked goods in the world will not make someone listen who doesn’t want to listen.

This is a difficult lesson for those of us who think that if we can only find the right words, the right mixture of flour, butter and cinnamon, the other person will suddenly see our side. This is called Wishful Thinking.

A wise woman once told me, “The only person’s behavior we can change is our own, all other is merely wishful thinking.”

For me it turned out that all the Nice I tried to take on a decorative plate to my mother *Wishing* she would see I was worth loving didn’t make any difference long term. At the end of her life she still heaped negative and hurtful words on me via sticky notes on the backs of her possessions sent after her death by her lawyer. Those were her choices, those were her decisions. My job was to not let the hemlock of her words and actions poison me. My job was to decide who I wanted to be in the face of that pain.

It took my mother’s death to realize I couldn’t have pleased her if she didn’t want to be pleased. I don’t regret anything I did for her, but I do regret the wasted energy of all my Wishing. Boundaries, they’re our friends!

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Does any of this ring true to you? Have you wasted time and energy believing that if you just tried hard enough someone would change how they treated you? Does the garden analogy make sense to you or did I just have a darned good time naming flowers? 

And remember, be kind to yourself.

 

 

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On blankies and the need for touch

I’ve become podcast crazed since a recent talk with a friend. I have a love of learning about what drives us as people to do the things we do and believe what we believe, and just finished listening to an episode of Hidden Brain entitled Creature Comforts. Besides learning the amazing and redemptive fact that, yes, there are other viable adults out there who still love their childhood blankets–and I now come out as one who would cuddle my favorite childhood blanket from my grandma if I didn’t think it might fall apart–I also learned about a guy named Harry Harlow.

Harry Harlow was an American psychologist who proved psychologists wrong who believed that the less touch a child received the better. Apparently the teaching of the time was that parental touching and comforting of infants and children would “ruin their moral fiber.”

What??

My 50s era parents seemed to operate under the same belief that affection was unnecessary. I’d like to believe they were merely a decade or so behind the times, though the more likely scenario is that my siblings and I had a mother who didn’t appear to find us interesting once we learned to talk, and a father who was affectionate in what I’ll just refer to as Inappropriate Ways. (Ahem.)

The safe port in the storm of crazy that was my childhood was my maternal grandma, who made the lovely satiny yellow blanket for my fifth birthday. When I touch it the endorphins roll in and my heart says  AHHH. It represents Safety. It represents Comfort.

Back to Harlow. Some of his experiments were ugly and created enemies. One example was when he showed the effects of isolation on baby monkeys, with only their rudimentary needs being met without affectionate interactions. I too was angry for those innocent monkeys when I heard this–especially when I realized I have long battled with the loss of hope and feeling of despair this horrible experiment built into them.

My early childhood experiences helped chisel the Lie into my bones that I’m of little consequence. After all, if I wasn’t worth the attention and affection from the mother who should have loved me, how much worth could I have? Why would I deserve to be treated with affection and respect by anyone?

I have a better idea at this point in my life of the struggles my mother had with her own moods and emotions and anger, that those things weren’t really about me. Oh, I’m still angry at times that Safety wasn’t written into my bones rather than Never-Safe. That Comforted wasn’t built in rather than Alone. But I’m working to let go of what wasn’t provided and learn to provide those things for myself.

Touch is a huge need for me, affectionate touch. I’m a hugger. I gladly receive hugs and I love to give hugs. In fact, it’s a bit of a joke with my adult children, how much I like to lean into them and hold on.

What will I do for myself today? I will remind myself that even if important others didn’t build into me Safety or Comfort I can allow those Lies to be erased from my bones. For me personally, I have a loving God who is always there for me, and I’m learning to be there for myself too. And as I practice being present and aware in my own life I can build my own Safety and Comfort.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: My beverage today is water and lots of it because it’s WARM!

Did you have someone let you down in the early days by withholding affectionate touch and along with that a sense of safety? How are you learning to be your own safe place?