Trigger Warning – This post includes an account of a sexual assault.
I was mortified and went to the back of the store crying. The owner, one of the best bosses I’ve ever had, held me and quietly fumed. We called a friend, the guidance counselor at the military school. The boy in uniform was dealt with.
Still, I felt guilty. Felt like it had been my fault, that I had enticed him. That the attack, well, wasn’t really an attack. It was just a second. Nothing major.
And yet, I felt violated. Something about my personal existence had been intruded on. It was horrible.
Still, I felt guilty.
I’m having to learn how to set boundaries for myself, even now at age 38. I’m having to unlearn a lot of lessons about my “responsibility,” things well-intended people taught me about “sacrifice” and “love” that have made me wide open to violation and to the guilt that comes when I respond to it or prevent it.
Part of this miseducation came from the church, who taught me that Jesus gave all of himself to everyone so I should, too, no matter the cost to my health, my psyche, my body.
Part of this miseducation came from my beautiful parents, who taught me to think of other people’s feelings and needs before my own, even when I really needed something, even when to give to them would crack me a bit.
Part of this miseducation came from my society, who says that women are to be nurturers always, the ones who care for people’s needs, the ones who give of themselves completely, even if it means we are depleted.
But I am re-learning that I can be like Jesus, even if I care for myself, that I can care for other people without giving up everything that is me, that I can be a woman without having to carry the emotional burdens of everyone around me.
I can have boundaries – edges that expand and contract as I need them to – and still be loving and kind and a good Christian woman. I can.
I’m learning this lesson this week through my writing.
I’m learning that I don’t have to take the words of bullies on this blog – even if that bully is wounded and broken - the loving thing is not to just let him continue to bully. I’m learning that I don’t have to open myself (or my readers) to this kind of attack and wounding just because the speaker is wounded, too.
I’m learning that as much as I want to help every single friend who needs proofreading and editing, as much as I want to help them for free, I simply cannot. I learning to charge for my work, even when I love the person who will be paying me.
I’m learning to put my own creative work first again, that it’s not selfish to write what I want to write before I give my energy to my paid work.
I’m learning to set boundaries because it’s only my fault if I let people continue to wound me, if I go broke because I’m too “kind” and then have to rely on other people to support me, if I resent the universe because I don’t get my “real” work done.
I’m learning that it’s okay to take care of me. That it’s not selfish. That it’s not unloving. That it’s not cold. I’m learning that self-care is actually about other people because if I do not care for myself I cannot care for others. This is a lesson I have learned over and over again. . . maybe this time it will take.
When that uniformed boy attacked me, because that IS what he did, that guidance counselor threatened his life and future enrollment in colleges if he ever came near me again. Two other uniformed boys took him into a dark corner and without laying a hand on him told him that he was under watch and had best not come near that drugstore again. I stepped wide every time I saw him in our tiny town.
Those boundaries – the ones my friends reinforced – saved me. Then, and now.
How do you set your boundaries about life? About writing? Any lessons you need to unlearn?