Clare’s Clutter Clearing Story – Boundaries
I didn’t know about boundaries until I went to therapy that first time, and I’ll be honest – what I learnt scared me.
My therapist Meg already knew my brother and my father. It’s was ironic that the only one who hadn’t been to see her was my mother.
I can still hear Meg’s voice now as she told me: ‘Your job has been to keep your mother happy so you’ve struggled to create a sense of who YOU are.’ Ouch. Just rip the plaster off in one go why don’t you and just let the wound gush again.
She was right. I’d learnt at an early age that my needs weren’t as important as the needs of my mother, or anyone else for that matter. My mother had depression. My father went out to work before I got up in the morning and was never home by the time I went to bed. My brother was sent away to boarding school at the age of 6 when I was just 3 ½. I understandably – but mistakenly (I was only 3 ½) – concluded that an unhappy mother meant you disappeared. So the answer was simple – don’t make mother unhappy. Even our pet dog Heidi understood that rule. She knew when to stay out of mother’s way.
It was just me and my mother at home alone for most of my childhood. I tried really hard to make her happy. I was as good as I could be, quiet and undemanding, but it rarely worked.
I grew up without a boundary between my SELF and my mother. They were one in the same. My purpose in life was to meet the needs and goals of my mother. To question that, put my needs above hers or do anything else was selfish.
When Meg suggested that this wasn’t a ‘healthy’ relationship I was in shock. I remember the feeling. It was as if I had been a balloon, bobbing along, tethered by a string, completely unaware that I was ‘supposed’ to be set free and soar high. As is often said about victims of domestic abuse who don’t leave when they get the chance, although it’s not a healthy situation to be in, the unhealthy situation and relationship feels ‘safer’ and more familiar than the unknown.
I didn’t have boundaries that separated ME from my parents and allowed ME to develop my own sense of SELF, to define and work on MY goals, dreams and priorities, MY space, MY comfort zone – all the things you get from that ‘Me in the Middle’. Putting others first was what I did and was expected to do. Putting myself first was to be avoided at all costs (and don’t you dare ask who’s putting YOU first in return).
Now I must just point out as I always do when I talk about my childhood and relationship with my parents, I’m not blaming anyone. I’m not saying ‘how awful’ or ‘poor me’. I never share to apportion blame.
As with all things Clutter Clearing, our past and our experiences provide us with valuable learning and feedback. Understanding WHY we think and act the way we do can help bring a strange sense of comfort that can allow you to accept, forgive, move on and let go of the past that cannot be changed.
I always make the important distinction that understanding, forgiving and accepting are NOT the same as forgetting, condoning or excusing the behaviour. I understand WHY I had no boundaries between myself and my parents for the first 28 years of my life. I understand WHY that meant I had unhealthy relationships and was taken advantage of until I did the work and put healthy boundaries in place. I understand WHY my parents interpreted my putting healthy boundaries in place between them and me as me pushing them away, becoming difficult, and not telling them anything.
I understand my parents were probably that way because they probably didn’t have healthy boundaries with their parents either – and so on. I understand it all. Sometimes I wish I didn’t.
However, because they didn’t want to understand and learn why our relationship and our lack of boundaries was unhealthy, there has been no reconciliation. Whenever I did try to re-establish a relationship the expectation was that we go back to how it was with no personal boundaries which is all they’d ever known. I chose not to go backwards.
Relationships are two-way. Boundaries are two way. When you start to put healthy boundaries in place with people you’ve had unhealthy boundaries with in the past, it’s uncomfortable for you AND for them. It’s feels selfish and uncomfortable to start saying ‘not right now’, or ignore your phone, or ignore the doorbell, or ignore the e-mail. Our need to be needed and useful to other people runs deep, especially if we grew up believing that to be good meant putting others first. Those old automatic habits and ways of thinking we have that are so comfortable, familiar and strong for everyone.
Creating healthy boundaries takes time, effort and energy, just like our Clutter Clearing. Yet putting healthy boundaries in place is essential to succeeding with our Clutter Clearing. Because if we don’t have healthy boundaries in place that protect our SELF and enable us to protect our time, energy and effort so we can focus on ‘Doing the Doing’ with our Clutter Clearing, then we’ll never successfully Clear our Clutter.
Learning to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to other people is probably harder than learning to make decisions about the things in our clutter, because our things don’t have feeling and emotions. People do. We predict – often incorrectly – what they’ll say or do if we say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’.
Bottom line is if we don’t put some healthy boundaries in place so we have the time, head and physical space to ‘Do the Doing’ with our clutter, we’re never going to succeed.
I started ignoring the phone. I put it on silent and let it go to the answering machine so I wasn’t tempted to answer it. So I couldn’t feel guilty about ignoring it. I ignored the doorbell when my parents would ‘pop by’ as they were ‘passing’ – usually within 24 hours of them calling and leaving a message that I didn’t return immediately. I stopped being the agony aunt amongst my group of friends as I started to realise many of my boundaries with friends were unhealthy too.
I grieved the friendships with people who didn’t notice that I’d stopped making the effort with them and who I realised had never made the effort with me. I stopped going out 4 nights a week to get away from my clutter and limited it to twice a week so I could spend more time at home working on my Clutter Free Goal. Things slowly began to change for the better – at least for me, probably not others.
I realised I wasn’t responsible for other people’s basic needs, for their happiness, for their level of success at achieving THEIR goals in life. I started giving myself permission to consider my own needs as more important than others and putting myself first 80% of the time. I learnt 2 new mantras: ‘Not Right Now’ and ‘Do MY goals not matter?’
Only by putting my boundaries in place, enforcing them and reviewing them have I been able to succeed in MY life on MY terms. Only by reviewing MY priorities, MY goals and valuing MYSELF enough to know I’m worth the time, effort and energy have I stayed clutter free for 20 years.
My advice, having had unhealthy boundaries for 28 years and healthy boundaries for 20 is that change IS scary. It DOES feel selfish. You WILL experience resistance from yourself and others. But you ARE worth it – and so is your Clutter Free Goal.
Find out more about the Clutter Clearing Journey that Clare discovered here: https://www.clutterclearing.net/7-step-journey/