Boundaries is a brave new world I’ve decided to enter. It’s a journey that started years ago. Back then, I danced around the edge of this territory, letting circumstances push me across the border only when people-pleasing became entirely too much to bear. But now, sensing, acknowledging and standing ten toes down in my boundaries is an intentional choice. Why?
Because what I thought was honoring my faith and being selfless, gracious, and considerate was actually making me look and feel like a doormat – in Jesus’ name. And Jesus didn’t die for me to become a doormat.
I’ve had to make a choice about whether maintaining the comfort of others is more important than preserving my own peace. And finally, that answer is no.
Like the email that I sent to my supervisor a few weeks ago, I had another boundary-setting experience around the same time.
A colleague from the toxic workplace noted in my last post will be in a nearby city for a conference soon. He is exactly one person out of one that I still talk to from that job. He is one of very few people from that era that I’ve spoken to with any honesty or vulnerability, simply because he’s one of the even fewer people that showed that they cared through any of it. So, while it can be hard to engage with him at times because of the memories it stirs up, I value him, if for nothing else, because of his compassion towards me.
So, knowing that he’d be nearby, but that I wouldn’t be at the conference, I suggested that we have dinner at some point during his trip. But I had one condition – that it just be him and his wife. I have no interest in a reunion with anyone else and I said so. And I meant it.
It was a simple sentence ending with a period. But if that little period could have conveyed the intensity in my heart, it would have blown 5G to bits. Because I meant it with the intensity of a bomb.
I meant it with so much force, such ferocity, that I wouldn’t hesitate to say it to their faces and walk right out of the restaurant, if I arrived to a surprise gathering of old ghosts. No thank you.
It’s a level of authenticity that I wasn’t able to achieve back when everything was going down.
I used to think it made me more of a professional to not let other people’s actions and reactions deter me from the task at hand. I thought that sidestepping insults and staying on task was a skill. And by the time I made it home every day, I thought I could shake the day off like dropping my clothes in the hamper. And it’s possible that on most days, I did.
But in the aftermath of that fiasco, I was so concerned with whether I would ever find another job and not looking bitter or like an “angry black woman”, that I pushed those feelings of betrayal and abandonment down within me. I wouldn’t acknowledge them publicly, though I cried and mourned privately.
I quit, but gave a month’s notice. When the boss decided to throw me a going away party, I played it like it was too much of a fuss, instead of outright saying the “Hell No” that was thrashing around in my chest. I humored those who asked about my next steps, knowing that they only wanted to gossip about me. And on my last day, stayed late to make sure I left things in decent order for the next person.
I wasn’t being authentic. I was cool and calm on the outside, but I was raging on the inside.
I was sacrificing my mental health and well-being in the name of professionalism. But it wasn’t worth it – the PTSD nightmares, depressive episodes, and mind-bending anxiety that followed have proven that. Now, after all of the work I’ve done in therapy, I’m ready to abandon that way of living.
My unwillingness to endure extreme discomfort, just so that others are comfortable, might seem unchristian. But in this case, it’s actually progress. It’s wisdom that has been hard earned. It’s actually evidence of healing.