When I was a kid, I took horseback riding lessons at Claremont Riding Academy for a time. I loved it, and I loved the horses, but I was really allergic to them. I’d leave for my lessons looking like myself, and I’d come home looking like I’d been on the wrong end of a cage fight. Eyes swelled shut and red, wheezing, skin blotchy, upper respiratory system defunct for a good twenty-four hours. I didn’t care. I was stubborn, and I loved every part of the experience, especially the amazing feeling when the horse took off and hit its stride. Like it was just me and the horse and nothing else, if I could surrender and go with it. I loved focusing and losing myself. I think it was my first glimpse into the reality that there are certain things in life we love, even if they make us sick.
This is such a tough area when it comes to people. And if you’re a giver, and you’re trying to live your life with your eyes and heart and mind wide open, it can become especially tricky. There’s a line where compassion and forgiveness of others becomes abuse of self. If you have care-taking, peace-making tendencies, you have to remember to keep your own well-being on the radar as well. If you race to forgiveness, sometimes you rob a person of a lesson they really need. You pay the tab for their transgression. And you rob yourself of the time you might need to process your own feelings. Anger is a normal, legitimate emotion we will all experience, especially when we feel wronged. If you push it down, it’ll come back to bite you in the a$$ later.
I have a friend whose teenager has been having real problems with substance abuse for years. He’s sold jewelry of hers; pieces her mother wore that are irreplaceable to her, and one night he tried to pack up all the televisions and laptops in the house. When she tried to stop him, he threatened her. She had to call the police on her own son. It’s incredibly sad. Where do you draw the line? You love your child. You’re hardwired to give whatever you’ve got. But if you don’t stop giving in this scenario, you do your child a disservice. My heart goes out to people dealing with this, it’s a very painful, lonely, heartbreaking line to walk.
The need for boundaries comes up in less extreme situations, too. Sometimes a relationship is toxic. You’ll know if you’re in one because you’ll be exhausted. There are people in the world who are truly incapable of empathy. They aren’t bad people, they are just not able to extend themselves and imagine what you must be feeling, or recognize the impact of their choices or actions. There’s something called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and there are sociopaths, and then there are all kinds of people who are not dealing with real clinical, psychological issues, but are just experiencing life solely as it applies to them. You can send people like this compassion from afar, and hope they get the help or the lessons they need, but you won’t change them. If you try, you’ll get hurt. You can forgive people, but that doesn’t mean you need to have them in your life. Some people don’t belong there. Taking care of yourself always comes first. It has to; if you allow yourself to be abused life becomes very dark indeed. It takes so much energy to manage all your pain and frustration, you won’t have much left for anyone or anything else. Jack Kornfield on this, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Love is not pain. Loving someone in pain hurts. Be kind to yourself. Sending you so much love, Ally