Monday, October 20, 2014

Analyzing Friendship or Reconciling Boundaries with Personality

I've been pondering about friendship, boundaries, and my strengths/weaknesses all weekend. For a background, dear reader (since very, very few people know), a friendship imploded on Friday. It had been pretty weak for months, but when this friend's family members started attacking me (and I'm still terrified they'll comment on this post with more foul language --thus the comment moderation), it was pretty much awful and the friendship was over. For now, anyway. I always hold out that bridges can be built again. Forgiveness works miracles. But before that happens, sometimes it's best to let it lie for a while. The most frustrating part, however, was that until a few days ago, I thought it was being repaired.

Still, this whole thing made me wonder: "Is it I?"

I'm not a stranger to imploding relationships. Not really romantic relationships (although I've had my fair share of those, but the last 16 years has been full of Brandon, and that is a very good thing), but mostly friendships. And it's been hard not to think that I'm the reason they didn't last. Because what else is the common denominator, dear reader?

Sure, I have my reasons why they didn't last. And the truth is, friendships are meant to ebb and flow throughout life. Some of my dearest friends from long ago I rarely speak to (Christmas letters, birthdays), but we still feel a kinship that will never die. Some have just kind of faded with the wind... nobody's fault, no hard feelings, they just go. Some become acquaintances, some stay acquaintances, while the thing we have the most in common is mutual respect. Other friendships face incredibly tough trials and pain, but come through it stronger for it.

I spent a lot of time praying for answers and praying for the friend I mentioned at the beginning. Truth is (and you can disbelieve me all you want), I actually spend a lot of time praying for the friends and family who are no longer a part of my life. Just because our relationships have become toxic does not mean I hate them. In fact, I actually dislike very few people. I think what it comes down to is boundaries. Some boundaries mean I limit my interaction. Some boundaries mean I have access to express how I feel or how they have hurt me. Other boundaries mean complete silence/inaccessibility. And the more I prayed about it, the more comfort I received that sometimes (like in the current situation), silence is just best.

One friend said this to me (I'm not quoting her accurately or word for word, but this is the gist): "As a friend, I will be loyal. I will be loyal throughout all the hard times and I'll stand by you. But when you turn and attack me, then I'm done." It's honestly all about those boundaries! One can forgive the attacker without continuing to allow themselves to be attacked.

So as I was pondering over my life (I honestly even thought back to high school), I realized that most of the time, I was limiting contact and setting up boundaries to protect myself, but I've not always been very good at it. There's only been one incidence where I feel it was my fault for not just keeping quiet (and it was a doozy and happened several years ago). But I've decided that I can't dwell on these things. I make mistakes. Sometimes I make really big mistakes. Don't you, dear reader? Don't you find yourself making mistakes and saying horrible things to people without realizing it, or without meaning to? Do you ever find yourself crossing over other people's boundaries and hurting them, intentional or not?

Interestingly enough, Elder Cook said something that pricked my conscience. He said:

I know he was talking about how we disagree politically or religiously, but it can apply to friendship. Honestly, this is one of my hardest weaknesses to overcome. I'm not very sensitive to disagreements and I seem to long for friendships and companionships that reflect similarities in beliefs. But when it comes to friendship, shouldn't this counsel be so easy to follow? Shouldn't we all agree that the biggest concern is how we follow Christ? Yes, it should. Unfortunately, it's an every-continuing path that has not been fulfilled. How could it? We're mortal and we're going to mess up, thus needing Christ. This doesn't make Elder Cook's admonition untrue --it means we all have work to do. Well, at least I have work to do.

I remember, once, being screamed at by a friend who was guilty of being caught engaging in immoral activities late at night. The one who walked in on her was not reprimanded --I was. I remember how unfair that situation was, that I was the one being attacked over and over again, simply because I was the one brave (stupid?) enough to take it. I remember in college being treated horribly by a hurting roommate (whom I still love), and I hid my own knowledge of the awful thing she had done as to not hurt her feelings. I remember being the one to go to a friend who had decided, in one fell swoop, to eradicate her friendship from an entire group of close friends. I was the only one brave enough (calloused enough? Stupid enough? Blunt enough? Rude enough?) to confront her. I remember being attacked and complained about behind my back my ward members because I wasn't doing my calling "right." I have been the "middle-man" between friends, trying to resolve it for all of us. I remember losing the respect/friendship of some of my husband's extended family because I decided to call a spade a spade and confront situations that felt unfair and unfeeling. I remember that after burning one friendship to the ground and then carefully rebuilding it, I again confronted a hurtful situation and again the relationship was torn apart. 

Each of these would paint a picture, if I allow it, of a very mean-spirited and broken woman (i.e. me) and you, dear reader, would easily assume I was a horrible person. I have been called horrible things by many people. I have been mocked a lot, and I have been made fun of most of my life. I am still the butt of many old jokes (because "I can take it"), and I can give you examples of how I have been the fall-guy for many relationship situations simply because I have cared enough to try: from bullies in 6th grade, to well-meaning but teasing family members, to vicious attacks from strangers for what I write on this blog, to being the person accused of poisoning the minds of mutual friends and, again being the fall guy.

I don't tell you this, dear reader, to illicit pity or sorrow. I honestly don't want it. Please don't placate me, because that's not what I'm searching for. I'm writing this out because that is how I work through my feelings/thoughts, and because it is what it is. This is my attempt to figure out why this keeps happening to me. The pain is excruciating at times. And for a long time, I could not reconcile my personality and strengths of honesty (transparency?) with friendships because to me, they were always at odds with each other. No matter how delicate I approach a situation, my intentions are not always easy to decipher. I struggle with a lot of things, but I don't think I ever realized how much I struggle with friendship. And you, dear reader, might wonder, "well, then, why doesn't she just keep her mouth shut?" I have tried, dear reader. But for some reason, the honesty and can't-be-a-hypocrite gene runs deeply in the makings of my very soul. I'm getting better at silence, but I'm still a pro at just speaking my mind. 

I did have a thought, though, and a friend once told me this: "You care too much, Cheryl. You get involved to deeply." Perhaps. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing, although learning about boundaries is truly helping me to know when to get in deep and when to stay on the surface. Maybe if I didn't care so much, it wouldn't happen so often. Ha! That sounds ridiculous, though, and such a contradiction: "perhaps if you didn't care so much, people wouldn't be so mean to you." Well, there could be truth in that, because if I didn't care, it wouldn't affect me. But it always does. It always affects me deeply. 

So, dear reader, how do you go about setting up boundaries and maintaining friendships? When have you known it was time to let go or to stay and work it out? When have you felt the need to protect yourself or confront hurtful behavior? Have you ever made a mistake that cost you a friend? 


Laura@livingabigstory said...

This was a brave post to write...thank you for having the courage to put yourself out there. I'm sorry for your pain--it *is* painful to be misunderstood, I really do understand. Take care.

Kimbrough's in St. Louis said...

It is amazing at how much I found myself nodding in agreement with this post. It seems that the more a person cares the more likely he/she will be hurt. I find myself choosing to be alone at this time which is also painful. Hugs.

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

I've had so many similar experiences, especially being told that I "care too much". I struggle with boundaries in friendships, mostly because I tend to over-share and give my heart away to anyone who will have it. This opens me up to criticism and heartbreak. For so long I would put up with toxic relationships out of desperation to "belong". I'm still working on that.

Personally, I prefer friends who are supportive but will still tell it like it is. One thing I will be forever grateful for is a time I told you about something going on in my life and you totally called me out for it. I felt annoyed at the time, but you were SO RIGHT and I knew it. That annoyance pushed me to change things for myself. So thank you.

Your style may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it sure is mine. <3

Julie P said...

Boundaries and codependency have been huge areas of study for me in the last year. If you want to chat more, you know how to find me!