As I’ve been reading (and re-reading) Take Back Your Life, I’ve found myself having moments of epiphany and moments of embarrassment. The moments of epiphany happen when I deconstruct a harmful system and suddenly understand how it works. The moments of embarrassment happen when I realize how I’ve perpetuated cultish behaviors in my own relationships.
I’ve slowly come to realize that it wasn’t enough for me to leave the cult. The cult was inside me. Yes, I was victimized in the cult but I’ve also carried those harmful ways of behaving out into the world.
I’m really committed to working on that!
For the past six months, my husband and I have been in some pretty intense marriage therapy. One realization we had was that by staying SO BUSY since leaving the cult, we’ve never slowed down long enough to examine the harmful patterns of behavior we carried outside it.
As we’ve prioritized our recovery, I’ve had these moments of embarrassment where I realize how deeply affected I was–and still am–by my childhood cult. I am learning to let go of my embarrassment and come to a place of acceptance. I learned these behaviors as a child who was born into a cult. It’s not my fault. Now that I can see what I’m doing, though, I want to learn how to change it.
One of the major problems I’ve had to address are my lack of healthy boundaries. From birth I was trained to let others violate my personal boundaries. I was trained in “first-time obedience” and literally could NOT say the word “no” to an adult. It has been very difficult for me to reclaim my ‘no.’ I still struggle with knowing how to set my own personal boundaries and respect the personal boundaries of others.
Time and again I’ve mismanaged relationships because I lacked basic boundaries. I routinely let unsafe people in while keeping safe people out. I frequently trusted the wrong people. To me, someone with unhealthy boundaries looked “safe” because it looked normal. I overlooked their bad behavior because I knew how to tolerate abuse. My dysfunction might be dysfunctional but at least it’s MY dysfunction. Unhealthy boundaries felt normal.
I had a total epiphany moment when I read “Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries” on page 171 of Take Back Your Life. Here is an abbreviated list:
*Being sexual for others, not yourself
*Being nonsexual for others, not yourself
*Going against personal values or rights in order to please others
*Not noticing or disregarding when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
*Not noticing or disregarding when someone invades your boundaries
*Giving as much as you can for the sake of giving
*Taking as much as you can for the sake of getting
*Letting others define you
*Letting others describe your reality
*Believing others can anticipate your needs
*Believing you must anticipate others’ needs
*Practicing self-abuse (cutting yourself)
*Being deprived of food or sleep
*Being unable to separate your needs from those of others
It was pretty eye-opening for me to realize I could check off almost all of these signs.
And I have been on both sides of the unhealthy boundaries coin. I have been victimized as the result of unhealthy boundaries and I have hurt others who have unhealthy boundaries. Sometimes I have let unsafe people too close and they end up hurting me. I have also drawn people in and hurt them. I feel guilty about this. I am learning to acknowledge my wrongdoing and take personal responsibility for my behavior without shaming or punishing myself.
I am learning to accept my human limitations, own my personal rights and accept the limitations and rights of others. One area of progress is that I’ve finally learned that 99.99% of the time, people aren’t attacking me personally. For example, when someone writes a hurtful comment, I am now able to realize they are generally speaking from a place of pain themselves and it’s not about me at all.
I am also learning to moderate my emotions so that I neither catastrophize or minimize events. I am learning to maintain a positive outlook without being blind to reality. I am learning that it’s OK for me to say “no.” I am learning that love doesn’t hurt.
I am learning that real life and real relationships require a lot of work but that freedom is priceless. Things really CAN get better. And even if external circumstances don’t always improve, I, myself, CAN get better! It’s empowering to know I get to decide! I am taking back my life one little day at a time!