A vital part of adulthood would be the setting of personal boundaries: physical, emotional, mental, sexual.
Each person is unique, and thus what they consider boundaries will be different. There’s no standard way of having boundaries, just as there is no standard way of expressing humanity. Still, this is where people — and I’m including myself in this — slip up.
Having and expressing personal boundaries is a relatively recent victory of mine, nurtured as I realized what kind of person I wanted to be, and what kind of life I wanted to live.
I didn’t want to live life as a pushover. All through my teen years, my so-called “boundaries” were a back-and-forth between letting people walk all over me, and walling myself off from all inter-personal interaction as a form of punishment. My need to please people absolutely crippled me.
I was a “yes-man”. Even now, I don’t know how many things I did because they were “expected of me” instead of being rooted in a genuine want. I know I did a few subjects for CSEC that I never want to see again (and to be fair, didn’t want to see at the time either) but because I was “bright” and people had a certain expectation, I did it.
Doing things solely for others was soul-crushing for me. It came to a point where I could no longer discern my own personality, wants, likes, or dislikes. I was barely eating or sleeping, but I wasn’t studying either. I’d just float around aimlessly hoping by some stroke of luck that I’d be hit by a car, and get to skip Maths class. (Fortunately or unfortunately, that never happened.)
After an especially traumatic experience, and the disorienting whirlwind of grief that followed, I was left out in the cold without blueprint or compass. My pain was unique, unrelatable, and caused by my inability to set boundaries (of course, emotional pain is a relatable experience, it’s just difficult to discern that in the moment).
The funny thing about that, being a people-pleaser, is that everyone derides you for it; they call you weak and spineless. But the minute you get some gall, it’s a problem. Why? Because they assume that even as you heal, and you learn what you need, and how to ask for it. How to forgive. What you will and won’t tolerate… Even as you set strong boundaries, and put yourself first, that they’ll be able to worm their way into manipulating, using, or exploiting you.
I think being socialized into the female gender role — gender is a scam, but that’s a post for another day — had a hand in my former lack of boundaries. The need to put other people first, even to my detriment, was something that the world taught early on. Nothing ever belonged to me, not my possessions, not my body. I was supposed to be sweet and kind, and share my toys, be ladylike, be seen, and not heard. Everything I “owned” was given to me, and could be taken away by others.
I hated that feeling. That I didn’t belong to myself.
So I started setting and asserting boundaries.
I learnt to articulate my thoughts instead of just going along with the status quo:
- No, I’m not available.
- I don’t like that.
- Don’t speak over me.
- I just said that.
- I think you’re a moron whose ideas have better use as compost than ever being spoken aloud.
(Though probably not the last one. Better to keep that one as a thought.)
I stopped over-extending myself. I learnt how to mute, block, and delete. I didn’t have to deal with everything just because it was shoved on my plate. Carving out time for myself tempered my anxieties, and helped me better regulate my emotions, which in turn, helped me be a better friend and person.
A “yes-man” isn’t a friend, they’re a sycophant with no sense of loyalty. Whilst it’s a shame that it took such a drastic event for me to prompt mindful introspection, it definitely contributed a lot to my worldview, and what I will (and won’t) allow in my life.
One thing I’ve learnt is that anyone who oversteps your boundaries doesn’t really care about you, even if they profess with everything in them, that they do.
I realized that I deserved joy, honesty, peace, friendship.
I stopped apologizing for taking care of myself, and started working on projects I truly loved. I wrote fiction to my heart’s content, after having my creativity stymied in secondary school. I came out of the closet. I shaved my head. I dressed to my own tastes. I ventured out on my own: to dinner, to the beach, for a jog, anything to prove that I was strong enough to exist by myself, standing in my own purpose.
I applied (and got accepted) to an International Relations & Spanish Language degree at Uni. I interned for EFNIKS (now Color Bloq), a platform for LGBTQ+ People of Color. I had my writing published. I had time to read. I presented at conferences in Russia and Belize, speaking about human rights and the SDGs.
With each accomplishment, I felt a sense of passion return to me. I could emotionally invest in myself, and see the return on my investment.
Since then, I’ve been able to advocate for myself and others. I feel alive and ready to face the world. To change the world. I want to get out of bed in the morning.
Adulthood may be a whole, entire, absolute, and utter scam, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the swindle.