I was today years old when I learned that it’s okay to set boundaries with others in my life.
My question is, why wasn’t I taught this before?
Allowing Toxic Behaviors
My life has consisted mainly of toxic people. And suffering at the hands of these people has been hard. I’ve cried tears and I’ve thrown things and I’ve fought – on more than one occasion – for my own survival. And yet, everyone around me told me I needed to let it go, move on, and “forgive” these people for what they had done to me. I felt obligated to build a different relationship with them, because burning bridges wasn’t ever a good thing, and no one would ever forgive me if I were to do such a horrendous thing.
So I let people back in to my life after they hurt me, again and again. Doesn’t matter how many times it got bad enough to threaten everything I had worked for and my personal health and safety – forgiveness was a virtue, and forgiving was defined as moving forward, moving beyond what had happened, and, essentially, acting like nothing had ever happened and would never happen again.
And then, much to my naïve surprise, the behaviors would resurface. And yet, it wasn’t until now, at 26 years of age, that I finally learned that it is okay to remove toxic people from my life.
Forgiveness Shouldn’t Be A Virtue
We teach our children that forgiveness is something to be proud of, and that staying with someone at their worst is indicative of personal strength. That there is a certain level of tolerance that is needed in all relationships, and a certain level of obligation to let others hurt you. We are expected to forgive others when they mess up. We are expected to continue on in the relationship when abusive behaviors take place, because for some reason we think that is the righteous thing to do.
But today, I learned that this is not, in fact, okay. It is never okay to allow someone to hurt you. Forgiveness is not sweeping a behavior under the rug and moving forward. Forgiveness is not pretending the incident didn’t happen. And sticking by someone through thick and thin does not make you strong or good.
They say that love is hard, and I think it’s often misinterpreted. When people say that love hurts, or love is pain, they are thinking about the bad times. They are envisioning the toxicity that comes with so many relationships, romantic or platonic, that so many of us experience and accept as normal. But I don’t think that was the intent behind the phrase. I think that what it is supposed to mean is that when you love yourself, you have to set boundaries with the people around you, and that absolutely hurts. When you love yourself, you have to do what’s right for you, which can mean setting boundaries with your family, people close to you, and people who claim to love you but can’t bring themselves to respect you. Love is hard, because it is so much harder to acknowledge behaviors than to ignore them, but when you love yourself there is no other choice. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to people who hurt you, and it can break your heart, but it’s the only way to protect yourself from those behaviors and ensure that you can live your life to the fullest.
Tell Everyone You Know
So, I call to you – tell your children, tell your students, tell your patients, your friends, your coworkers, teach them the lesson that I didn’t learn for 26 years – tell them that it is okay to set boundaries with the people closest to them. Tell them they can say no. Tell them that they can raise their standards as high as they can go. Tell them they can demand respect. Tell them they can remove people who won’t respect their boundaries. Tell them it’s okay to love themselves more than anyone else in this world, including their parents, siblings, and spouses. Tell them it’s okay to prioritize their safety and happiness over familial and societal obligations.
Tell them, because no one told me. And if someone had, maybe things would have been different.
Do It For You
I will add, only do this for you. Let go of making decisions to sway others – don’t cut someone out in hopes that they will miss you and reconsider your value and apologize. Set boundaries and remove toxic people so that you can thrive, and then thrive as hard as you can. We owe it to ourselves and the universe to be as big and loud and joyous and successful and bright as we can be during this life. Remove the obstacles and then truly live for yourself. And, once you can truly love yourself, you can truly value and create strong bonds with others, and you can offer them the best version of you that you can provide. Find the real you, and then find your real family, and live a life free of pain and hardship, and only know joy.