Put On Your Own Mask First

I’m not the best at making decisions for myself and setting healthy boundaries with people. Let me restate that. I haven’t been the best at making decisions for myself and setting healthy boundaries with people. I continue to find myself resorting to codependent traits. It takes a lot to be this vulnerable and acknowledge personal flaws. (DISCLAIMER: If you are bothered by raw vulnerability, or are quick to put a label on someone as being a “martyr”, or having a “victim complex”, you may not want to read any further. This post is neither about portraying myself as such, nor how comfortable you are with pain and vulnerability. If you are brave enough, I invite you to read further. This is a glimpse into my story which I hope can encourage others. And isn’t that really the stuff great stories are made of?)

Having codependent traits has resulted in me not loving myself enough to walk away from unhealthy relationships with people who would only manipulate and hurt me. They only do this because I let them! This is almost as much on me as them. How low of a self esteem I must’ve had to think this was how I should be treated by anyone! Yet I remain empathetic towards those who have caused me harm, because they didn’t know any better. Sometimes people unknowingly and unintentionally take advantage of codependents because they have a subconscious belief that we are strong enough to handle them and their pain. But often their pain gets projected onto us. In “Codependent No More”, there is this quote from an anonymous Al-Anon Member: “We’re so careful to see that no one gets hurt. No one, that is, but ourselves.” I agree with part of this statement. Yet, I have come to believe that even when we think we are being careful to see that nobody gets hurt, if we don’t set healthier boundaries sooner, both myself and the other party are at risk of being hurt in the process. So even when we work so hard to protect another person, we still risk hurting them and ourselves at the same time.

As I have been studying the Enneagram Personality traits, I have also learned that I identify quite a bit with the 2. The 2 is the “Helper” who often forgets to take care of themselves while trying to take care of others. Case in point, I have often been irritated by the instruction on the airplane to “put our own mask before helping others with theirs”. It is only after years of understanding and essentially losing my own oxygen (mentally and emotionally) for the sake of others that I have come to understand the importance of this. We have got to put our own mask on first in order to save both lives. This is not an easy concept for me. Another thing I have learned about the Enneagram is that this amazing world is full of beautiful people and I find great joy in our differences. The world is full of 7’s, 8’s, and 3’s. 1-9, to be exact. And even within each of these personality traits, there are varying layers which impact how one views the world and interacts with others. To think that everyone should just see things my way and would is quite a selfish thought. While we might believe the world would just be easier if things went my way or your way, it is just not reality, and we are not robots. We are humans who are capable of thinking and feeling. Sometimes the way different personality types intersect with other personality types, combined with fear, mental health, and trauma, can cultivate some incredibly turbulent waters. Some relationships make it, and others don’t. But I have come to believe that it is still a value to understand as much as we can about a person’s perspective and personality, before deciding if the intersection of relationship is healthy enough to continue.

As an Enneagram 2 with codependent traits, setting boundaries is not as easy as it is for others. We like to think we carry the world on our shoulders and giving up is not an option. So when we do finally come to the end of our rope, what many don’t understand is how much we’ve had to go through to finally let go. For outsiders or bystanders who do not know the internal personal struggle or are unable to see the toxic energy between two unhealthy people, it can be easy to misunderstand the intentions of the codependent. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you have no idea what we put ourselves through or allow ourselves to put up with. Often times, when it comes to either setting boundaries or letting go of an unhealthy relationship, the other person comes out looking like the “good guy”. This is because both codependents and Enneagram 2’s work hard to lift the other up and make them look good and feel better about themselves. We tend to dim our light so the other can shine.

The other night I learned something new about myself. I need to stop telling myself I am “bad” at making good decisions. Because the other night, in spite of the opinion of others, I was able to make a very positive decision for myself. And you know what else? Another healthy decision I made for myself a couple weeks ago, had a huge impact on the outcome and my ability to execute this other really great decision. I learned that it’s sometimes just one small decision followed by another which either causes us to spiral or to overcome. I have also since learned that making the right decision for myself can have some incredibly negative backlash. There are even people in my circle who find it easier to see what they want to see or prefer believing the misrepresentation of others over hearing my truth. Yet I still have love and compassion for each who struggle to know the best way to show empathy when they see two hurting and misunderstood individuals. Sometimes it is easier to sacrifice potentially good friendships to rush to the aid of one over the other. I am learning this is all part of life, and we are all doing the best we can. (Thanks Brene’ Brown) I am sure there have been times I have adopted a perspective based on only a small part of a situation and based judgement on my limited understanding. I’m sure I will probably do it again, even though I continue to strive to consider a variety of perspectives with an open heart and mind. But we all have filters and are only capable of seeing what we can and responding accordingly. Even though it is our responsibility to seek understanding if we wish to form a strong opinion about something. And often times, it’s really none of our business what we think of the matter, but how we respond to the individuals who are impacted is often more important. Regardless, I like the idea of assuming people are doing the best they can.

Back to the other night: So badly I wanted to cave for another person’s desires, because I truly love and care about them. So much so that setting this boundary hurt and nearly landed me in the hospital. I am learning that not setting boundaries is neither loving nor caring for myself or others, no matter if I have the best of intentions. In a short glimpse of reflection before making my decision, I saw an image of what the long term impact could look like had I caved in this moment. The long term impacts could’ve been damaging to both me and the other individual. For the first time I can remember, I was able to see and feel the immediate relief of setting this boundary. By the next day, I was also able to see the ripple affect of speaking my truth. Albeit, in the moment, I could’ve been more careful about how I celebrated my small victory. I was so proud of myself for the first time in a while, that I rushed to write a post about it on social media. I even tried using privacy settings to filter who could see it. A private post I intended to notify a handful of friends of my small victory was able to be seen by the wrong people who interpreted it as an attempt to blast the other person. What’s worse, is they sent it to the other person. While I did not name the other person, the few who saw it were able to read between the lines. So it became our in the open and it was my word against theirs. While the aftermath of my careless communication has been grueling and alienating, I stand by my decision to set the initial boundary and still celebrate the fact I made a healthy decision. Again, this decision was both for the benefit of myself and the other party. Caving for the other person would not have been an emotionally or mentally safe decision for me or for them. And in that moment, I just happened to be the one in the position to do so. In another time and circumstance, they may be the one to do so. I am willing to embrace my humanity enough to admit that there are moments I have not been in the position to set the boundary, and others have had to do it for me. This is how relationships work. I do not see this as a competition, nor view the other party as all bad or all good. They were just not in the physical or mental state to be the one to make the decision at this particular time. Again, I don’t see the circumstance as a competition as others might perceive. Life is not that black and white, and I am grateful to know that there is so much room for perspective and grace. Even though my efforts to protect each of us backfired, it was still completely necessary. This is the risk of setting boundaries with ourselves and others.

I read this quote recently: “When people set boundaries with you, it’s their attempt to continue the relationship with you. It’s not an attempt to hurt you.” (Elizabeth Earnshaw)

In a world which is very quick to react, I often worry about the increase of misunderstandings and unresolved conflict when people don’t slow down to actually listen to one another. Not everyone is out to attack each other and some of us actually want to work for peace. Yet even passivists are often misunderstood and seen as threatening.

When the door of my Lyft closed and I was being driven home alone, I felt a certain euphoric relief. I was alone, but I was free. Not free from the other person as much as free from my need to put their desires in front of my needs. I fear I failed to make that clearer in my post which caused the ripple effect. On my ride home, I was thanking God my conscience was no longer swallowed up by pain and loss that I hadn’t completely forgotten who I was and who I am.

I’ve been setting more boundaries for myself lately which I know has been uncomfortable for others, but it has been necessary for me to live and to breathe. I know it has been at the cost of bruising and possibly losing what I believed to be good relationships, and I trust the ones that are meant to be will come back around. This is often the case when people who are so forgiving and find boundary setting challenging start setting them. What is left is fewer but more solid relationships with people who show me what it is to love unconditionally, in spite of my flaws. This is how I try to show love to others, and often to a fault. But I am grateful for those who respect me and value our relationship enough, to give me room to learn and grow. It is regretfully sad to me to watch the differences in reaction between people when you are no longer able to give them what they want. Those who respect you will stay.

So I conclude with this declaration: This world of people pleasing and codependency no longer serves me. It never really did. So I am shedding that skin like Eustice’s painful struggle to separate himself from the dragon skin. This world is not done with me people! I am an overcomer!

Through this experience, I think I finally realized the fascination of the Phoenix. Because tomorrow, baby, I’m rising from these ashes. And not merely rising for someone else’s benefit, but for me. If you can identify with any of this, I hope you too can be encouraged in your journey. Feel free to comment and/or share.

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