Boarding Pass Privileges
Of all the things that can keep me up at night, one of the most pernicious is reliving and stewing over something hurtful someone said to me.
“I should have said this,” I mutter, punching my pillow into what I hope will be a more sleep-inducing shape. “I should have said that,” I growl, trying one leg outside the blanket to see if that will cool me down without giving me shivers. “I should have…done something!”, I sputter as I thrash around and succeed only in knocking over the glass of water on my nightstand.
And I am right: I should have done something. And that “something” I should have done is not let someone else’s judgment of me, my life, my kid, my business, or even my dog on board, if it didn’t resonate with me or feel true to me. What’s keeping me awake and seething isn’t the original comment itself so much as the fact that I opened my door and let it in.
Building these kinds of boundaries—what you will allow on board, into your core, and what you will not—is challenging work, and most of us never get taught to do so, or even told that we should. The breaching of our ramparts starts, for many, quite early, when the repeated or random comment of a trusted adult can leave scars for years: “You aren’t good at math, just like me,” says your mother, with every intention of being supportive but instead triggering a lifelong low opinion of your skills that may not even be true. “You’re never going to amount to anything,” snarls a father disappointed with his own life. You love these people. You trust these people. They’re adults—they know you better than you know yourself—don’t they?
Well, no, they don’t. In fact, they can’t. No one knows you better than you, and you are the ultimate arbiter of your own truth. With that in mind, how do you build those boundaries? How do you decide which thoughts get a boarding pass, and which don’t? Some tips:
It’s almost always about their stuff. Sometimes it helps to remember that just about everything most people say and do is more about them than it is about you. Ever been driving along, had somebody cut you off, and then flip you the finger? Hey, wait a minute, weren’t they the ones who just did something wrong? Yep, and they know it. Their angry response is their stuff. Don’t even consider taking it on board.
Do a reality check. Are you bad at math? Are you fat? Is your house a pigsty? Have you failed at everything you have ever tried? Separate your fears about this stuff from what is factually, observably true. If what someone—anyone—is saying to you doesn’t square with reality as you know it, reject it.
Watch your back. The most devastating “attacks” can come from the people you love most—in part because they know exactly where you are most vulnerable. “That new business scheme of yours is never gonna fly, you aren’t the entrepreneurial type,” says an older sibling. “I guess you’re too busy watching TV to take care of the family,” sniffs a disappointed wife. Are you more of a team player than a solo act? Is your addiction to Happy Town interfering with your relationships with your children? You’re the one who gets to decide that.
Building boundaries and learning what thoughts, judgments, and energy you’ll allow on board and what you won’t takes practice, and it takes mindful intention. Sometimes it even takes coming up with a good visual—a force field that shields you from negative energy, or sophisticated armor that keeps you safe from attack.
The cool part is, once you get your boundaries in place and decide what stuff gets on board and what doesn’t, there’s no more need to verbally or energetically defend, rebut, argue, or debate. You can choose to tell others that what they’re saying doesn’t ring true for you, though you appreciate that they care enough to offer their opinion. Or you could simply smile and say, “You might be right,” while thinking, “but you’re not.”
Either way, you’re liable to get a much better night’s sleep.