Strengthening boundaries: the “Everyday Sexism” edition

The other day something quite unpleasant took place…

It was the kind of thing you would report to the Everyday Sexism project.

But I won’t tell you more about it, because I’ll be damned if I dirty my shiny, precious website with dirt.

We are still going to work with it, though. Because it’s common. And important. And it’s about boundaries.

Working with it

The event itself consisted of a man doing an “unseemly thing”… in the Library, or all places.

And since this “unseemly event” happened, I’ve been working with my reaction to it. You know, the old “working with my stuff” thing.

The very FIRST step: Noticing

You know what my first reaction to the “unseemly event” was? “This is not happening”. And when it became obvious that it was happening? “We are not feeling ANYTHING around this. NO FEELINGS!”.

I cannot tell you how important this realisation is.

See, at the age of 14, I experienced another “unseemly event”. And you know what my reaction was? “keep walking, nothing happened, feel nothing”.

Yeah. That’s just about the exact opposite of what I’m doing now. Now I’m “meeting myself where I am”, noticing how I’m feeling, and noticing when I cannot notice how I’m feeling because it’s just “too much”.

Because any amount of noticing is good.

Next: Giving it back

This one took some time. Oh, I knew I had to do it from the very moment it happened. But it takes a while for it to “sink in” that this stuff wasn’t mine.

See, that man was trying to get rid of his self-disgust, his self-loathing, his shame. His guilt about feeling what he was feeling. In essence, his “stuff”.

And he was trying to get rid of it by passing it to me. So that I felt ashamed and disgusted at being somehow part of that “unseemly event”.

So this is what I did to “give his stuff back”.

I got quiet and centred and I said to myself:

“These feelings are not mine. This shame doesn’t belong to me. This disgust for that body? It’s not my disgust. This shame is not my shame.

I’m not judging myself for picking up these feelings. At least I think I’m not judging myself; and if I am, then I notice my wish to not judge myself for picking up these feelings.

And I am not judging that man. And if I am judging him, I’m noticing my wish to not judge him for feeling shame and disgust. And for trying to “get rid of” the feelings by passing them on to someone else.

But this shame is not my shame. And this disgust is not my disgust. And all these feelings of “yucky” about that man’s body are his feelings, not mine.

I’m giving them away to the Universe, where they can be processed and recombined into useful things.”

This is something you can try to “clear out” some of the “stuff” you pick up from other people. It’s a great way to strengthen your boundaries, so that other people’s stuff is “other people’s” and yours is “yours”.

And now Feminism… (because that’s always fun)

It happens quite often that mend do “unseemly” things to women. Or around women.

What I believe is going on is this: men are trying to “get rid of” their shame, self-loathing, self-disgust, guilt, etc and pass it onto women.

And women, who don’t have strong boundaries to begin with, “take it on”.

So that men feel all “clean” and women feel “ashamed”.

Which is hilarious if you think about it, because it’s the man who has done the “unseemly thing”  not the woman.

And that’s the reason why this dynamic doesn’t actually work, for anyone. If it did, men would do “unseemly thing”, feel better, and then stop.

But it doesn’t work. Women may feel ashamed while men go around feeling “relieved” (for a while), but the fact remains that the man has done something “bad”, and the woman “hasn’t”.

Why is this important?

Because boundaries are good for everyone. And it is good for men if we don’t “take in” their feelings, their shame, their self-disgust, their self-loathing; their “stuff”.

The truth is that we can’t, actually, “take in” their “stuff” anyway… It doesn’t work like that. We can’t stop feeling “shame” and “disgust” by giving them to other people.

What is best for men is also best for women

And what is that? For men to take ownership of their “stuff”. And work with it.

It’s pointless to try and “pass it on”, as if they were children giving their snot to mummy’s hanky.

The only way to work with our stuff is to stop and acknowledge what we are feeling, own it, and ask “what is going on here”, lovingly and without judgement.

And when we, as a society, make “excuses” for men’s behaviour, we are taking away their power to own their “stuff” and work with it. We guarantee that men never grow up into full, sovereign human beings who take responsibility for their “stuff”.

And we condemn men to a lifetime of feeling shame and disgust with no way out other than to pass the “shame and disgust” to women…

That’s why it’s important to do this work. So we can stop taking in “stuff” that isn’t ours.
And by doing so, allow men to take responsibility for their “stuff”. Because it’s the only way it will get resolved.

I sincerely hope at least some of this made sense.

If you’ve been through a similar “unseemly event”, I’m sorry. I’m sending you my love, and my wish for this post to help.

And Happy Birthday to the Everyday Sexism project!

3 thoughts on “Strengthening boundaries: the “Everyday Sexism” edition

  1. So it’s our fault if we feel bad after these events, because our boundaries aren’t strong enough? And if our boundaries aren’t strong enough, men can’t take responsibility for what they do? So that’s our fault too?

    I’d hoped none of this was my fault, but I know you say you are a feminist so maybe you know best, as a professional coach. Please could you let me know what you think, because I’m kind of devastated to read this at the moment.

  2. OK. Here’s what I have:

    This post is not about political arguments but rather about the “personal”, ie: how we interact with the world.

    First, the concept of “fault” is not a particularly useful one, when working with “personal” stuff. From this perspective this is “nobody’s fault”. It’s not our fault we feel bad, and it’s not our fault that men can’t take responsibility for what they do. Nothing is anybody’s fault.
    What it means to have strong boundaries is this: you don’t feel so ashamed, hurt, horrible, etc, because you know that what the man did had nothing to do with you. It had to do with him and his “stuff”.

    Of course you’re allowed to feel bad, horrible, ashamed, etc, but then you strengthen your boundaries and you realise “oh, this had nothing to do with me, this was all his “stuff” and I just happened to be there”.

    None of this excuses his behaviour. And when we have strong boundaries, and we feel confident in ourselves, we can stand tall and say “oi, we don’t do that, that’s not OK”. In my case, I felt strong enough to walk to the librarian and let her know about this man.

    But now, when we say “that’s not OK” and we try to stop them from doing it, we know that it’s best *for them* to stop, because they are doing stuff that doesn’t help them.

    I’m sorry if this is too theoretical. It’s kinda hard to wrap your mind around at first. And it sounds like you’ve gone through a hard experience, and I’m sorry about that.
    The gist of it is this: the way to heal from a horrible experience is to realise that what someone did to you had nothing to do with you. So it wasn’t “your fault”. They were just doing things and you happened to be there.

    This post might explain things better. The author’s really good: http://www.fluentself.com/blog/habits/someone-threw-a-shoe-at-you/

  3. Hi from a past Flooper!
    I just found some old contact info snippets from February 2015, went looking for your twitter, and was linked here. I like this article’s all-round compassion and sovereignty! I look forward to reading more from you. Sending you good wishes for wherever you’d like to apply them–take care!

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