How Do You Know When to Draw the Line?
Drawing the Line. What Line?
“Drawing the line” is a metaphorical phrase for making a boundary, taking a stand, or otherwise putting a symbolic line of ‘no more’ down; Viewed as either against a person or situation or for your own principles, beliefs, or sanity.
A friend and I were recently talking about destructive personalities. Those people we love who hurt themselves with such patterning that their harm is thrown outward to us or those around them. Or those people who hurt us for whatever reason.
How much should we tolerate? If we’re “healthy” can’t we tolerate everything? How much should we forgive and does that really mean forget? Should we always forgive? Where’s the line?
What is this line? And how do we know when to draw it?
Codependent recovery actions or this LINE might be mistakenly thought of as a form of “tough love” that we use in order to “get those types of people” to straighten up. [Or at least, this is what I first thought when I began the journey of healing from alcohol abuse and codependent characteristics; But I have a history of enmeshment with abusive systems that used the 12 steps as an excuse to be abusive so perhaps this view is not universal.]
But this is not recovery or a display of emotional health. This is display of ego. This is Mind in the Ego’s playground.
Tough Love. I’ve always envisioned it as abuse of a person who is already suffering. Again, this could be due to my having been kidnapped into an abusive system when I was a kid. Equally, I dislike terms that have been popularized by drug rehab facilities that have somehow permeated their way into 12 step recovery circles:
- “Calling you on your shit.”
- “Your best thinking got you here.”
- “Who said you could think?”
- “You’re not that important.”
- “I care more about your life than your feelings.”
- “Fuck your feelings.”
These phrases, the ego uttering may be apt to justify as “tough love” have a commonality: The person saying them has placed the listener into a subordinate position; ie, “You are less ____ than I am.” And that’s not love. That’s ego and subordination. Love is not tough.
Of particular risk in not recovering from whatever affliction has brought the Highly Sensitive Personality into 12 step recovery (alcohol, codependency, drugs, etc.) is the HSP sensing the wrongness of it all, the hypocrisy, the apathy. And then leaving; Leaving to suffer alone or to feel there IS no safe place and consequently, no recovery to be had.
Following the 12 Traditions of 12 step programs would render “tough love” problems obsolete if we all remained mindful of them when engaging with others in recovery. But if if were a fifth, we’d all be drunk, so let’s hold the ifs and keep reading…
What Codependent Recovery Is and Is NOT
Codependent Recovery teaches us to take care of ourselves; Not others. It teaches us how to take care of ourselves within relationships or without relationships. But considering I got initially chameleonized DUE to weird relationships calling for impotence and voicelessness, it makes sense that we go into recovery under the guise of “healing our relationships.” Because we do.
When I began recovering toward sanity, others close to me began changing toward sanity. That’s it. That was the trick.
It does NOT teach us how to take care of others. It does NOT teach us how to manipulate, belittle, or demean others into shaping up. It does NOT teach us how to effectuate “tough love” into doing our bidding. Heck, it doesn’t teach us how to effectuate any kind of love into doing our bidding on other people. Codependent recovery is most difficult because it trains us to get the focus back onto ourselves, period. And it may be toughest of all for the peddlers of ‘tough love’ propaganda.
The ego. Some egos really enjoy their playgrounds and will spend entire lifetimes looking outward for the next fix. Whether its a person to zone in on or a substance to feel good on…Nothing is ever ‘right’ in its world, except for those fleeting moments of endorphined pleasure, poor fella.
Back to this Line and the Drawing of It
I look at the line as a very personal experience based on your own personal story and how you relate to your story. There are no hard rules on where what “drawing the line” should be in the face of specific behaviors or treatment, despite the well-intentioned advice of your friends.
The Line: When I think of “this line” I think of my own boundaries as they relate to self-care in the face of treatment I’ll tolerate for a period of time. (For example: I never think of imaginary “lines” I might need to fill in with ink when I’m with people who aren’t hurling their painful existences on me.)
There is only ONE rule I operate from and that is “Whatever this moment calls for.” I might put down a line for now for the future with a friend, say, who’s exhibited consistent patterns of crazy-making drama thrown into my life due to their drug or alcohol addiction. And even this “line for the imagined future” can be redacted in the face of seeing healthier patterns. It is important to remember I am not doing it because I seek to “teach them a lesson” but to keep my own life from becoming co-opted.
For parenting or employer/employee issues, “drawing the line” may indeed be a point of guidance or consequence.
Examples of When and How You Might “Draw the Line” in Certain Relationships or Situations
- You catch your partner cheating on you for the 5th time. You might draw the line by breaking up with him/her.
- Your kid comes in late for curfew every night for a week. You might draw the line by taking their car keys away for a month.
- Your partner continually nags you after a hard day of work. You might draw the line by having a conversation about that.
- Your kids teacher seems to be picking on him. You finally draw the line by requesting a conference.
- You call your partner’s boss time after time to call in sick for him. You draw the line by not doing it anymore.
- You cry when watching movies with animal suffering. You might draw the line by not watching movies like that.
- You’ve had a moment of clarity with drinking alcohol. Your line may be one of determination to stop drinking at first. And in a moment of inspiration it may occur to you you might need more help than just determination so a new line may emerge that says, “Ask for help.”
- You notice you feel good before you mindlessly go onto Facebook. You also happen to notice later that night a memory of how you began feeling depressed after a few minutes of Facebook. Your mind then recounts this as a pattern. You may draw the line by not going on for a while to see how you feel.
- You rescue animals when they show up hungry and in need of care. Every time you adopt them out or send them to a permanent home, the pain is almost unbearable. You may – in this situation – hold the line because your Compassionate Spirit is Love and you are willing to experience sad emotions.
- You realize you say ‘Yes’ to practically every request from people. You further realize you are missing personal deadlines, activities, and commitments in your life. You may first draw the line with a ‘No’ but with an apology or by making up an excuse. Your next line may be saying ‘No’ without an apology or an excuse. And still, your next line may be learning to say No with situationally appropriate boundaries. [ie, “No, best friend, I can’t have lunch today. I want to work out.” or “No, Mr. Door Salesman, I am not interested.” or “No, grandma, I don’t want to help you carry the boxes because I pinched a nerve in my back.” or “No, Person I Do Not Trust, I do not want to loan you money.”]
In any situation sometimes “drawing the line” is only after we’ve suffered and we might view it as the final battle line being drawn. Codie recovery and the practice of it can prevent the need for knowing when to draw the line because we will learn, through practice, how to self-care in the face of these disturbances. We’ll get more comfortable knowing when discomfort steps in and our long-enduring suffering will not need to get to the “How do I know when to draw the line?” point.
But until then, we’ll learn that the drawing of a self-care line is always better late than never.
And we might do it sloppily. And so what?
When I began codie recovery I did it all wrong or so I thought. People got pissed at me. I had fear over making boundaries. I hyperventilated in the face of people disliking my boundaries. I contemplated using drugs to get me through anxiety. I cried a lot, mixed up my words, and risked any security I thought I had. I lacked much grace and I love that I did because today I understand that growing through my suffering was more important than any graceful face I desired to wear.
- How much should we tolerate? This is an innocent question I used to wonder about and become confused about. It’s also a personal barometer so don’t compare yourself to anyone else. If a relationship doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t hurt. If it does, it does. Codependency or any enmeshment typically has our barometer for pain and insanity way up at obscene levels so if your boyfriend only calls you belittling names, once sanity settles in, this might no longer be cool for you and you might then, “draw the line” instead of “holding the line.” You might tolerate being smothered the first couple of weeks during the honeymoon phase of your relationship, but if you start to see his only interest is you, you may begin considering boundaries or ending the relationship.
- If we’re “healthy” can’t we tolerate everything? (“Love and Tolerance is our code.” People in A.A. can really turn simple concepts into worshippable commandments, can’t they ? ) The answer is a clear No. “Healthy” people have self-caring boundaries. [I’m quoting “Healthy” because I view it as a subjective asymptote; Kinda like my HSP bell curve illustration.] We can ‘accept’ everything in current reality, and I wholly advocate that, but that’s not the same as ‘agreeing to everything in reality moving forward.’ Someone grabs you and hugs you every single time they see you and you don’t like it. Accepting that they will probably grab and hug you again tomorrow is the first step in realizing that you do not want to ‘tolerate’ that anymore. The next step would be to figure out how might be best in dealing with it the next time it happens or before it happens again.
- How much should we forgive? Should we always forgive? I’m an advocate for forgiveness but I’m not an advocate of “fake it til you make it” 12 step cult lore. If I need to dislike, I dislike. If I need to go away, I go away. If I need to pray, I pray. If I need to detach in anger because I can’t “detach with love”, I detach in anger. I trust the process. Forgiveness isn’t about them; It’s about me. And my historical process has always been that when I feel safe and have felt whatever emotions I need to feel, I forgive. A well-intentioned person in A.A. told me I needed to forgive someone and I believed them. For two years I tried everything; I wrote many inventories, listed my resentments, reached out to the person in question, prayed a lot, balanced my chakras, treated the person with kindness. And in the end, during my – what would turn out to be – final bitchfest to my sponsor (who never did tell me I needed to forgive this person) I discovered the one I needed to forgive had never been the person; It had been myself. [Once again, freaking ego always looking to the outside.]
- And does it really mean forget? No. Once you’ve forgiven a thing, remembering it or not is no longer consequential. Remembering or forgetting is only relevant if you’ve not forgiven. How do you control your memory to forget a thing anyway? You remember a thing or you don’t. [Forget the word “Moon” at 4:00pm tomorrow your time and let me know if you were successful.]
- Where’s the line? Wherever you need/want it to be.
- What is this line? Whatever you need/want it to be.
- How do we know when to draw it? I know it’s time when the crazies have settled in and begin to dominate my mind. Again, this is a personal level. Well-intentioned people – or controlling personalities for that matter – may tell you exactly what to do (for your own good, naturally.) but they are telling you this based on their mitote; their maya (ie, their dream of this world; their illusion) – their worldview, personality, and how they relate to their own story.
When Others Tell You How or When to Draw The Line
Certain friends, family or advice givers used to tell me exactly what to do in emotionally or mentally suffering situations in which I was ill-equipped. Sometimes it was a simple situation and other times it felt like my life was hinging on it. I appreciated it when I asked for their help. Other times, someone would tell me what to do unsolicitedly and, being unsure of myself and thoroughly confused, I might do whatever the “it” was they said to do because I was desperate and at a dead end of resources.
Their Advice. My Consequences. But because I did not have their personality, reasoning, or motivation, most – if not all – of the time when I did do what the unsolicited “advice tellers” told me to do, I either fell into more emotional or mental distress OR I opened up a larger can of worms of which I was worse-equipped. And this is a large part of how I got to Codependent recovery; My fear or distress of NOT doing what they “suggested” was larger than any desire to clumsily figure anything out for myself. Plus, there was always the off-chance it might ease my suffering. I felt like I might lose their friendship or that I would be a disappointment if I stayed confused and clumsy.
When controllers/some authority/counselors/parents/sponsors go messing around with peoples’ psyches by demanding, strong-arming, or telling “the confused,” vulnerable, or suffering what to do, it may make things worse as the confused and desperate person may feel like she is now in a deeper pit of despair without a rope. Codependent recovery teaches you how to find our own voice and barometer in life situations. And even if your voice leads you to asking someone for help, you will learn to ask the people who would be helpful (not harmful) .
When I first got sober, it was emotionally painful to start with. And because I got sober in an Alcoholics Anonymous clubhouse in which drug abuse was rampant among people claiming sobriety, it was quite the feat I would get sober. I had all sorts of terrible examples of “sobriety” telling me what to do. And because I was ignorant, thinking all people in there were sober, I really thought a lot more was wrong with me than “just” alcoholism. I thought I must be “too sensitive” or that I had too much PTSD from my time in the child abuse facility I was thrown into as a kid. I thought I was way too messed up for help.
But I found a sober sponsor who helped navigate me. I learned to rely on her guidance because I knew she was sober and because her guidance spoke to my intuitive knowing. The problem I had with many of the “other friends in AA” is that their advice, guidance or suggestions were precisely provoking those emotions that were so familiar to my beginnings as an alcohol addict to start with.
I am not saying that anyone contributed to my body’s penchant for craving alcohol. That’s strictly this Body’s thing. I am saying the world’s bullshit and expectations of ‘illusion buying’ is what engendered this Mind’s thing; Which turned it into a search for fulfillment and that alcohol was as close as this Mind/Body could get.
My vasanas, initiated in childhood and reinforced throughout life experiences, had my HSP mind very sensitive to illusions (abuse, lies, ego) so that when I came into a place for help and saw the same patternings that emotionally led me into my ‘love’ for the drink in the first place, I may not have had the words or language to explain the problem then. But now I do.
My mental and emotional well being is not anyone’s personal playground. My well being is not anyone’s moral gymnasium.
Dealing with difficult personalities is a collective human experience; You are not abnormal, unique or alone in this way. But where you may be ‘abnormal’ is that you are now armed with a solution.
In learning how to draw the line between my mind and your mind, I am able to keep to the business of myself and my life, and if I am lucky, can get to the root of Who I Am and meet others on the same journey toward wholeness.