Shame and boundaries

Last evening on our way home, Dominic asked me if ten-years-old is too young to like someone.

“Define like,” I said.

“Not like boyfriend and girlfriend, but different. I don’t know I can’t explain it.”

“Because you are embarrassed or because you cannot find the right words?”

“I can’t find the words.”

“Is it like boyfriend/girlfriend feelings, but you know she is not allowed to have a boyfriend so you are trying to call it something different?”

“Well, at school they always tell us we are too young to ‘like’ someone.”

“There is no age limit on feelings. You feel the way you feel no matter how old you are. What does it mean to you to like someone else?”

“Like boyfriend/girlfriend, but less.”

“Are you interested in her?”

“Yes.”

“Are you happier when you are around her?”

“Yes.”

“Are you comfortable or awkward around her?”

“Both. I like playing with her at recess and sitting with her at lunch. Our friends make it awkward when they make fun of us.”

“Well then I think it’s safe to say you like her. You should not be ashamed of how you feel. We don’t control how we feel. We only control how we respond to our feelings. Besides, at ten-years-old, your definition of like is a lot different than an adults definition.”

Shame, shame, know your name

This conversation stayed with me all evening. The next morning when I woke up ‘You should not be ashamed of how you feel,’ continued to circle my thoughts.

Dominic was redefining “like” because people told him his feelings were inappropriate. They shamed him for a normal, natural progression of childhood to adolescents.  Was there anything here he should feel bad for? No. He has a perfectly innocent childhood crush. The only shameful thing happening here was the creation of emotional confusion and self-doubt caused by short-sighted remarks.

You should not be ashamed of how you feel

I needed to hear those words too, just as much as he did. For a lifetime I have been quilting myself for my own feelings. Often I will talk myself out of my feelings and into an obligation I really have no desire to be a part of.

Request Feelings Inner Dialogue Answer
Can you watch my kids? Overwhelmed, exhausted, looking forward to quiet time alone It won’t require much effort and they rarely ask Yes
Do you have time to help me with the computer? Anxious, behind on my writing schedule They help me when I ask and I can probably get it done quickly Yes
Can you drop the boys over? Looking forward to family time after being focused on other responsibilities I should be happy they have someone who cares for them so much. I guess I can share some of our family time. Yes

 

Sacrifice and responsibility trump my heart’s desires and also my physical and emotional needs. The only person to blame is me. I keep saying yes when I need to rest, complete my own tasks, or have other plans. Duty and obligation leave little room, if any, to meet my own needs.

Boundaries

Saying yes when your heart is screaming no is not an act of love. Was I teaching martyrdom to my children through my actions? Do what you are supposed to do regardless of how you feel. Yikes!

Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud recommended setting limits. A simple way to begin would be to say no to everything that did not get me excited.

 

Say no

I was worried that saying no would alienate people or give them the impression that I do not love them. The first few times I told people ‘no’ there was surprise and a few questions. No one became upset with me, but instead acted concerned not sure if I was okay.

Pull back

When I began to pull back, reserving my energy and ambition for the activities that I was passionate about, there was again more questioning if everything was okay. After assuring everyone nothing was wrong, they all went on as though nothing had changed.

Stop explaining yourself

“Is everything ok?”

“Yes, thank you for asking.”

“Ok, I’m just checking.”

People said they were ‘just checking on me,’ but what they really wanted to know was why I was not doing as much as before. They never directly asked, so I never had to come up with an answer. Not explaining myself was another boundary I put in place in the beginning. Listening to other people’s opinions of my actions was distracting and was also a gateway to relaxing my limits.

Baby steps

This phase of my life is new. I am taking it one small step at a time. So far, I have felt more relaxed and less anxious. It is my hope that my children pick up on this new behavior and explore it in their own lives. We all want our children to be happy, but how could they ever achieve happiness if we restrict them with our distorted ideals.

So am I worried that my ten-year-old likes a lovely young lady? No, not hardly. I’m happy that he feels comfortable enough with me to talk about his feelings. Together we can tackle all the difficult subjects so when he needs to face society or make decisions, he will be armed with knowledge and deep understanding. He gets to explore all of his feelings.  I’m here to help him navigate them all and ensure he chooses appropriate behavior.

So yeah, my ten-year-old likes a girl and I’m okay with that!


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