Our social mores are pretty clear that bosses should not impose kisses on their unsuspecting staff, even if those bosses are expressing genuine love and affection. Okay, a brief kiss isn’t particularly abusive… except that it was imposed by a much older employer on a much younger employee who was, at the time, in a susceptible position (lying on an adjustment table waiting for her treatment from said employer).
Our social mores are also pretty clear that a potential father-in-law should not fondle his daughter-in-law to be, and that one is a definite and rather shocking violation of boundaries. He shouldn’t suddenly reach out and cup her breasts just because breasts happen to be an interest of his, even if he is writing a book about them. And he certainly shouldn’t become intimate with her in the spa, under cover of darkness.
On the other hand, our social mores are very clear that when a friend puts out a call for help, we should drop everything and be there for them, even if it means a trip to the other side of the city…
I shared those first two incidents of ‘abuse’ for the first time with my sisters only recently, and they were both shocked and concerned, but my own response was quite different. I could see very clearly that in both instances the man’s behaviour was simply feedback that I had very loose and sloppy boundaries.
The typical societal response would probably be, ‘But, poor you, you were young/an employee/a guest! He shouldn’t have taken advantage of you like that! It’s all his fault and you’re completely innocent. He did that to you. You were taken by surprise – you didn’t invite it!’
So it appears on the surface, but we know that appearances are very deceptive. Just as solids are not solids when greatly magnified, so is ‘abuse’ not exactly abuse when we look at it more closely. Because is it abuse to provide someone with much-needed feedback? Is that abuse or actually a service?
Life tries to teach us non-verbally, and this is where many of us trip up. Our bodies speak to us non-verbally but they reveal a very definite logic: pains in the head often relate to flawed thinking, pains in the gut relate to flawed digesting (of food and ideas), pains in the heart relate to flawed ‘loving’. Our bodies give us feedback as to our state of mind and our emotional health. We can take the feedback and correct, or become frustrated and upset with our inconvenient bodies, and apply bandages/administer drugs to suppress those symptoms, in which case, we are completely ignoring the feedback, ignoring our bodies’ attempts to instruct us non-verbally.
Some years ago I wrote an article called ‘The Perfect Partner – Perfect For What?’ It was about the common fantasy that the purpose of love relationships is happiness – that’s certainly how it appears on the surface! But actually the true purpose of relationships is growth. We attract a partner who will both support and challenge us because that is what most serves our growth.
You could call this ‘purpose and practice’ dynamic, ‘Life’s small print’.
Life’s ‘small print’ is quite simple and very objective: it states that ‘The purpose of Life is to grow, and Life itself is going to prompt us to grow through our Experiences’.
Much as we might like God or our Guardian Angel or someone to send us regular emails and memos explaining the current lesson in plain English: ‘He is pushing your buttons so that you learn to value yourself more’, ‘She is taking the lion’s share so that you learn to ask for what you want’, etc., what actually happens is that we get the experience without the handy little memo. We have to figure it out for ourselves.
The partner who is not fulfilling our ‘perfect partner’ list is actually meeting our needs even more perfectly; he is meeting our need for growth rather than merely for pleasure. If we identify what is frustrating us, there’s a very good chance of uncovering a major clue as to how we can grow and develop ourselves.
The people who appear to treat us abusively are similarly meeting our needs. They are showing us where our boundaries are sloppy and how little we are valuing ourselves. They are inviting us to step up in personal power.
The small print goes on to say that ‘These lessons are Love in Action’, which means that anything we perceive as ‘unloving’ is feedback of some sort so that we can actualise our full potential.
You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘All you need is love’ or ‘God is love’, and perhaps, like me, you’ve wondered what exactly that means. Does it mean ‘All you need is smiles and cuddles and encouragement’? Or does it mean ‘All you need is feedback so that you can self-correct’? I’d much prefer the latter!
When I was recently asked to travel to the other side of the city to give a despairing woman a hug because that was what she desperately needed, I very seriously considered it. After all, that would be a selfless, loving act, and selflessness is what society values. How good I would feel if I dropped everything to be there for her!
But I had been there for several other people who were struggling in relationships or with work situations, and I was stretched to the max in my own life with sick children and a business that was exploding in all directions with only one of me to manage it.
I agonised over that request, tussling with the part of me that wants to be there for everyone, and finally decided that leaping to her aid would be self-abusive. I made myself acknowledge that self-abuse was another real form of abuse, albeit one that is rarely discussed. Valuing and honouring oneself is actually part of Life’s ‘Love Curriculum’, and is another important form of boundary-drawing.
I agonised over not rushing to relieve her pain, and realised that she was responsible for her pain and her current circumstances, just as I am responsible for my pain and for my life balance. If I exhausted myself dashing here, there, and everywhere to be available for others, sooner or later I would collapse in a heap, and at that point there would be plenty of wise head-nodding-and-wagging: ‘She’s got to learn how to say ‘no’…’
The problem is that saying no can look like a form of abuse. Just as violence and inappropriate behaviour imposed on another would be described as an act of commission, ignoring need can be described as an equally abusive act of omission.
Or at least, it can if we are not delving a little beyond the surface and if we are not examining the small print that accompanies each life event: her opportunity to value and love herself more, to balance her expectations and take responsibility for creating her own local support network, and, equally, my opportunity to value and love myself more – and to finally learn how to prioritise!
Rather than being instances of abuse, perhaps these situations are Life working through the people around us to be of service to us so that we will grow and maximise our potential.
© Liliane Grace 2014