Earlier this week I commented on a beautiful post by Stephen (LifeRevelation.wordpress.com). His post, Counting (http://wp.me/s2dWRG-counting), was about the grace and respect extended to him by a police officer who risked much to remove his handcuffs and honor him with friendly conversation and a meal en route to jail, and the effect that had on the author’s life. My simple comment rang true to him, and he posted again (http://wp.me/2dWRG Counting and Then Some), including the potential outcome of planting that type of kindness wherever each of us travels in life, using the phrase “I want to be one who takes off the cuffs.” Stephen encourages his readers to “take off the cuffs” in whatever way we can. Yes!
So his post – that prompted my comment – that prompted his next post – has now prompted this post. Got that?
I said that I want to be one who removes the cuffs, and I do. I also felt the check inside, the nidge of uncertainty, about…what if I do so and get hurt? The outcome for the police officer, had his trust been misplaced (which it wasn’t), could have been tough.
Which has to do with how much I trust myself to know who I can trust.
This is where I am with that:
My parents are very nice people. My mother (who will be 92 in a few weeks) quotes HER mother – who said that “when people are hardest to love, that is when they need love the most.” I was taught to give the benefit of the doubt – to choose to see a person’s actions assuming their best motives, rather than their worst.
A few scriptural ideas could be seen to go along with these: “turn the other cheek,” “do not resist an evil person,” “forgive if you want to be forgiven,” “love covers a multitude of sins,” ….. Depending upon interpretation and context.
I have to qualify these to navigate my own life.
I met Peter when we were in college. He was just out of prison, 3 years, medium to minimum security, for selling heroin. He told me this with fear and trepidation after a few dates. His sincerity and honesty impressed me. I considered what I knew of him so far (gentleman, REAL, calm, open-minded, diligently turning his life around with straight A’s in Civil Engineering, honesty, good attitudes, and that I really seemed to matter to him), so I continued to see him, aware but “giving the benefit of the doubt.” All the way to the altar. I believed the best in him, left his past in the past, loved and respected him in the present. His cuffs were off in real life; I left them off in my mind, heart and deed.
But my trust was misplaced. My respect was not reciprocated. My upbringing didn’t prepare me to recognize and run from the few “red flags” that were there in front of me – or to assess his trustworthiness. Nor did it prepare me to set healthy boundaries, to know how to decide when my rights and preferences were allowed to trump his rights and preferences. So, in giving the benefit of the doubt, I usually catered to and made excuses for his many “preferences.” I thought, “it doesn’t matter that much to me, but it seems to matter a lot to him, so….”
I left his cuffs off, honored him with my love and trust, and then I allowed him to put cuffs on ME. I allowed the misuse of Christian principles, scripture and biblical authority to snug those cuffs a little tighter. I didn’t know better.
Now, I do…know better…but I have to learn HOW. I don’t trust my own judgment, which is very common for an abuse survivor. There is a lot of fear in that…(please don’t quote, “perfect love casts out fear” – it may be true, but I’m not feelin’ it).
I am learning healthier boundaries. From codependency groups, Al-Anon, counseling, books, bloggers, and some wiser family members, I learn concepts taught neither by my parents nor my churches: what healthy boundaries are FOR ME.
It is my responsibility, in order to live effectively, to learn what I can emotionally or financially bear, and what I can’t. If, by being who I am, I can bless someone WITHOUT self harm, I’m all over it. It gives my life meaning and joy! If not, then I hope there is someone else better equipped to fill that role….or perhaps it just won’t get done. I’ve tried hard to be the “creator of happy endings.” But I’ve learned I just don’t have that kind of power. Which doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying…
I still give the benefit of the doubt, but more carefully. I still know that a person may have motivators for their actions that deserve compassion, not judgment, but I can’t hang with toxic people. I still understand that when people are hardest to love, that is when they need love the most – so I love them, tell them I love them, and show them I love them – but try to care for myself, too.
In healthier moments, I give myself permission (this is a really recent change!) to sometimes let my wants and needs be more important to me than someone else’s wants and needs. It sounds harsh. But I need to reword “love others as I love myself” as “love myself as I love others.” It doesn’t feel right – to the point that I sometimes prefer my own company (just easier than figuring it out) – because I’m compassionate…a team player …codependent… want to be loved and loving…but I’m afraid of what I don’t know enough to fear. However imperfect…boundaries come first; tweaking them can come later.
As I am able, I will still, enthusiastically, “take off cuffs!”
As Stephen says so passionately that it made me cry (repeatedly):
“Yes I want to be the person who takes off the cuffs, the shackles, the things that bind, the things that keep us from being free. I want to be the type of person who helps others unleash their full potential, find themselves, be free, live gloriously, set their hearts aflame, live in Truth, be peaceful, live in harmony, be fruitful, be excited, live long, flow with compassion, race with the wind, breathe slowly and deeply, touch the outer limits, live within, know yourself. taste life. fall in love…do you get the idea yet?”
I want every word in that paragraph with every fiber of my being! Enough to keep sawing away at my own cuffs, too.