September 8, 2020

Your Pain is Real & your Feelings are Valid—Set the Dang Boundaries.

“Your feelings are valid. You have every reason to feel whatever emotion you feel. You aren’t over-dramatic, you aren’t exaggerating. You’re feeling. And that’s okay.” ~ Unknown

Over the past four years, I have made many mistakes. 

Whether it was on a personal or professional level, I’ve made some horrifically bad decisions. To compound those initial errors, I did not adequately deal with the repercussions from those decisions.

And, for someone who’s not a complete imbecile, I’ve managed my mental health with an often spectacular ineptitude. I’ve been able to keep myself alive, but, at times, only just. And, at one point, I needed time in a psychiatric ward to help me do that.

But, those are my mistakes—mine.

I’m currently being rediagnosed, and the upshot is that I may end up being diagnosed with more severe mental illnesses than I ever imagined I would. I could blame those for the mistakes I made, but that’s avoiding the issue: even with the most severe diagnosis possible, I’m still capable of living a (largely) independent life. I do need some help and support, but with that, there really shouldn’t be anything I can’t achieve. 

Mental conditions may make things harder, and they’ve undoubtedly helped create some situations I wished had never occurred, but to solely blame them for the last four years would be disingenuous.

Yes, there is a huge amount of anger and resentment toward illnesses I didn’t ask for and had no control over creating. And, yes, there’s also a lot of anger and resentment at how others in my life have picked and chosen when something is my mental illness at play and when it’s not, without even talking to me about them. 

However, there’s not a lot I can do about either fact. If a person wants to make such summary judgments about me without even discussing the subject, then losing that person isn’t a great loss; if I’m not even worthy of a basic conversation about those conditions, then I’m okay with saying that person isn’t worthy of me.

And the anger at having them in the first place? I’m slowly learning to channel that: it’s become a fuel that I use to push me on every day. I can become a victim or use them to motivate me. (I’ve chosen the latter.) 

My mental illness makes my life harder—no question. But to apportion all the blame for the mistakes I have made onto them is simply wrong.

Because, fundamentally, the truth is that, if I screwed up over the last four years, I primarily did so because I made the wrong decisions. Me.

However, over the last four years, a spectacular amount has happened. Life is a bit quieter nowadays, and I’m eternally grateful for that. The crazy, non-stop carousel of drama has slowed, and that’s given me breathing space. As I’ve made clear, the responsibility for that ultimately lies with me; it’s my life and, mentally ill or not, managing it is my duty. 

But, at the same time, the worst things anyone has ever done to me have also all taken place.

I understand that when the stakes are high—when the pressure is really on—we’re more likely to crumble than stand tall. Although we’d all like to respond with compassion, such extreme situations pull on our internal triggers, and we lash out. Instead of moving closer, we run away. It happens; I get it. But, at the same time, I’m still upset about some of those things. Granted, I’m nowhere near as upset as I used to be. 

Although we might get things wrong in times of crisis, it’s also true that you get to see people’s true colors—making mistakes is one thing, but not even showing up is another. And, as painful as it was in the short-term, acknowledging that I didn’t matter as much to certain people as I thought I did has undoubtedly taken the edge off the pain in the long-term. 

And, asking myself why I didn’t matter has forced me to confront parts of my personality that, quite frankly, I don’t like. If people didn’t turn up, it’s not just because they didn’t care; I also played a part. Working on those parts of my character is a journey that will never end. 

But, there’s still hurt there—a lot.

As I said, some of the things that happened were the worst that ever happened to me. And, some were simply wrong. They affected me deeply and have forever changed how I see those people. But, for a long time, those things also haunted me. Rumination is common for people with mental illnesses such as depression. And, I’ve spent much of the last year mulling over these events, often to a crippling extent.

But, recently, they’ve begun to loosen their hold on my psyche. Why? Because I’ve slowly begun to accept my feelings as being valid.

And it all stems from an interaction with one of those people.

It hadn’t been the first time this person and I had talked about this particular event; we’d revisited it a lot. I don’t regret the number of times we did. It was a huge topic and was never, ever going to be resolved with one chat. However, perhaps it was just naturally reaching the tipping point, but something clicked in me that day.

Those feelings were short-lived; closure quickly went out of the window. I’m not sure how many different versions I heard, but I got another one that day. Sometimes bad things happen; just knowing a bit more why they did, even if it’s a truth you might not like hearing, goes a long way. More confusion never helps. 

Then the usual dance had occurred: I had told them they had done this thing that had hurt me, and then I was told, “But you’ve done lots of things to hurt me.”

“Yes, I have. For which I am sorry and willing to move heaven and Earth to make amends for. And, if you want to talk about those things, I am more than amenable. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the event we’re actually talking about right now really did happen, and that it caused me distress. So could we…?”

I felt like I shouldn’t ever be allowed to point out anyone’s mistakes. I explained that that was unfair. And then I just stopped answering. Because my feelings were valid—I was allowed to be upset. 

That day I realized you can be upset with someone and still acknowledge your own mistakes. 

The two aren’t mutually exclusive; just because you’ve made mistakes doesn’t mean the pain someone else caused you isn’t valid. Pointing out the hurt they’ve caused you doesn’t mean you’re projecting blame, or denying your own culpability, or painting yourself as a saint; you’re simply saying, “You did this, and it hurt me.”

I’m quite capable of acknowledging my own mistakes, but I still have the right to be peeved at someone else’s treatment of me. In fact, I think that’s healthy.

The truth is it would have been easier if I had just bowed to them and said: 

Yes, you’re right. It’s not worth talking about this incident because I also hurt you/I’m projecting blame/I’m taking no responsibility for my mistakes/I have created an entirely unfair mental image of you based upon my mental illness.” (Delete as applicable.) 

Although doing that might have meant getting this person back in my life for a while, the initial issue wouldn’t have gone away. 

If something happens and it hurts you, burying it doesn’t make it disappear; it’ll just fester in your subconscious, growing more potent.

And I chose not to let it fester. I chose to say, “No, you did this bad thing; it hurt me. My feelings are valid.”

I know I’ve screwed up as well, but none of my mistakes change that you still did that.

Your feelings are valid, no matter how someone else tries to dismiss them.

And they’re still valid even if you’ve made mistakes too. Your errors don’t mitigate theirs, just as theirs don’t mitigate yours. We’re all adults, and cause and effect can never be ignored, but let’s not descend into the “I only did that because you did this.” No one wins in that game.

I suppose this is also all about boundaries, though that’s a topic for another day. But, having a boundary that says, “I expect my feelings to be seen as valid” can only be a good thing.

And if someone doesn’t respect that boundary? Then they can have no complaints if you employ another one that says, “Not accepting my feelings as valid is grounds to remove you from my life.”

I have made many, many mistakes over the last four years. But, finally accepting that my feelings are valid isn’t one of them.


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