I recently acquired a housemate, a friend of mine who just moved back to my home town. It's a temporary situation that is making me come to some powerful realizations. It's not quite a cosmic 2×4, but it's definitely a gentle nudge…
My therapist and I were discussing this today after I confessed that my housemate had me breaking into tears twice in the last week. It wasn't him. It was that what he said or did pushed my buttons, activating issues I had thought I had resolved. Apparently not.
And it all came down to this: I hadn't set clear enough boundaries – for myself, for him, for our ‘roomie relationship' – prior to him moving in. I had set physical parameters – you stay out of my room, I'll stay out of yours – but I hadn't set emotional boundaries. And those, as it turns out, are often the most important.
I didn't truly realize this until my therapist posed the following questions to me this morning: What do you want? What do you want this situation/relationship to look like? To feel like? To be like?
Hmmm… all good questions that I hadn't fully processed before he moved in.
What do I want? Not just in this particular relationship but in my life?
Very few people have ever asked me that question. As a recovering people pleaser, I was raised to think that my opinion didn't really matter anyway. After all, if your job is to make everyone else happy, then who cares what YOU think about the situation?
But isn't that all that really matters? I was upset with my housemate last week not because of what he said, but because of how I perceived it. How I chose to react in that situation. And that's all on me.
As I was about to leave to visit a friend on Saturday, my housemate commented on a very fit woman's photo on the internet. Being a self-conscious woman, I got mad at him. Not for thinking she was attractive, but for my own belief that he was comparing me to her and I didn't stack up. Of course, he never said that. But that's where my mind went and I found myself bawling. Because I thought I wasn't enough, that I didn't measure up, that somehow I was inadequate. Of course, I now realize how ridiculous my reaction was. But that's the point – it was MY reaction. It had nothing to do with the woman he was admiring or what he said. It all had to do with my reaction to what happened. It had to do with the fact that I neglected to set emotional boundaries with him when he moved in. As my therapist said, ‘you care too much about what he thinks.' Yes, I do. I fully own up to that.
So what am I going to do about it? How will I set emotional boundaries within this relationship now?
- I have to figure out what I want (and what I don't) – what do I want this situation, albeit temporary, to look like? How can I best make that happen with my words and actions?
- How does my need for physical boundaries work with my need for emotional boundaries? What might each of those look like?
- What can I learn about myself based on the disagreements we've experienced so far? Am I reacting to what was said, to how I felt, to my own insecurities?
- How might I act differently in similar situations in the future to avoid misunderstandings and upsets? Because it really is all about my reaction to what transpires rather than what actually happened.
- How can I use what I've learned to create a different reality? If something is bothering me, what can I do to change it or change my reaction to it?
- What do I really want? And yes, I think this question bears repeating. 1) I think the first time we think about what we want, we often don't go deep enough. 2) what we want can change. In ways that may sometimes surprise us.
So what have I concluded about all of this?
- I actually like living alone. – Yes, I am lonely; incredibly so sometimes. I thought that getting a housemate would solve that problem. But what I've come to realize is that being alone doesn't mean you're lonely and living with someone doesn't guarantee you won't be lonely. The two actually have little to do with one another.
- You have to set boundaries in relationships, physical and emotional – take it from a recovering people pleaser, if you let the other person set all the boundaries, you'll never get what you want out of the relationship
- Figure out what YOU want – yes you. Not your partner, boss, neighbor, kid, YOU.
I challenge you to set some emotional boundaries this week. Let me know how it goes.