And having very little. How I came to have very little and what that does. (tw boundaries, emotional abuse, survival)
Admittedly I flounder at this week’s homework. I did have some success earlier in the week with making boundaries with my father. But in other ways, I am still learning this skill.
Boundaries, like the shields on a starship protect you and identify you as a separate being. In abusive relationships these shields take hits on a regular basis, or the abuser convinces you to take them down, or they steal your shield modulation code, or they are like the Borg and basically adapt to everything. They get on to your ship and basically fuck everything up and may explain to you that they are in fact helping.
At some point you’d think the RED alert would go off, but with the more sly and coercion type abuser it never does. Or the noise has been on so long, you’ve stopped listening and have been convinced it’s a malfunction. Because there’s no way you could be in danger. You’ve lived in danger for so long, you’ve forgotten what safety looks like and even question it’s existence. Or you become so use to the danger, that it appears to be safety. So your shields are down, the attack is on going, but you’ve gotten weirdly use to it. The pain becomes normal.
In fact, you have no idea that your ship looks like this:
You’ve been trained to accept that it’s the way that it functions and that there are no other options. It’s still good. It’s still good. The abuser convinces you that the only problem is you. You don’t know how to take care of a ship. And they slowly rip apart your hull and erase your logs. Eventually, it’s only the survival systems are that left.
Boundaries are really difficult for me. Not so much with my medical PTSD, I basically have shields up all the time for doctors. THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED IN MY SECTION OF SPACE. I have very ridged boundaries and am ready to attack as soon as they step into the neutral zone. If I don’t start crying and curl into a ball first.
The difficult ones are with people. Part of it is because of my former relationship was a coercive and emotionally abusive one. If I made a boundary I was punished. If I tried to keep a reasonable boundary e.g I like to be in bed by 11pm. I was punished. Or I don’t want to be woken up to talk about your problem, I’d be woken up at 3am and kept awake for weeks to have it explained to me what a terrible selfish person I am. If I said something caused me pain, I’d be forced to do it more to prove it was painful and that I was a sissy for complaining about pain. The pain was my imagination. I’d try to set a boundary and immediately I’d be punished for it. I’d try to have private things, and they’d be looked through and then critiqued.
Part of it is that I have been routinely bullied through my entire life. I joked that I’ve just accepted that people will hate me for no apparent reason other than their own insecurity. And I honestly expect people to turn on me at any moment. I often don’t consider myself human anymore, because humans are cruel. I must be a machine, because I don’t intentionally hurt people and I can change my programming. (Yes, this logic is flawed)
As good as my boundary skills once were, I basically was in a space battle for years and became exhausted. There’s only so long you can fight. Resources are limited. Eventually it gets easier to compromise because not giving in leads to greater sacrifice. With the compromise, the warp core doesn’t get breached and kills the remaining half of engineering. You don’t have entire decks get breached and watch parts of your self get sucked out into space. But those parts are still slowly executed by the abuser to shape you into what they want. Also, because it isn’t a physical fight, as most DV is portrayed, but a mental one, I was more likely to make bad compromises because I didn’t know what to do with someone who cried and then eventually started to threaten to kill themselves. I didn’t know it was abuse. I was less likely to leave the fight, because I thought I was actually saving that other ship. I thought I had to save them. I didn’t understand that the fight was them trying to destroy me. (I was going to use an image of Borg, but oddly both the Borg and the Federation assimilate other cultures into their mutual collectives. Colonialism is generally a no-no.) (ETA Thinking about it more, the same is likely true in physical abuse because the abuse probably goes through the same cycles, but with violence)
Understandably after living in a constant mental war zone for the better part of a decade, normal boundaries are difficult. It feels like a fight, and I’m too injured to get into another war. I’m also too ready to get into a fight. I’ve compared therapy to allowing a repair crew on my ship, but I’m basically always ready to kill them. I am always polite, (like many survivors I am very good at keeping up appearances) and conceptually understand they are there to help, but there is a strike force ready to go in and remove the repair crew if they move into restricted areas without invitation.
I adapted by hiding things and constantly lying. I breached Federation law by using a cloaking device. I removed myself from the Federation entirely because I couldn’t understand a world where this was allowed to happen. Where the Federation would blame me for the attack. “You should have set up a better neutral zone.”
I would secretly eat things. I had secret journals. I even tried learning another language to write in secret, because someone would read it and then interrogate me for hours or even days. I often passcode everything, even in my own house. Despite how much I say I am terrible liar, I am actually a very good liar, and often will lie about the smallest things because I need to protect what I am doing from others. I am terrified of having it explained to me that I am terrible. I will often pretend to be a character, rather than myself, because it’s protection.
I say I am very open about things, but my openness, which is honest, is also a distraction from things I don’t want to be asked. I talk about the hospital, so no one asks me about my relationship. I say “Well, when you are sick you quickly learn how the relationship isn’t working.” Which is part of the truth. (Like Vulcan and Minbari (Babylon 5) sometimes part of the truth is enough of a lie)
I’m trying really hard to be honest about what I want. I’ve chosen to practice on people who will not be hurt by the truth. It is really hard.
So one common boundary setting lie I have is : “I can’t go out tonight. I have a pile of work to do.” By work I mean binge watch Netflix. Last week I told my friend “It’s 7pm, I’m settled at home. I don’t want to go out. How about Friday?”
And it worked. I set a boundary. I didn’t have to lie, but it was a concious effort. I really expected to be guilt-ed into going, to have it explained that my not wanting to go outside was my being a terrible person. But they respected me. I was relieved.
Another one I made is “I don’t work for less than X dollars an hour.” It was really hard, and I’ve lost jobs over it. But it makes me feel like my work has value.
I have to remind myself, I am allowed to say no, and give no explanation.
Boundaries are hard when you’ve had to do everything as a sneak attack. How do you live out in the open? I know that the war stopped, but I just can’t seem to convince myself that my shields will be good enough this time. Or that a failed boundary won’t make the ship explode.
I’m trying to self validate. “See look the warp core is back online, we’ve got radiation suits this time and new blast doors.” But all I remember is it exploding and watching parts of myself suffer and die. I remember the pain to much. I remember being told it was my fault and that I was a terrible captain. So it becomes easier to sneak around the conflict, than engage it head on. To simply leave. Hence the lies. It’s less painful to be the nomadic sniper because you never have to get attached to anything because you can always leave.
Unfortunately, that skill doesn’t work all the time in real life, because you can’t have a relationship if your only skill is to leave conflict or to lie about everything. That doesn’t build trust or safety. But that’s where I am right now.
So I’ll keep working on the small ones.