One of the biggest challenges in creating a great life, especially if you come from a traumatic background, is learning how to create a safe space for yourself. When you grow up surrounded by drama and people with drama fuelled lives it's easy to believe that that is normal. Violence, rage, manipulation and edginess can easily become what you are used to and especially when you yourself are part of that cycle it is super hard to get out of.
Sometimes it's people who you have grown up with, people you are related to or people you love and care about who consistently throw their drama around, entwining you in one messy circumstance after the other. Sometimes it’s you yourself unwittingly creating more drama than is necessary. Learning how to settle down and create peace in your life is super important and having the space to do that is equally important.
When I first started to create massive changes in my life I had to become incredibly selective with who I let into my space. Giving up drinking and making huge lifestyle choices is hard and making sure you're around people who encourage and support what you are trying to achieve is integral to recovery from any addiction - even an addiction to drama (yes, this happens).
At first, this might mean that you spend more time on your own and if you’re a natural introvert this might be an easy thing. But if you’re a natural extrovert you might really struggle with this which is why a support system is important. Finding a community of people who are committed to personal growth and living peaceful lives will be integral for your success in this area which is another reason why I dedicated a full episode to CREATING COMMUNITY. For the extrovert, being patient and finding people who are good for you is important and will mean the difference between health and wellness and pain and drama. Sometimes when you’re extroverted you’ll spend time with just about anyone in order to avoid being alone (me being almost smack in the middle of this spectrum means I really really understand both sides of this coin). I have always known that you should choose your friends wisely even though I haven’t always heeded that wisdom. Choosing people you want to BE like is the trick but if you don’t know what you want and you don’t know the kind of person you want to be yet, taking some time to figure that out is important.
Some qualities I look for in my friends are these:
Lack of bitchiness. People who bitch about others to me will bitch about me to others. I want friends I can trust who are emotionally adjusted enough to be able to talk directly to someone if there’s a problem instead of talking behind their back.
Even tempered. I don’t hang out with people who lose their temper, who yell at people, demean people or are rude to waitstaff. I can spend an hour with someone and know from the way they treat others whether or not I would want to be their friend and I don’t want to be friends with anyone I feel like I would have to apologise for.
Well mannered. I love people who are courteous. Saying please and thank you is not a difficult thing and gratitude is a quality that I aspire to live and breathe every second of my life. Even when a car lets me in in traffic, or someone lets me cross at a crossing (even though I have right of way), I always give a little thank you wave because when it happens for me it makes me feel good and I’m all about making the world a better place.
Drama free. Yes shit happens. But we all know people who it happens constantly. They choose crappy friends, crappy relationships, and they hang out in places that drama happens continuously. They walk around unconsciously creating more drama for themselves and more drama for those who are assosciated with them. I deliberately choose friends who are peaceful and focussed on the good things that life has to offer because I know that you become like the people you hang around the most. I hang around healthy, happy, well adjusted people so that’s how I end up.
They know the social rules; things like not showing up unannounced. Being aware and respectful of boundaries so I don’t have to actually assert them. They ask questions and care about what makes you happy.
Reliable. They show up when they say they will. They show up on time and they do what they say they will do. I need friends I can trust and I AM a friend that can be trusted so I don’t expect less than that. If someone can’t meet me on that level then they become less of a friend and more of an investment. I do love and care for some people who don’t meet these criteria, I just don’t spend a lot of time with them and that’s the difference.
Trustworthy. People who lie to anyone will lie to me if the circumstance arises. I don't trust people who can't be trusted and without trust there is no relationship.
If you can choose the people you spend time with wisely you won’t have to be constantly having to teach them how to treat you because they will do it respectfully, naturally. BUT. Sometimes it’s not our friends that we choose - it’s our family that we didn’t that creates the drama. That’s where it’s a little harder to know what to do because we love our families through thick and thin and knowing where to draw the line with them can be difficult.
I had a particular family member that would show up at my doorstep late at night (sometimes past 10pm and sometimes after having been drinking). My son was small at the time and I wanted my life to be safe and stable and drama free. But here this family member would show up, often with nowhere else to go and bring the drama straight through the front door and make all their problems my problems. They would stay up half the night, drink all my milk so I had none left for the next day (this was a big deal then because I didn’t have much money at the time), and then want to sleep during the day when my son was awake and I had things to do around the house. It was awkward, it was awful and I didn’t know how to handle it. The large majority of the issues this person had were of their own making but they couldn’t see that and they thought because I had my own house that I was well off and should look after them despite my protests and our personality clashes.
Now it is one thing to open your door to a friend or family member who is grateful, respectful and who appreciates what you are doing for them. Who obeys your house rules and is mindful to do the right thing by you. Also, sometimes it’s appropriate to open your door to someone who is a freaking mess and who isn’t all of these things and you can refer them on and help them get the help that they need. It’s another thing entirely to have someone who is consistently pushing the boundaries, disrespectful of your house rules and your space, who isn’t mindful to do the right thing by you and who doesn’t actually make any changes in their own life but keeps expecting you to pick up the pieces for them. This is where healthy boundaries need to be worked out, decided upon and asserted and if you’re from a dysfunctional background figuring out what they are is like rocket science. Add emotions and manipulation and guilt into the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster so this is where I really encourage you to get help. If you’re dealing with someone like this in your life, seek a therapist. Not only will it help YOU it will also help you to help that person better.
I ended up going to the Salvation Army as was suggested by a friend because they often deal with people with mental health issues and addictions. So I went in and spoke to a lady and said “I love this person. I care about this person and I want to help. I don’t want to kick them out of my life forever or to be heartless but I am a Mum and I need to make sure my home is a good healthy space for me so I don’t lose my shit and so that my son has a peaceful, stable environment to be in”. We chatted through things and she helped me to create a list of house rules.
These rules were all the unspoken rules that one might have if they were in a functional community:
Please call before you arrive. That way I can let you know if I am feeling like having visitors or if I have something on. (This one is especially important when you’re dealing with new mums. Sometimes the hormones make it super hard to be brave enough to say I need a rest and can you please leave)
Don’t show up on the doorstep unannounced after 8:30pm. Ever. Unless it’s been arranged prior in which case that is not unannounced. I will not open the door otherwise.
Don’t come to my house with alcohol. On your person or IN your person. (Obviously this will be different for people who drink but I was in recovery and needing the extra space from alcohol).
Don’t expect to be invited to stay overnight. If you need somewhere to stay do not automatically assume that that’s MY house and I’m OK with it.
Look for cues. Watch my body language. See if I offer you another drink, or to stay to watch some tele together. If I don’t - assume that’s because it’s time to go home.
Do NOT yell in my house. At me, or my children or my guests. This is a safe space and rudeness will not be tolerated.
Aggressiveness is not OK. Keep it outside. Keep it away from my space.
If you’re having personal problems that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own. Yes, we can talk about your stuff but that doesn’t mean that I am responsible for YOUR stuff. It’s still YOUR stuff and it’s up to YOU to sort it out. This includes not having somewhere to stay.
There were more. If you’re dealing with your own problem visitor, think of all the things that they do that you feel are crossing your boundaries and make a list.
As unhinged as it sounds, my list was printed out and put on the wall outside my front door. Whenever I had an uninvited guest, I would refuse to open the door and I would point to the sign. I kept reminding myself that I wrote that list when I was of sound mind, so when I was feeling weak and vulnerable instead of caving I would simply step outside of my own head and think “they’re the rules, I have to follow them”. When you’re dealing with someone who crosses your boundaries constantly, the one thing that will turn that relationship around is consistency. You can’t let them get away with something one time and then get upset about it the next time or they’ll think the problem is you. Have clear boundaries, and stick to them every single time. That way they know the rules and they know that they have to abide by them or go elsewhere. Eventually they get the picture.
This stuff isn’t easy. This stuff is some of the hardest stuff I had to learn. But this is also what I see bring people undone most often. We all want to please people. Especially the people we care about. But if we don’t have clear boundaries, and we don’t have a place in this world that is safe and free from drama then we can’t create that for our children and we burn out and melt down ourselves. This is especially true for empaths - the types of people who really feel for others. I am an empath and for me it basically means that I can feel another persons pain and trauma almost as if it’s my own. It’s a fantastic quality. It means I can relate to others exceptionally. It means I can get inside of their heads and know what they’re really struggling with and help them to navigate a way out. The downside to that is that if I don’t have super clear boundaries I can get overwhelmed and overloaded very very quickly because I am carrying around my own feelings and emotions as well as the emotions and feelings of others. As well as having very clear boundaries, choosing well adjusted friends to spend my time with and creating a safe space for myself this also means learning how to let go of things that don’t belong to me. Everyone has their path and it’s important that we learn to walk our own, but that we also learn to let others choose and walk their own path (whether or not it’s good for them). I have learnt that if you really want to help someone, the most effective way to do that is to lead by example. Create your own path that is drama free, healthy, well adjusted and limit the time you spend with people who upset your equilibrium. Then when you DO spend time with people who are looking to you for help, you are in a better space to listen, you are in a clearer headspace to create and maintain healthy boundaries with that person, and you can show them HOW to live well because you ARE living well yourself.
Remember navigating this stuff is easier when you don't do it alone. Find a mentor, a coach, a counsellor or therapist and nut some of it out with someone who knows what they're talking about.
Have yourself a great week.