The other day I was accused of “refusing to engage in mutual outrage”. Now at first glance, this seems to align pretty well with my values. I don’t like feeling outraged. Outrage has all kinds of things that I would rather not participate in…negativity, criticism, judgment, rage. I find that kind of energy incredibly draining and my response is to turn away from it as fast as I can. No problem, right?
Well actually, kind of a problem. At least for me and where I am in a very important relationship because I think what the person was really getting at was that I was refusing to connect. By rejecting the attempt to engage me, I was in some way, rejecting that person.
When setting boundaries becomes the problem.
Some people need to learn to set healthy boundaries. But not me. I’m very good at setting boundaries. Maybe a little too good, actually. My challenge is the opposite right now. I am working on removing my guards, loosening my borders, and not being so quick to draw lines.
I didn’t have to pick up a pitchfork, but I didn’t have to be dismissive either. I think the piece that was missing was an acknowledgement. What I was doing was refusing to “see” the other person, because I am afraid the energy might be negative.
Based on absolutely no evidence other than my extreme discomfort around anger, I concluded a long time ago that if I engage someone’s rage of any kind (even outrage), it will just add fuel to the fire and create an inferno that is going to consume me. So my compulsion is to run and if I can’t physically get away, I withdraw.
What I have are “unhealthy boundaries” that I’ve put in place out of fear of being hurt by someone else or getting sucked into their energy vortex. But that causes me to turn away from people instead of running toward them.
Intellectually I know that by acknowledging a loved one's "negative" emotions means they won’t have to keep fanning their own flames to get my attention. I just somehow haven’t put that into practice enough in my own personal life. But I’m working on it. I’m trying to stay. I’m trying to turn toward. Even when I’m afraid.
Here is why.
Sometimes, you are in a relationship with a person who is going through a challenging time. You know they’ll come through it (probably), but being in it with them is super unpleasant. I don’t want to abandon my loved ones when they are in that moment, in that negative energetic space. I mean I want to but I don’t want to want to, if that makes sense.
What I really needed to do for that person and for the people I love is to acknowledge their outrage (or whatever other emotion they are feeling that is making me uncomfortable), to see them rather than dismiss them, to connect with them rather than to reject them, to turn toward rather than away.
That’s the loving choice for me right now. And it’s a departure from what is so often talked about in personal development. True, we need healthy boundaries. True, we reflect the energy we surround ourselves with. But isn’t it also true that we all have shadows and dark times and want more than anything to be seen then? Bumping up against someone’s fortress in our painful moments is the last thing we need. So I’m working on taking mine down so that I can love more fully. I might not engage in a mutual outrage, but I will at least try to acknowledge yours.