I’ve been listening to the audio book “Unfuck Your Boundaries” several times. It is relatively short but there is a lot of deep stuff in there. I just had some serious insights become unlocked for me this morning. I had already recently come to understand that I have issues with my internal boundaries which make me particularly sensitive to criticism that attacks my character, and issues with indirect manipulations on myself (people trying to get me to change my behavior/emotional responses without directly asking me to do so). In the book, the author describes the physical responses we have when those boundaries are crossed, and went in to basically explain our brains are hard-wired to avoid pain, and so even when we don’t logically understand the trigger, we respond. The little man in the stomach idea.
I think I understand why I have so much trouble with criticism that gets interpreted as character attacks or, and this is perhaps the bigger trigger, is based on false assumptions about my intentions. My brain is literally trying to avoid pain. Both physical and social. And I know social pain activates the same as physical pain (I need to find articles supporting this). I remember getting physically hit by my sister, and come to think of it, one of my brothers as well directly because my words or actions were being interpreted maliciously. I have a particularly vivid memory, though I can’t recall the words too well. I remember the summer I had spent with my cousins in SC, along with my sister. She started getting angry about something (and now we understand she has severe anxiety issues as well, so I don’t blame her for her behavior, but I do understand how it effected me growing up), and I called her out on it. I think I might have said something along the lines of “stop being a bitch”, but then I might have used a different word as well. Regardless, it resulted in my getting punched in the mouth (and I had braces on at the time). I think I understand more now why my father was so strongly against any violence now. Anyhow, there were quite a few instances like that with my sister that involved me getting physically attacked. It was basically always because something I said/did was misconstrued as something else.
Things like this happened with my mother as well, although it was less likely to result in physical punishment. It did lead to literal abandonment. I remember there was this one time she got real angry at my sister and I at church one day. I never understood why. But she literally left us there and we had to walk home. We were maybe 12 or 13 at the time? Now that I think on it, I see exactly where I got my silent storm issue too. She brooded often.
And then there was school, particularly elementary. I was a pariah there. I was fat and I had a nose picking habit. This led to me being singled out and just reviled by nearly everyone. It literally led to me being physically attacked and socially isolated. As a child, that is major fucking pain. It is no wonder I can get such intense social anxiety around groups of people. The only time it isn’t there I realize, is when I’m running something. I think that script got flipped when I started guild leadership back as a teenager. It was the only time I wasn’t afraid.
So yes, all of this for me to realize the fear I experience in trying to fit in (unsuccessfully) in social groups, and how I handle nonconstructive criticism from loved ones is literally born out of those experiences I had growing up. When someone appears angry at me, especially for reasons I either don’t understand or that aren’t true, my brain flips into survival mode. It learned there was pain incoming and that is why I would feel so bad afterwards. I need to explore more on how I can get help to calm that trigger.
Update, talked with my wife a bit more about this understanding. A couple of things I need to do going forward.
1. In newer relationships that actually seem to be going somewhere, I need to bring up this boundary up as soon as possible. I need to explain I have a trigger around nonconstrucive criticism, and if it gets triggered I need space. This is *especially* important in the age of social media where we’re always available because of all the instant messengers. It is vital to have that space and not allow anyone to simply blow up on me without permission. I can dig into the source of that trigger if they want, but the important part is establishing that boundary early. It also makes it easier to run the “no” test early on. It is a form of PTSD, in the sense that I get the same emotional response as I did back as a child. I have to be able to tell someone that triggers this that I am feeling hurt and that I need to back away from this conversation, now. We can schedule out a time to come back to it later. If they continue to lay into me, then they are crossing my boundary. I need this boundary to function. It becomes more important the closer I get to someone as that is where the pain lies.
2. I also need to explain the intense social anxiety I can get in group situations. I mean heart pounding I’m about to get attacked by a bear type anxiety. Again, I could dig into my childhood and how I was a social pariah and how social exile is literally interpreted as physical pain, but that isn’t as important. The point is I’m going to likely feel that at some point, and I *need* to be able to get away periodically into more quiet spaces to overcome it. This is a need for me. Non-negotiable.