Relationships to me have traditionally been very stressful. So much so that I have shied away from most meaningful friendships in my life.
I have had this constant fear of letting people down. And this constant fear of being rejected.
At first, I tried to be everything to everyone. Inevitably failing to do so - hello human - and living with heaps of guilt and shame over it.
The roller coaster this created in my friendships eventually had me steer clear of them all together. Interacting with other people IRL causes so much anxiety. It literally cripples me mentall and emotionally.
My therapist tells me that this is not an uncommon response from childhood trauma and living with borderline personality disorder. At first, that made me feel irrevocably broken. But now I am learning it is actually something I can grow at and slowly correct. I can heal this trauma reaction with intentional action.
That was hopeful news to me. Because as much as female relationships SCARE me - I secretly long for them. For that type of sisterhood where you cheer each other on, challenge each to grow and carry each other’s burdens. I don’t know if those relationships actually exist - but I’m starting to feel ready to find out.
And I believe God is calling me out on this too. We are made for relationship after all.
Plus, the irony of having an online ministry to women and being afraid of them in real life is not lost on me.
But I know I have to go about this differently. I can’t abandon my own needs and try to be everything to everyone else.
Having needs in the past made me feel weak. Made me feel like a burden. I recognize that comes from some pretty big unmet needs as a child. Believing that my needs were unimportant and a nuisance to others. Can you relate to that?
Don’t even get me started on boundaries! The fear of rejection and not being liked was always a huge hurdle for me. My heart couldn’t bear it.
This is what I am learning as I slowly dip my toe in the pool of female friendships.
We all have needs. And having our needs met allows us to show up more fully as a friend (or partner, mother, any relationship). My needs don’t make me weak and they are just as valid as the needs of others. God cares about my needs, so I should honour them as well.
Honouring our needs is not the same as being self-centered and selfish. It’s akin to putting your oxygen mask on first so that you are equipped to help others put on thiers.
I am sorry if anyone has ever made you feel that your needs aren’t valid. They are - and I am here to give you permission to honour them if that’s what you need.
And then there’s boundaries.
That’s a biggie. It’s one thing to help bear one another’s burdens - it’s a whole other thing to have your mental and emotional well being undermined for the sake of some relationship. We teach people how to treat us but what we allow and what we don’t allow. That statement was a light bulb moment for me. I do not have to give people access to me if they are mean, manipulative or taking advantage of me.
People that really love me and value my friendship will want to treat me with honour and respect - even in the way we need to handle differing opinions or hurt feelings that some times come out of misunderstanding.
I have sat with this intellectual knowledge that honouring my needs and setting boundaries is not just okay - but necessary and healthy.
But the other day I had to take that intellectual knowledge and put it into action.
It was hard. But SO freeing too!
In my attempts to build some friendships - which is already out of my comfort zone - I noticed that some people were having different expectations on me than I intended.
The fear of disappointing others and the anxiety to take on a roll I was not mentally or emotionally capable of literally kept me up at night.
In the past - I would have tried to be all things. Failed. And then hid in shame. It would have triggered a depression and I would have ended up isolating myself further from the very relationships I was trying to forge.
I didn’t want to repeat that pattern. I didn't want to stay locked in trauma.
So with a lot of courage and prayer, I vocalized my needs and set the boundaries of what I was willing - and not willing to do.
My palms were sweating as I typed this message. My heart racing. But I sent it anyways (and then checked in with others for reassurance that I was okay in having my needs and boundaries).
And you know what happened?
My anxiety lifted. My fears subsided. My confidence in being able to care for myself grew. And the ability to form some meaningful relationships remained.
I may lose out on some friendships from people that can’t accept my needs or boundaries - but that’s okay! That just means I will have more space and energy left for the people that are meant to be my people.
It’s okay if I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.
But as I stay true to myself and unlearn trauma, I will discover a few precious people who absolutely love me. And whom I can love on too.