Last week I wrote to you about integrity and my own personal experience in being unwilling to bend as a woman. I spoke about my experience not only as a businesswoman but also as a woman who has left domestic abuse and is walking through divorce. That, in my unwillingness to bend, I have had to grow a tougher skin in order to stand my sacred ground. That skin, or cloak if you will, represents my boundaries. My boundaries are how I protect myself, my work, my children, and my soul. My boundaries are also what shame has told me to ignore and each time I did I lost myself.
In writing to you about my unwillingness to bend, I also wrote to you about society’s general expectations that women should be docile and accommodating. That from a young age we are taught to put down what we actually need in order to please another person (males, teachers, adults, authorities, etc). With this social conditioning, there are no lessons on protecting your own worth, needs, and desires, leaving boundaries as never a topic that is never discussed.
Setting Boundaries Isn’t Selfish
For an incredible amount of time, I thought that boundaries were selfish, that when I placed a boundary on someone else who had a need or request I wasn’t serving humanity. Each time I placed a boundary and received backlash I measured my own worth against it. I thought that somehow my boundary was denying another person what they needed. It wasn’t until my experience leaving domestic abuse that I learned how life-saving boundaries are.
Just as many women are coming to find out that self-care isn’t selfish (I’m sure it’s a hashtag somewhere), I discovered that boundaries are also not selfish. In her work surrounding shame Brene Brown teaches us through her research that boundaries are actually compassionate. Compassionate to ourselves and the person with who we are setting boundaries. Boundaries tell us what we are willing to do in alignment with our own values (and person) and what we are not willing to do.
When a person does not respect boundaries it is not a reflection of the worth of the person setting the boundaries, it is a reflection of the person pushing your boundaries. Over the last year, I have learned that people pushing boundaries are expecting their happiness and “power,” to come from another person. Neither of these things can be true.
Boundaries & Happiness
You see, happiness is a choice we make. It is a sacred emotion that lives in our own hearts that only blooms when we remain true to ourselves. Without knowing what makes our hearts glow warmly it is impossible to know what makes us happy. Without knowing what can harm us it is also impossible to be happy. Boundaries are a lifeline to our happiness and hearts. They protect our souls.
Control is a perceived human condition, when we seek to control another person or outcome we have lost trust. We have decided that the world is hostile and that people cannot be trusted. That we must control the enemy, who is taking away our happiness so that our life can be fulfilled. Control over another human being is always about taking and never about true happiness.
As a woman, a business owner, and a survivor I have lived in both of these worlds for too long. Thinking it was somehow my job to make others happy before myself. Thinking that when someone wanted something from me (personally or professionally) it was my job to give it to them. In the biggest lesson in my life, I learned domestic abuse breaks your boundaries in a way where you lose yourself. Gaslighting was a constant theme in all of these scenarios, scenarios that were telling me I was crazy when I did not give in.
Here is what I have learned to be true in a year of healing. Boundaries are a lifeline. Whenever you do not know what to do, how to respond, or who to be in a relationship with, consult your personal values. Then, after you truthfully consult your values, you can insert a boundary. When you insert a boundary that is aligned with your values you will be at peace even if others are not. When others tell you they are uncomfortable because you have drawn a line in the sand you will be strong enough to withstand it. You will be strong enough to know that being at home in your own heart is all the strength you need.
Start Setting Your Boundaries
I have a list of boundaries I lean on now. If you don’t know where to start with boundary-setting, feel free to use a few as you put these lifelines in place for yourself:
- I will not make an excuse for harmful behavior
- I will not excuse my own harmful behavior
- My children and I come first
- I will not go against my personal values or needs to please someone else
- I will not be involved with someone whose words and actions do not align with my own
- I will not be in a relationship where I am not cared for, loved, and respected
Last week I wrote to you about celebrating my 10 year anniversary as a Board Certified Behavior Analysis. In that blog, I took you through the journey of my early career which led to the conception of Instructional ABA Consultants. This week I’d like to share the reason that I’m still waking up with a passion for my company after almost a decade into entrepreneurship.
Starting a Business You Care About
To start, you might be wondering why I wouldn’t wake up with a passion for my company right? I mean, after all, it is my company. I’ll have to explain this by looking at the very start of my business. While I had extensive training and experience as a clinician I had zero experience as a business owner nine years ago; I just had the fire.
I started Instructional ABA Consultants because I was fiercely angry about the lack of care my clients on the crisis team received due to their funding or lack of quality care because of a lackluster BCBA. As a clinician and humanitarian these two things did not sit well with me. Each time I met a family who could not access ABA I was furious for them. Each time I met a BCBA who was not clinically treating a client with quality ABA I was disheartened. ABA helped show me a scientific approach to helping the people who needed it most (my crisis clients with autism); clients who were, at the time, getting the runaround.
In starting Instructional ABA Consultants I took a chance that my scientific and mathematical mind could in fact build a business. I did not have any experience but I was thirsty for change. Using science and math as the foundation of my business proved easy. I could easily create systems to support multiple funding sources and replicate applied behavior analysis services. To this day I can run spreadsheets and treatment plans in my sleep. What I did not know how to do was manage people. I also did not know how to hold boundaries (personally or professionally). This created quite a ride over the first several years of business.
Learning to Manage People
I have this problem (I believe it’s because I’m a woman) where I feel like when I ask someone to do something and they become uncomfortable somehow it’s my role to make them comfortable. I also have a tendency to see the good in people which means (to this day) I am not the best person to interview new employees. As an empathic person, I will quickly absorb all of their good and potential then digress from the role we need to be filled. While being an empath is often my superpower it’s an incredibly hard personality trait to hone as a business owner. Specifically, a woman in business.
Over the past decade, I have had to become very clear on what my own professional boundaries are, what the boundaries of my business are, and create incredibly clear expectations for my employees. I have met many incredible people over the years, but I have also met various people who are willing to take advantage of me and my business. Learning to navigate these employee relationships to ensure the mission of my business is upheld has been a learning curve for me. To this day I tell myself walking into any meeting, “don’t puff up, don’t shrink down, stand your sacred ground.”
There are so many variables at play in a business, so having a team that is behind them, a team that implements accountability and compassion is key to my success. I had no idea that dismantling a scientific, social service agency would involve this level of leadership!
The Challenges of Starting a New Business
Once my business was up and running it felt like new challenges would never stop coming in (spoiler alert: I was right). My team and I were constantly analyzing our work in order to create quality outcomes keeping our doors open to all funding sources. My small paragraph on the challenges of learning to lead my employees is but a match to the number of fires I have put out over the years.
It’s not in my natural skill set to manage other humans. Lead? Sure. Mentor? You bet. Manage other people? Nope. I’ve been fine-tuning this skill because I believe in what I have created. I believe that children and parents have a right to the wonders of applied behavior analysis. I believe that funding should never be a factor in access to care. If a human being needs access to essential services it should be provided. Applied behavior analysis is currently the only evidence-based, medical treatment for autism.
Running my company and keeping it in alignment with our mission always makes me feel at home in my own heart. Throughout the trials and tribulations of business ownership (that is not as easy as math and science) I still wake up every morning excited to log into work. Knowing that we’re not just creating but sustaining change is an amazing thing.
Last week, after a decade of working to help everyone in need, we learned we may finally be able to accept Medicaid funding in Illinois. I strapped my running shoes on alongside my staff while smiling at the sky. We’re good at this. We’re good at providing care to the “underserved.” The “underserved?” Those are the people I love.
Over the past several weeks I’ve noticed a recurring topic of conversation within my tribe; “I’m exhausted from the last year and a half.” Each person that I speak with is talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and is in disbelief this is still our life. I keenly remember the start of the pandemic and how high all our emotions were running in fear of a threatening virus entering our world.
To still be dealing with that same stressor, with case numbers approaching levels from a year ago, exhaustion is an apt way of stating how we all feel. We’re not just dealing with a virus, we’re dealing with living our lives through an active, dangerous virus.
Trying to Find Peace During the Pandemic
With no end in sight, it’s hard to feel chipper and happy, let alone grounded. Peace can feel far away. I’ve heard a lot of “rinse, lather, repeat,” and “same shit, different day” comments in reference to what we are all walking through right now.
In the early days of the pandemic, Brene Brown spoke on her podcast, “Unlocking Us,” that she was just waiting for a checklist of what to do and once she had the checklist her recovering perfectionist could rest. Well, Brene, we have our checklist and the treatment fidelity is low. In scientific terms, this means we are not near containing the virus, which is incredibly frustrating.
As the virus carries on in all of our personal lives it can start to feel hopeless. The heart of the matter is this; we can provide good, accurate information and it’s up to each and every one of us to choose to follow it or not. We simply cannot control other people’s behavior.
Thinking About Others
I am going to pause here to let you know that not being able to convince a person to make a logical, kind decision (even in non-pandemic times) has been the bane of my existence. Truly. I have an aunt and sister who operate the same way. We see the systems for what they are. We see human life as incredibly worthy of equality and get frustrated (OK, sometimes livid) when decisions are made that move us away from equality and logic.
I am still on a journey of realizing that no matter how much I believe in making kind decisions that I cannot control other people and make them drink my preferred brand of logical, kind Kool-Aid. People are, in fact, allowed to make their own decisions and it’s incredibly frustrating when those decisions can potentially cause harm to others (please see the ongoing pandemic).
In light of being given a magical wand of authority, what spell could we possibly conjure in the midst of this climate of adversity? What can we do when a real stressor or danger is presented day after day with high and divisive emotions being publically shared?
It is easy to lash out at others, question their beliefs, invoke shame, or simply shut down into our own little world. I have been guilty of both at times. Neither has provided any long-lasting relief. But something else has and I’d like to share it with you.
An Attitude of Gratitude
I’ve recently written that I have been in the process of divorce, which is stressful enough by itself. The stress from the divorce on top of the pandemic took me to my limit. Early on I started following the work of Lee Harris. At the time I did not have more good days than bad, quite the opposite. Lee recommended a gratitude journal as part of a healing journey.
At first, this suggestion annoyed me. I’ve followed many different spiritual teachers for well over a decade and thought to myself, “I know, I know–an attitude of gratitude.” It felt like one more thing was being added to my checklist while my mindset was basically “what is there to be grateful for as my world is burning down?”
Lee gave a scientific reason, which at the time was just enough, that convinced me to begrudgingly start a gratitude journal. Lee explained that when you have experienced trauma your neurochemistry is depleted and leans more towards negative emotions. He went on to explain that writing five gratitude statements a day can change your brain chemistry. I was in need of rewiring and had already started acupuncture to rewire trauma inside my body. It felt right to rewire my mind so I started the journal.
At first, I wrote very small things like “I’m grateful for a Henry kiss goodnight,” “I’m grateful for Declan belly laughs,” and “I’m grateful for a dinner with my three boys.” I wrote moments each day that started to become a tiny light. As I leaned into this tiny light, I truly did begin to see more things to be grateful for regardless of the world around me.
I was able to move outside of the tiny gratitudes and see bigger things to be grateful for; a huge one being the incredible people that surround me. I call them my tribe but my family and friends are unmatched in their ever-present love of me (and my love for them). I am a lucky woman. In writing gratitude statements I was able to see that even when the world looks like it’s burning down around you, there is still more good than bad. Truly.
Staying Positive & Looking at the Good
My own external circumstances have not changed. I am still living in a pandemic and still dealing with a divorce while recovering from domestic abuse. I am still running a company during a pandemic. I cannot speed up any external circumstances beyond my control. They will stay, just as yours will stay.
I do not know when the pandemic will end. What I do know is that we can take care of our own hearts and minds even in stressful times. Especially in stressful times. I know what it feels like to want to wrap yourself in a blanket and cry the day away. I know what it feels like to scream in frustration at the top of your lungs. It’s OK to ride these feelings out. As they subside noticing what was beside you all along will shift your internal world. I promise.
The world outside is messy but I bet you have a few things to be grateful for. So, maybe even today, instead of arguing with someone for the millionth time about your stance on (masks, vaccines, the economy, etc) you could take a deep breath and call your mom. Tell her you love her. Can’t talk to your mom? That’s OK, call dad, a sister, a brother–make a phone call to someone you love. Say thank you. Then pick up the pen and find what you’re truly grateful for.