It was quite a number of years ago, but I remember this situation as if it were yesterday. *Susan, speaking in a terse manner which emphasized her agitation, got right to the point: "Kathy, I just can't keep you on the [xxxxx] Committee. You are unreliable... You do not follow through... You even backed out at the last minute…”
“Blah, Blah, Blah…” I had tuned her out as she blathered on about my unreliability, what a terrible bind I put her in, etc. I was embarrassed, angry, and hurt that she would “go off” on me like that. “How DARE she,” I thought. When she was done speaking – which I could tell she was by the eerily crushing silence – I was so flustered that all I could muster in response was, "Ok, I understand." As quickly as I could, I mumbled, “I have to go” and got off the phone. And then immediately thereafter, I fell to my knees and started crying one of those "ugly cries" that I would so often try to avoid.
"I’ve done it again," I thought to myself. "I have let another person/group/[INSERT HERE] down." Thus began another cycle of self-loathing and blame – of myself, but mostly of OTHERS. By this time, I had lost count of how many similar incidents I had gone through up to this point.
The above incident describes what HAD been the story of my life for quite a number of years: a vicious cycle of making promises I didn’t keep, and disappointing those around me when I didn’t follow through. Though I paid lip service to being sorry, deep down I did not feel like any of these incidences were ever really MY fault. Ultimately, I NEVER really accepted any responsibility for these “things that happened to me.” As a result, these behaviors continued and I kept getting the same results. Nothing seemed to go my way or get any better... Until something happened that LITERALLY changed my life and way of thinking.
About a year or so after this incident occurred, my church’s Women’s Group started a Bible Study based on the book BOUNDARIES. I started reading this book, and achieved my “A-HA!!!” moment. Though written by two Christian psychologists – Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend – and written from a Christian point of view, the basic concepts they discuss are applicable to ANYONE experiencing issues with commitment and follow-through in both daily living and in work situations. Ultimately, the book deep dives into why many of us have a hard time saying NO to some people and situations. It also demonstrates through various role-play scenarios how we can master turning ourselves around from being wishy-washy to someone who's word is their bond.
I wish I could say that after reading this book, my life changed on a dime. But alas, it took me time and hard work to implement the principles of protecting my internal and external boundaries so that my “YES” means YES and my “NO” means NO. Even today, I am still a work-in-progress.
Many of you who now know me would probably not recognize the person I was before, but I am truly humbled as to how far I have come. I am thankful that I CAN set appropriate boundaries in my life. And if I can do it, then you can, too!
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those mentioned.