Everyone of any degree of mental health has boundaries. The bubbly girl who enjoys hugging everyone probably would draw the line somewhere. The talented judoka women at my dojo have no trouble mixing it up with the guys and cheerfully flung me around the room and congratulated me when I executed a technique, but would most definitely be angry if I tried to do a tai-otoshi on them outside of the training area.
We all have boundaries. Indeed, one of the variations on mental illness is characterized by an inability to perceive or care about these boundaries. I have my own, and they have been violated at times. I want to talk about how violating my boundaries makes me feel, in an effort to connect with how others feel when theirs have been violated.
I’m an introvert by nature. I find associating with people taxing at even the best of times. This isn’t to say I don’t like people. My friends are dear to me, and I call them frequently to discuss matters of the day, concerns, fears, joys, all of it. Yet even when I’m having the most fun of my life with good friends, there’s a part of me that wants out. A part of me crying out for separation, a chance to stop calculating all the variables, stop remembering who likes what humor, who has what boundaries. A part of me genuinely wants to go home and hide in my room and exist only with my own thoughts.
My psychiatrist diagnosed me as having acute social anxiety. I wonder if there’s an obtuse social anxiety, but I digress.
I struggle with people. I was always rather smart, and that isolated me from my peers. Not so much because they didn’t understand me, but because I was an arrogant little snot about it. Not intentionally – I didn’t try to make people feel stupid, I just got so wrapped up in what I knew that I made an ass of myself and forgot to forge human connections.
People scared me.
Part of that is physical contact. Because of my tendencies, I got beat up as a kid. A lot. So physical contact freaks me out to this day. I can tell myself intellectually that my boyfriend only wants to share physical intimacy so we can both be happy, but the moment I’m touched in a way I don’t expect (EVEN while having sex that I have consented to) I flip out. Palpitations start, my vision goes tunnel, my muscles contract. Fight or flight – identical feelings to those I have in a sparring match, only heightened with genuine fear.
Again, I’m getting better. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and exercises and my own trial and error approach to making friends has helped me overcome a lot of this. But it’s still there. I still have a mental checklist of behaviors I can engage in, all just to make sure I function like a normal person in my interactions with others.
So, physical space. I won’t go into details, they’re not appropriate, but I have been physically and sexually assaulted in my life. It makes me nervous about being touched at all. I can get through a handshake or a hug, but I only really like it from people I have grown to trust after years of friendship. Anyone else and it makes me nervous as described.
At work, a certain young woman I mentioned in my second post really drives me nuts. She has a habit of doing whatever she feels like working on, and has on several occasions shoved herself into my space. I’ll be putting toppings on a pizza, she’ll shove past me without so much as an excuse me to get at a topping she needs. I’ll be doing dishes, she’ll push right past me and take the rinsing hose out of my hand to wash something she needs, again without warning.
I feel angry. Afraid. Humiliated. I tense up and think about the times it wasn’t just rude, but personal.
And it’s genuine emotion, genuine worry, and I have a right to feel hurt by it.
I wonder if this is how women feel when their boundaries are assaulted. It’s not just the assault, it’s the presumption of these people that it’s not a big deal. It’s the assumption that “I was just..” is an excuse for making someone feel uncomfortable to the point their heart jumps in their chest and they find themselves eyeing the nearest exit. Intentions matter, I understand that. I don’t pretend that my coworker had consciously considered hurting me. It doesn’t matter – the microaggressions had an impact, and she dismissed my concerns as “don’t be disrespectful when I’m doing my job.”
How much worse is it for people who are actually threatened? Sworn at with language derived from their very biological nature?
Where is the respect for boundaries?