March 18, 2009


Doormat No More!

I was watching a situation unfold across the street with a neighbor friend of mine. I found myself saying, under my breath, "That woman needs some boundaries!"

Boundaries. Limits. Self-respect. Assertiveness. Confidence. Self-Esteem. They all seem quite interrelated. I'm sure these are all concepts that anyone who has felt like they have "victim" stamped on their forehead has struggled with. I know I have.

I remember it like it was yesterday: "Work on your self-esteem!" was the battle cry at the after-care program I was attending after my first big stint in the psych ward of a hospital. I guess they figured that anyone who had been suicidal needed to work on their self-confidence.

This was before the retrieval of most of my childhood sexual abuse memories. This was before the onslaught of PTSD, with its flashbacks, nightmares and terrifying moments spent huddled against a firm, safe wall in the fetal position. This was way before I knew about parts, "splintering," and my severe dissociative disorder. I guess I just wasn't ready yet for an overhaul of my self-esteem.

But it's an important topic and survivor issue. I don't think I did much--not right away, anyway--with the books I shelved and the notes I took on the topic. But, I do think I took a lot of baby steps toward assertiveness over the years. Those baby steps have added up and I can now look back and see that I have gotten quite far!

Just the other day I had a run-in with some fellow dog owners who were allowing their two large-breed canines to trample and urinate all over my flower garden. They were belligerent, rude and all up in my face with a "it's no big deal, lady" attitude. On top of it all, these folks were construction workers who were at my neighbor's new house to install some hardwood floors. Were they being paid to be rude to their customer's neighbor? Hell, no!

I stood my ground, stayed safe and immediately called my neighbor who came right over and told them to get those dogs out of there and never bring them back. Yay, little ol' assertive me!

Was it as simple as I've just described? No. Are you kidding? I have a bunch of wounded, inner parts, remember? Man, did I get some little part action!

This scared me at first. It seemed so over the top for the situation I had just encountered. But, as many of us child abuse survivors know, it's not always about the now, it's about the past...especially the unresolved, traumatic past.

I lost control and ended up hiding in the dark, safe closet for a while. Sometimes I just give in to this. After a while, when nobody ends up coming to drag us out of there by the hair, I can convince all myselves that we're safe now. But, that wasn't the end of it. There were a lot of tears; terrified sobs, really. As much as it scared me, I looked in the mirror during this time. What I saw was a desperate, terrorized little girl. Yeah, that wounded little one got triggered alright.

I spent the rest of the day validating the tears, fears, terror and despair while trying not to get "flooded" by the dug-up emotions. I interspersed feeling these feelings with lots of comfort techniques. I did anything I could think of to just comfort and soothe that scared, wounded part of me.

This is one of the few times I can think of when I was assertive and felt the feelings in an appropriate way. I think this is progress. My therapist thought so, too. I guess I have come a long way. I think my doormat status has evolved into something much healthier. I wrote a poem about it.

Doormat No More

I have always
been a doormat.

But, the dirt
that's been scraped
on me
from the throng
of careless boots
seems to have contained
a few viable seeds.

My once barren mat
now sprouts
seedlings of assertiveness.
At first, only
tentative, tender shoots
barely poke through
the trampled earth.

Then, saplings of self-respect
reach for the sun:
boundaries, affirmations and
the ability to say "no."

I am growing
firm, bold
hybrids of strength
into a mighty grove
of confidence.

Copyright 2009, Marj McCabe ~ All rights reserved.

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Marj, awesome. Even though I am just now learning about you and your writings, I see this as progress also! Thank you for sharing, as painful as it is! Much appreciated.
beautiful poem...
Good for you for practicing assertiveness in this situation. Your poem was great too!
You're welcome, Real Gal and thank you for learning about me and my writing.

I'm glad you liked the poem, Vague. Thanks so much for visiting.

Drifter: That's it, isn't it? Opportunities for practice. I'm going to start seeing it that way.

Ethereal: Thanks for the hugs. Backatcha, girlie!
Really like this one!
Thanks, Beauty. I'll get over to visit your blog and see if you've posted any poetry lately. I love the way you write!
Yay for your assertiveness!
Thanks, Kahless. Yay, YOU! :)
what a wonderful poem Marj! good work. ~ Denise
Denise: Nice to "see" you in the blogosphere. I'm glad you liked the post/poem. And, yes, you can use it for the next edition of the Light & Shadow e-zine. I'm honored! Thanks!
Great blog and loved the poem!

Thanks for smelling the flowers with us recently,

Keep on keeping on,

Good for you! And yes, it IS hard for us to be assertive. Because it cost us too much when we were assertive as kids. But it gets easier each time. When I'm stuck, the other thing I do is picture my daughter and how she would handle a situation. She's fearless. And nothing terrible happens to her and that makes it easier for me to be more assertive too.
GSTF: Thanks for visiting and commenting. I'm glad you liked the poem.

April: Isn't that great when we can see how we've broken the cycle with our healthy, confident, assertive kids? Yay!
I do love this. You have again born your heart to us and filled our souls. Wonderful post, and beautiful poem...thanks for sharing...
awwww. you made a we do...good for you using assertiveness....ty for all the nice things you tell us. hugs to you from all of us
Thanks for the sweet comment, Mile 191. "...filled our souls..." Your comment is poetic itself! ;)

Thanks, Rainbow. And hugs right backatcha...all of you!
Marj, I remember how hard it was to know how to set boundaries when I first got into counseling and learned what boundaries were. I grew up being afraid to have an opinion about anything. My dad was a dictator who made all the decisions in my family. I didn't even know that I had choices about how I lived my life until I was in my late 30's.

Having the courage to stand up for yourself does get easier the more that you do it. I always enjoy your poems and your writings.
Patricia: Yes, the boundaries and assertiveness journey seems to be one all of us survivors needs to take. I'm glad you enjoy my writings. Thanks!
thank you for this post. i think i really needed to read this one! i've been thinking a lot about confidence and self-esteem lately. trying to have more of it. your baby steps point was helpful for me. and too your talking about how hard it was for you to be assertive, but instead of being hard on yourself, you did what you needed to do to feel safe and take care of yourself. it was nourishing for me to get to witness. thank you again for sharing this story. very empowering! :)
mountainmama: "nourishing." Wow. Thank you and I'm glad it was...and you're welcome! :)
I really enjoyed this post and the poem!
Thank you!
Noe: And I'M enjoying getting to know you through the blog carnival and Twitter. Thanks for coming by and looking around.
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