in one of the groups i lead, there’s this guy, real hard, has spent most of his life in prison, sees himself as some kind of ladies man. he has asked to come talk to me informally several times and i keep referring him back to get a therapy referral from his counselor. he sits by me everyday in group, and his body language is very directly trying to get my attention. i find him laughable and mildly repulsive.
i had a chance to talk to his counselor yesterday, who offered me the following feedback: “your face and your manner is very calm, serene, open. you’re like a predator’s dream.” i laughed really hard at that! it’s true. and that’s what used to terrify me about certain men. when i was doing a therapy project with a friend in grad school, i told her i was “easily monopolized.” it goes back to a family trait. for some reason, in my family we all attract weirdos. and i think it’s because it’s passed down (unspoken family rules) to be highly tolerant, patient, and not make other people feel bad or weird. i’ve had a habit of listening too long, listening with a straight face, withholding judgment.
don’t get me wrong, this can be a very positive quality. people feel very comfortable around me in general. but it left me open to being easily monopolized. the flipside of this coin is poor boundaries.
i feel like i’ve learned a lot from my work as a therapist. what brought me into the field was partly that i wanted to used my great listening skills, fueled by this high tolerance. however, i don’t want to be ran over either. i used to solve this problem in my personal life by sneaking away, running away, or remaining closed off and aloof. in my work, i’ve learned that it doesn’t always serve clients to be a soft, kind, passive and supportive listener. some people need a more bold and directive approach. i need to model assertiveness, for them and for me. and some people really need me to state my boundaries. like this predator.
all this is to say that when my co-worker gave me feedback and made me laugh about being a predator’s dream, i laughed in a wonderful way! because i know how hard this situation would have been for me if i had not learned to set clear boundaries and assert myself. i have grown. this interaction made me realize that i have learned how to keep my general calm, serene, and open manner, while being confident that i can let people know the edges of my boundaries. i have moved from passive and passive-aggressive into being comfortable with being assertive. i’ve learned that i can trust myself to take care of myself. because of my work, but of huge benefit in my personal life. it feels good!