It’s OK If You’re Still Learning to Set Boundaries

It’s OK If You’re Still Learning to Set Boundaries

Last week while walking my dogs, I came across a man walking a huge dog with a choke collar and a chain that clearly came from a hardware store. Knowing that my dogs can react to larger breeds, I put distance between us.

As I calmly guided my dogs away, the man brought his dog toward mine. I asked him to please refrain from doing so, warning him that Jarvis already was scared. Overconfidently, he insisted on bringing his dog over, saying it was “so your dog learns.”

At this point, his dog’s body language had changed from curious to alert, tail raised, eyes fixed on Jarvis. The dog’s owner held his choke collar tight. I told him I knew my dog well enough to know this was not OK, and walked away.

Something in me clicked. I went over his words loudly — “so my dog learns” — and then, almost naturally, my lips uttered a two-worded curse that starts with an “f” and ends with a “you.” The guy laughed at this. “Wow, classy.”

For days, I felt ashamed.

I had voiced my concerns and a stranger had walked all over them. Yet, I felt embarrassed about bumping into him again. Why? Probably because from a young age I learned that the best way to “survive” was to numb my own anger, sadness, and hurt. 

His arrogance when insisting to know better had offended me. The fact that he was happy to cause my dog fear and distress had angered me. I stood up for myself and my dogs, successfully removing them from a potentially harmful situation. The shame and anxiety that came afterward just show that even though I am a fully grown adult, I am still learning to set boundaries.

Boundaries become especially relevant when chronically ill. For years, doctors dismissed my complaints about pain as “just a bad period” or stress, and I accepted that. Countless strangers have told me not to exercise, what to eat, and how my endometriosis is all in my head. I barely argued with them.

Jarvis and his toys — zero boundaries since 2014. (Photo by Jessie Madrigal)

Boundaries are about deciding what is not OK. 

I’ve had countless intrusive comments about whether I would or could have children, and I don’t think I ever shut them down — not even when they left me shaking for hours. I’ve also continuously struggled to express my need to not be touched when my entire body hurts. I didn’t know how to express these boundaries in words that didn’t come out fully charged with anger and upset.

Speaking up for myself has always been a huge challenge. It’s taken me a long time to distance myself from those who have hurt me with their offhand comments and casual remarks. 

In the end, it’s what’s best for me, but voicing that isn’t easy.

Endometriosis affects a huge number of women. From a young age we are educated to be nice, to remain “ladylike.” We are discouraged from responding to catcalling, to dismiss every misogynistic aggression. We are warned against getting too emotional, especially in front of men, such as our work colleagues, bosses, and doctors.

Two weeks ago when a man sexually harassed me in the street, I loudly called him out, with tears in my eyes. Instead of speaking up for me, two male passersby told me not to “take it that seriously.”

After the dog-walking incident, I told a friend how publicly expressing my discontent had left me shaking. She told me that it sounded like I was once a little girl who was educated to feel shame for perfectly normal emotions. But now, that girl was having those feelings validated by a fully grown woman — one who is also ready to fight any dude that will cause distress to herself or her dogs. 

We must learn to say no and be proud to do so.

Sometimes feeling that we disappoint others can be anxiety-inducing. But in the end, it’s about what’s best for us. Boundaries are necessary to preserve our health and strength, and to practice self-love. When others don’t respect our boundaries, we are within our right to speak up. 

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Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.