Rather than make resolutions which, research shows, tend to be doomed to failure, why not set down some hard-and-fast house rules for 2020? You’re much more likely to succeed at changing things up if you tack up some rules, either mentally or literally, and make a commitment to stick by them. Rather than resolve to be a better housekeeper, put some simple rules in place such as leave your shoes by the door, open the mail every day and recycle the junk, and toss what needs tossing in the fridge at a set time on a specified day.
Of course, when we think about getting our house in order, it’s not just vacuuming or dealing with clutter that matters; it’s about setting meaningful boundaries for ourselves and others and putting some rules in place so that next year will be better than last. This is especially true if you’ve been working on recovering from a difficult or even toxic childhood, and what you learned during those years isn’t standing you in good stead.
The 4 nevers
As I explain in my book, Daughter Detox; Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, figuring out how to unlearn old behaviors and substitute new ones is a long and sometimes difficult journey. Some of the difficulty is that we often see our behaviors as set-in-stone or simply a function of our essential nature; that’s especially true if our parent (or parents or even siblings) have consistently told us that we were just born flawed, as in “too difficult,” “too sensitive or emotional,” “didn’t belong,” “not good enough,” or any other variation on the theme, whether about our looks or character.
Setting rules for your own behavior and those of others is one way of making sure things get off to a dandy start. The illustration here is of my mental welcome sign, inspired by the behavior of my ex.
- Tolerate abusive behavior
No more excuses such as “she/he didn’t mean it,” “it’s just the way she/he is,” “everyone does this now again when he/she is frustrated” or whatever excuse and form of denial comes to mind. And, yes, it includes your own behavior as well as those of other people, even those you may be related to. Normalizing abuse isn’t healthy and happens also to enable the behavior.
Among the abusive behaviors you should no longer allow in your life are name-calling, scapegoating, gaslighting, stonewalling, and any other behavior that is intended to make you feel lousy about yourself or motivated by a need to control you.
Abuse is never okay.
- Let someone control you (or be the controller)
If you already have issues trusting your own perceptions and judgment because you grew up with a controlling parent, you may initially be comfortable handing the reins of life over to someone else. It can be oddly reassuring that someone else is in charge of decisions, especially if voicing your opinion or taking risks makes you anxious Alas, this basically consigns you to your childhood room forever and further reduces your sense of yourself. Having a sense of personal agency is key to thriving, as is learning to take reasonable risks as well as figuring out how to recover from mistakes. Besides, it’s important to learn to distinguish between helpful behavior and a need for control; with practice, you’ll be able to tell the difference.
And if you’re the controller, wouldn’t you rather have relationships with people who are being their real selves? Think about it.
- Tell anyone that things could always be worse
The start of a new year is the perfect time to chuck those platitudes and actually listen to people with empathy and understanding. I honestly believe that people revert to those sayings— “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” “I know exactly what you’re feeling,” “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” “Find the positive in every experience”—because they think they must say something. But listening to someone doesn’t require you to say anything.
Just listen and stay silent, instead of serving up words that have no meaning. Be present, and look into the speaker’s eyes.
- Keep the peace at all costs
Do you feel as though you bite your tongue, walk on eggshells, or revert to pleasing when there’s an argument or disagreement? Disagreeing with people is a part of life, as long as the disagreement is framed in mutual respect, and verbal abuse (name-calling, trying to make the person feel shame, stonewalling, and the like) is absent. Daughters who grew up in households in which a controlling parent was at the helm often shun any hint of conflict and end up stifling themselves to keep the peace. Similarly, those raised by a parent high in narcissistic traits often learn to duck under the radar and do their best to disappear; these are, according to Dr. Craig Malkin’s book Rethinking Narcissism, “echoists,” people who actually lack healthy amounts of self-regard.
Don’t stifle your voice going forward; it’s the only one you have and it’s unique.
Happy New Healing Year to all!
Photograph by Jude Beck. Copyright free. Unsplash.com
Malkin, Craig. Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists. New York: Harper Perennial, 2016.4 T