Green watercolor painting with little stars surrounding the words trust yourself in green font all in capital letters.
mental health

When People Show You Who They Are, Believe Them

Green watercolor painting on top left and bottom with little stars surrounding the words trust yourself in green font all in capital letters.

I used to be really terrible at setting boundaries. Someone at one point (not so lovingly) called me “Lady No Bo.” Not that I’m super great at it now, but I’m actively working on it and have been improving. In a recent therapy group I participated in, the facilitator reminded us that while some people can grow and some change is possible, adults that we know are very unlikely to change in substantial ways unless they are actively and purposefully trying and it would be helpful to most people if they could adjust their expectations of those around them accordingly instead of wishing or hoping the other people would change.

The facilitator also discussed that nonverbal boundaries are a totally valid thing. There are many things you shouldn’t necessarily have to explicitly state as boundaries. Like “don’t touch me without my consent”, “don’t use dehumanizing language about groups I’m a part of in front of me”, “don’t comment on decisions I make about how to spend my own money when you already know (because I have voiced) that it is incredibly triggering to me.” Some of these things I have stated explicitly to people. Some of these things have been implied. The rejection or dismissal of them have been reasons I have decided to give up on friendships or other relationships. As I’ve grown to learn more things about myself and the way my brain works, it makes sense that I participate in a lot of black and white thinking, though I am trying to learn to live more in the gray. That doesn’t mean compromising my values and it doesn’t mean spending time with people who consistently make me feel bad about myself and make me question my self-worth. Unless it was for my own mental or physical safety, I wouldn’t totally write someone off the first time they violated a boundary. But after repeated boundary violations? After they try to tell me how I identify is wrong or unnatural? After they have caused me significant emotional distress? Yeah, I’m 100% able and willing to walk away from friendships and relationships then at this point in my life.

I spent most of my life letting people walk all over me, squeezing myself tinier and tinier to try to take up less space, trying not to inconvenience people, and trying to manage the emotions of everyone around me. I’m trying to learn not to do any of those things anymore, but it is a process. Something shifted in a really big way for me around friendships while I was in residential treatment. For the first time, I felt like I was making multiple friendships with people who truly see me and love me exactly as I am without me having to change. I no longer felt like I had to hustle for worthiness in my friendships and decided that I no longer would. There are friends from before treatment all this was already true of, though there aren’t many of them. Developing friendships with people who see me, get me, understand all I’ve been through, respect my boundaries, and help me to be a better version of myself has been life changing.

Since residential when my views about friendships changed, I have been able to develop deep, mutually respectful, mutually supportive friendships with people who care about me and love me exactly as I am, flaws and all. The friendships I had before treatment that I still have feel better and healthier to me. In the past, I stayed in relationships or friendships out of a sense of obligation, even when those relationships and friendships were making me feel bad about myself or making me feel bad in general. If someone shows you for multiple years that they aren’t putting the same care, time, dedication, and love into your friendship or relationship that you are, believe them. That person is very unlikely to change. And until they did, I would have no interest in rekindling a romantic or friend relationship with any of them. I have also become more comfortable with doing things by myself! Last year, I traveled to see Dan+Shay twice by myself and those concerts were two of the best nights of my life. I danced and sang like no one was watching because no one I knew was! (Let’s be totally honest- meeting Dan both times definitely didn’t hurt either!). Tonight, I’m going to see BAILEN all by myself and I am so excited! I’m also still looking forward to several upcoming concerts with friends and family who I love who I know won’t judge me for singing at the top of my lungs or dancing my heart out or crying tears of overwhelm and joy.

It’s best to believe people when they show you who they are, whether that means they are actively working on becoming better, more supportive, more direct, more honest, more authentic, more vulnerable, more kind, more compassionate, more empathetic, etc etc etc. or it means that they don’t care about your feelings, are dismissive when you try to talk to them about things that are important to you, or are just plain mean. I turn 34 years old this month. I am not the same person I was when I was 12 or 17 or 24 or 26 or 30 or even 32. I have actively tried to become a better person and have worked very hard to no longer be the mean girl I was in middle school, the judgmental jerk I was in high school, the person who let everyone walk all over them in college, the person who allowed “friends” to make me feel awful in graduate school just because I wanted so desperately to belong (one person actually said to me that I talk too much about myself and would make a bad therapist. I later found out that I’m neurodivergent and that my style of relating to people by sharing something similar I’ve gone through is very common in neurodivergent folks. Also, I wouldn’t have related to people the same way as a school counselor or therapist. I was talking with someone who I thought was a friend. BIG YIKES on thinking they were my friend) , or the person who allowed others to correct me when I tried to express aspects of my identity or who tolerated being around people who made me uncomfortable or who tolerated snide remarks and sarcastic comments for the sake of preserving a friendship.

All that said, I’m making a table of the things I ideally want in my friendships and romantic relationships and in both. The thing that is great about this list is that it’s a living document. By that, I mean it can grow and change with me as what I am willing to accept and what I’m not willing to accept shifts and changes. This is also a list of how I aspire to show up in my friendships and relationships. I know I’m not a perfect friend/ partner/ family member.

FriendshipsRomantic RelationshipsBoth
Doesn’t make derogatory comments about my identityKnowledgeable about/ respectful of consentKind
Respects that I am an adult capable of making my own decisionsDoesn’t want kidsTreats others (and me) with dignity
Doesn’t manipulate to try to get needs metLoves to travelRespectful
Gives as much as they takeIntelligentHonest
Understands or is willing to learn to understand trauma responsesWants to (eventually) get marriedPractices vulnerability
Cares about human rightsPractices authenticity
Bonus:Values intimacyApproaches things with non-judgment/ curiosity
Desire to make the world a better placePassionateAccountable
Willing to go to therapy/ has gone to therapyCompatible beliefs about financesAppreciates differences
Similar valuesDesire to make the world a better placeOpen-minded
Similar interestsOpenness to new ideasProgressive
DependableConfident in our relationship (not jealous)Respectful of boundaries
Similar experiencesWilling to go to therapy/ has gone to therapyLGBTQIA+ Friendly
Practices monogamyWilling to repair when there is rupture
Similar/ compatible core valuesFunny
Similar InterestsSay what they mean and mean what they say
Make me feel peaceful, safe, and happyCommunicates kindly but directly
Values fat liberationTrustworthy
Not involved with organized religionLoyal
Dog personDoesn’t share secrets (except with their therapist- I would be ok with that)
Has an understanding of neurodivergent folks or a willingness to learn
Willing to learn how my diagnoses affect me
Respectful of privacy
Respects my special interests even if they don’t share them
Willing to learn from each other
Responds rather than reacts
Believes I am worthy of love, belonging, kindness, and dignity
Feels safe to me
People in their inner circle feel safe to me
Makes a sincere attempt to not use ableist or fatmisic language in my presence
Does not use homophobic, racist, xenophobic, transphobic, antisemitic, or other hateful language in my presence
Loves animals

This is what has been on my mind and on my heart. I know I haven’t written anything of substance in quite a while. I’ve been having a really hard time focusing due to being in a mixed episode (symptoms of both mania and depression) for several weeks and a very lengthy depressive episode prior to that. I would really appreciate if you could please send me thoughts of stability and healing!