It was 2002, Camp Little Notch summer camp for girls. We were making ice cream by hand. With milk, sugar, vanilla. We mixed it, got dry ice, and then froze it. There were 15 or so of us, 10 and 11-year-old girls. Sent up to summer camp in the Adirondacks by our parents. For the most part, I loved it. I had a group of friends I saw every summer, sometimes the same counselors would return.
This particular night was different. I had been messing around in the kitchen with a friend while we were supposed to be helping stir the ice cream ingredients. Making ice cream by hand is quite arduous. My friend and I slipped away and found a bag of sugar and we were dipping our spoons in to eat it directly from the bag. The counselor caught us and told us to stop. I didn’t listen and tried to sneak another spoonful but she caught me. “That’s it, you guys don’t get to eat the ice cream when it’s finished,” she said, and sent us out on the porch while the rest of the girls got to continue in the kitchen. My friend and I sat outside sulking. After some time all the rest of the girls came out with their homemade ice cream in styrofoam cups after it had finished freezing. Giggling and laughing, enjoying their well-earned frozen treat. I gave the counselor puppy dog eyes and asked “Can I have some now?” She looked at me straight in the eyes and said “Nope, I told you not to eat the sugar out of the bag but you didn’t listen and did it anyway.”
Boundary set. At 11 years old I was shocked. My game no longer worked. Looking cute. Acting sweet and apologetic. Hoping I could charm my way into getting what I wanted even after I had messed up. I learned a lesson that day. A lesson my mom, to her credit, wasn’t great at imparting. She had divorced parents’ guilt and a lot on her plate. I often got my way with enough whining and begging which later turned me into a boundary violating monster in my relationships. I was however lucky to receive the lesson from this counselor though, the gift of being given the opportunity to feel the impact of my actions all the way through. I work with women, as a relationship coach, and the question often comes up, “Why does this behavior continue to repeat?” “Why do they keep treating me like this?” That is, why do I continue to be disrespected and have my boundaries violated? Well, there’s always a chance you’re dealing with a mentally unwell or completely unaware person. There’s also a chance you’re unclear in your communications and there’s something deeper going on. So, if you were to take 100% responsibility for your part in your relationships, how is it that you contribute to this frustrating dynamic? Why is it that someone keeps lying to you? Why is it that someone keeps borrowing your things and ruining them? Why do you have to keep yelling to get their attention? Because we withhold. We withhold the truth.
We withhold our pain. We withhold the full range of our emotions. We hold back, retreat, and choose silence when our words would bring more connection and understanding. Underneath every withhold is ultimately withheld love, gratitude, and joy. Love that we’d want to be expressed but likely will not. And enough withholds become resentments. The kindest thing you can do is to tell someone the truth. The second kindest thing you can do is to let them feel the full impact of their actions. Otherwise, you’re robbing them of the vitally important learning experience. Letting them feel what it feels like to let someone down is a necessary step towards wanting to be a better partner. Cue: summer camp sugar eating, no means no. When they never experience your boundaries, they never learn what’s acceptable behavior in your presence. This is where I see people get stuck, blaming the other person. Then they’re at the mercy, call it victimhood, and don’t see where they actually have the power to exist inside of a different dynamic.
Easier said than done. So why is it that breaking free from this dynamic can be so hard for us? Why do we struggle to tell others the truth even in the face of their sometimes obvious insanity? We think our power comes from punishing A person misbehaves or violates our boundaries. We feel victimized because we didn’t set boundaries, and feel hurt by not getting what we actually needed. We try to re-assert power by exerting control or punishing them, overcompensating for the pain we feel. We may gain some semblance of power but disconnection ensues. They get blamed and cycle repeats. Punishing encourages fear, punitive. Disruption of connection = suffering for everyone.
Antidote: bring integrity, honesty, and disciplined boundaries into the relationship. We fear vulnerability Our partner comes home late again or misses another important event we wanted them to attend with us. We didn’t express the desire, assumed they should ‘just know’, and now we feel hurt, not chosen. Our desire for connection or more open communication feels extremely vulnerable to have overtly expressed. We judge ourselves for being needy, or ‘too much’. They come home and we stonewall them, shut them out, or ‘punish’ them instead of being vulnerable and expressing our more vulnerable truth. We’re uncomfortable confronting how vulnerable it feels inside of us to not be chosen so we hold back from feeling our own pain, don’t allow our partners to witness us in that pain, and as a result our partner can’t feel us and more disconnection ensues.
Antidote: being overt in expressing our desires and needs. Approving of our emotional needs and what we need in a relationship to feel safe. Cultivating openness and non-attachment to the outcome. Being willing to risk rejection. We don’t like people not feeling ok We don’t like the experience of having to witness someone sitting inside of the impact, pain, or damage they’ve caused. It’s uncomfortable. We’d rather save them from that experience, rescue or pull them out rather than trust they have what they need inside to endure the lessons and learnings this experience will teach them. When we do this, pull them out, they don’t fully learn their lessons and the behavior either repeats or they have to go through another cycle. It goes against everything inside of us to leave people to figure things out for themselves, to have to develop their own muscle of asking for help or cultivating inner resourcefulness.
We’re addicted to relieving ourselves of the pain of watching them in pain, especially if we feel valuable when we help or “save” others. Ultimately, we can’t wake someone else up. Trying to do so is training them poorly. It’s setting them up for failure in future relationships and connections. It’s dangerous. Antidote: Focus on your own self-work. Stay in your lane. Understand your value does not come from saving others from their pain.
Molly Godfrey is a coach for women and a published writer. She specializes in the worlds of dating, relationships, and sex & intimacy. She is both a trained desire & intimacy coach as well as an integrated mental health coach. She works work with women 1:1 to help them move from “frustrated to free”. To identify, heal, and change their (sometimes) painful patterns when it comes to their dating lives or even in their current relationship. Heartbreak is a big part of Molly’s story. She’s known by some as the “ex-boyfriend expert” and has a signature “relationship detox” protocol she takes her clients through before they begin to jump back into dating. Her biggest passion is helping women to fully own, know, and embody their brilliance and all they have to offer the world and from that place, powerfully showing up in all their relationships. You can find her here for a free online dating ebook and her “Why You Don’t Have Love in Your Life Quiz.”