This past week I read my first ugly comment left on my blog. It was bound to happen. It was just a matter of time. Being someone that tends to take things to heart, it was difficult. I often put too much weight on what others think of me. Nothing I haven't said before. But this was just a plain and simple mean post, and it hurt. I didn't blog the rest of the week as a result. I didn't want to think about it. Eventually, though, I decided this was something I was going to have to work through and that's what I've done. The really interesting thing, for me, was how I did that.
It seems like a lifetime ago. I was married. I was abused. I was in a pretty horrible place and I was just trying to keep myself safe from the barrage of verbal/emotional abuse that I was inundated with on a daily basis from my spouse. During that dark time, I developed some tools that were instrumental in my getting healthy. They were tools, unbeknown to me at the time, about establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. These are tools that most emotionally abused individuals haven't effectively developed. Most such people go to a therapist and spend years learning these tools. I happened to stumble upon it myself one beautiful summer day when my husband was out of town.
My friend Tessa was talking to me over a chat app. I told her I felt particularly good and that I wished I could stay in that emotional place forever. She asked me to describe it. I said, "I feel like I'm out in the middle of a large body of water in a boat. I can see other boats out in the distance but I don't feel like I need to go to them. I think, yes, I do have oars in the boat. I could go to those boats if I wanted. But, I don't. I'm content to be right here, in my boat."
Over the next 6 months I developed on this concept of "My Boat." After my spouse returned, I used My Boat as a means of protection. First when he said hurtful things to me, I'd retreat when I could and I'd bring up a mental image of paddling my little boat out to the middle of that body of water. I'd paddle and paddle. And then, I'd just rest, there, by myself, in My Boat. I was safe.
Later, I added to this concept. As my spouse would say hurtful things, I could imagine me in My Boat and him in his boat, in my mind's eye, during the fight. Perhaps this is the trait of a female multi-tasking mind, as I'm not sure everyone is capable of doing this, but it became a very effective tool for me in learning to fight healthier.
During the fight, I'd try to translate the things he'd say to me into acts that he'd do in his boat to me in My Boat. For instance, he might say, "You're just lazy!" And I'd envision him ramming his boat into mine. He might say, "It's all about you, you don't care about me at all!" Depending upon the context of that message, I might envision him throwing a grappling hook into My Boat and pulling my boat around with his. Now this may not seem particularly useful at first glance. But let's take a deeper look.
Let's say he said, "I don't have any friends because you scared them all away." Without My Boat, I might become defensive, and say that I didn't scare his friends away, that I like his friends, that I am sorry he doesn't have friends and I'm sorry if it was because of me...and then I'd start doubting myself...as an emotional abuse victim, trust me, it always ends being the victims fault, even in the victims own mind.
BUT, try out this same scenario while in My Boat. He says, "I don't have any friends because you scared them all away." I translate the message into his boat and My Boat and see him scooping up water out of the bottom of his boat and trying to pour it into my boat. I immediately think, "Woah! That's not my water...that's YOUR water, YOU keep it!" Now, instead of the message above, I say to him, "If you think you don't have friends, that's your problem, not mine. Don't blame me for your problems." I've effectively just removed myself from accepting blame from my abuser. I have established a healthy boundary. Instead of the fight escalating into what a horrible person I am, the attempt at abusing me is thwarted. As time went on, I became better and better at this. The great thing that this did was it stopped me from being hurt from emotionally abusive garbage. I didn't need to internalize it. It never made it into My Boat. It never got past my established boundary.
There is more that I learned from My Boat, but it's not relevant to today's post. While I was sitting there, feeling bad about the hurtful anonymous little comment on my blog, the idea of My Boat came to mind. It was shocking, as I'd not thought (not needed to think) of My Boat for quite some time. But there it was. In reality, it makes perfect sense. That comment was abusive in nature. It was meant to hurt for no reason than to hurt, to take something from me and transfer it to the abuser. Plain and simple, that's how abuse works.
So I mentally climbed into My Boat. I looked at the blog comment and translated it into the anonymous writer's boat and My Boat. It was amazing. The hurt went away. Literally went away. I no longer owned those hurtful words. It wasn't about me. It was about that writer, that angry little anonymous writer. And I didn't need to expend any more personal energy on it. How liberating.