Boundaries and sharing food

When I think about affirming my own boundaries, I associate it with pushing back requests that would damage me. This implies that the person trying to test my boundaries (with no specific intention) is not considering my own needs and assumes they can ignore them (again with no specific intention, even if were just self-preservation).

I have a radically different experience with a friend with whom I can share food even when it’s not enough for a meal for us both. Food is such a basic need that I imagine it pushes very fundamental buttons for us both, still, I would never think of keeping enough food for my own meal and leave him with less, and they do the same for me. In that case we split whatever we have, eat it, and if we are still hungry, we get more food!

It makes me wonder if boundaries are something specifically meant to fend off malicious inputs (not people; inputs as in single interactions). It seems that I encounter either extremely safe people (with whom boundaries and identity are not necessary for my survival) or unsafe people who end up deeply hurting me when I mistake them for extremely safe people.


Mind center – some thoughts

Yesterday I was thinking about situations where other people made very clear that they were the center of the(ir) world and I was a component of it (or not!) according solely to their judgment. I was not offered the chance to try out the sensation of being in the center of my life, with others being around me at various mental distances. I imagine that some of those people couldn’t even imagine not being the center (not only of their own life but of everyone else’s), and some others weren’t able to act differently, because they needed me to support their mental setup as a kind of stilt but not as a full person.

I’m not discussing the reasons and causes behind what happened, the point is not to find out if they were valid or even if they could have been changed; but there is little doubt that the consequences have been deep and long-lasting. I never imagined myself as the valid center of my own existence, even now it feels uncomfortable and risky. Later in life I kept putting one or more people in that center, which worked quite well until I had to act as if I were in my own center (stating needs, drawing boundaries, distancing myself, rely on myself as an independent human). Removing others from that center always emptied me completely and made me crash to a level below survival, even when I left unhealthy/unsustainable situations.

There is a tangent connection with the pilot post from a while ago: not about tasks or skills, but about role swap. Recently I could practice (at first, implicitly) role swapping around leadership, motivation, focus, self-care, responsibility, in a way that made it a true practice environment. I was sure that if I failed, the other person would be perfectly able to pick up the task, as in the case of equivalently skilled pilots. It is no practice if there are consequences of my errors while I learn: that would be a production environment. The true practice took away that pressure to succeed, but didn’t remove the importance of the action! This is crucial for me, because it is about *redundancy on an important task*.

There are many more thoughts and implications around this, but for a self-contained post, this is it 🙂

Maturity and independence

I am hurt every time I read sentences that see the ability to live with less care/interaction/attention as a sign of maturity and/or independence, or somehow implicitly as a sign of growth. Especially when it is seen as a reduction in complaining and/or requesting attention, that can be a sign of resignation as consequence of requests being ignored (cfr. learned helplessness – content warning: experimental abuse).

I refuse this interpretation of independence=maturity=growth. I refuse to see growth as a direction to aim to, or worse, an inevitable fate, that normalises the fight for having one’s needs met while everybody around consider themselves optional or at least available on their terms.

I understand that this is actually the case, from the point of view of the outside world (albeit a bleak perspective, to be fair), but it is more of a consequence than a cause: “I am more independent because I have developed sufficient internal stability and resources, so that I am not relying on external stability any longer” is a healthy, sustainable stand; and not: “I am forced to improvise and beg for external stability, available at its own rate that meets my needs only randomly – I should be thankful when I receive support, because it is not expected at all, and I should at some point stop relying on external support altogether, no matter how much I still need support”.

I am not forcing anyone (in particular, nor in general) to meet my needs, oh, that would be the wrong solution, and I have already been told often enough that I can’t expect anyone to help or even just be there. I don’t need to be told, I can see it for myself that it’s the case. My perception is that I have been cared for a certain amount of time, then support was over, without me having actually learned enough to care for myself, let alone identify my needs. I have been considered grown up by definition, which means being left alone without support, and honestly, teaching me to care for myself and to identify my needs by means of leaving me alone is the most drastic and risky way to make me learn anything. I am aware that this will sound like moving the responsibility to people around me, but my first step here is to recognise that if I only rely on my skills/resources, then I am not equipped to deal with most of the challenges that are part of my existence.

Sorry for the variously-faceted bitter stance on this. I’m tired of getting better at identifying my needs and be met with the toxic positivity of “Nice! Now you know how to deal with yourself on your own” – no? at least not right away?

I will keep thinking about this, until I find ways to process this that make sense to me.

Not worried for myself

How can I explain that I don’t talk about (world) problems because I’m afraid for myself, but because I’m worried for others?

The answer to my worries is so often “well, there are no big consequences for you” but I’m not worried for myself, I’m worried for all those other people who have to leave their home, their country, all of this; I’m not worried about myself, about anything around myself.

A reflection on mutual attention, regard, inner space

Long post ahead! Enjoy this giraffe picture first 🙂


A few days ago I read Regardez Moi, an intriguing post from TeresaA about a horse clinic she attended. She reports how Nikki, the clinician, explained how she doesn’t use the term “respect” anymore when it comes to horses, in favour of “regard”. The latter term involves more the tuning of the horse’s attention to the person (and vice versa), rather than recognising some form of authority or leadership, or demanding compliance – “regard” can be seen as a communication agreement, before anything else can happen.

My own understanding of what she describes in the post is summarised in this schema, where an individual is surrounded by a circle, that includes and protects the individual’s personal space, time, resources and choices. Outside of it there is the external world, where many things happen, from which some of them try to reach the individual. The inputs are accepted when they pass through the circle’s doors:


Stimuli, inputs and requests from the outer world bounce off the circle walls, or come to the doors of an individual’s space and try to enter. The individual can use various strategies:

  • letting all inputs through the doors, and decide how to deal with them once they’re in (maybe thanks to abundant time/resources? or for fear of being mean when turning them away? or because the circle itself is incomplete or broken, so that inputs come inside as they wish?)
  • let some inputs in, keep others out, according to time/energy availability (preserves the individual when needed/wanted)
  • keep all inputs out a very strong circle and locked doors; pick very carefully what can pass the doors (the individual would feel overwhelmed, or unsafe, or is unable to properly process the inputs once they’re in)

“Regard” seems to me the label for “accepting inputs”, “be ready for communication”, “keep doors ready to be opened”. I find that this term applies well to the middle situation of the previous list, where the individual feels able to accept and process inputs, and is therefore willing to listen. Denying this regard means ignoring, refusing the communication right away, being focused on something else, being unreachable.

I wondered what can make one unwilling to accept inputs, for example because of fear or habit, and I found that the initial model was too simple. It doesn’t deal with what happens after the input has passed the doors. I have extended it and added a second circle inside:


The inputs can now pass a first door, get into a middle space that is managed by the individual, but that is not the core space, so it’s more like a waiting area. The individual decides then which of these inputs can pass the doors to the inner core, the truly personal space. From the outside perspective, the inputs passed the visible doors, so they have been accepted by the individual, and they are confident they will get some dedicated attention and feedback.

I am aware that this involves the maintenance of two attention gates, and it seems easier to use only one: that is, ignore everything (keep doors locked) until it’s the right moment to pay full attention to them. It is very safe, especially if one is not so good at managing the doors, so that everything that passes the first door is likely to run free in the inner space and feast on precious personal resources. But what would a single gate mean for the external world? That it  would need to repeat its requests until the “attention lottery” grants the prize – which can be never. The external inputs/requests have only a vague idea of how to increase their chances of being heard, because it all happens inside oneself, and the data they get are “no answer at all” or “full answer”, with no apparent pattern. It means that they will multiply their attempts and make the pressure even worse. (Job applications anyone? People or companies who don’t answer to mails or the phone?)

I find that both schemes rely on the ability to say no to inputs. The “no” in the schema is represented by an input going inside through the door, then back outside. If saying no is not possible, the only way to limit the input overflow is not to let them in at all, no matter how urgent they think they are. The two-circles scheme makes it possible to say: “I have noticed this input from outside. I have given some attention to it and I’m deciding what to do” while the input is not yet in the inner personal space. Then one can say either yes (and the input comes through the second set of doors) or no (and the input leaves the waiting area and comes back outside).

The two-gate model allows external inputs to get an answer quite fast, that is either a no, a yes-now, or a yes-in-the-future. I would like to work in that direction, because I feel that (at least some) external requests need an answer soon, at least a short one, out of politeness and regard. Some close friends provide me this kind of feedback, and I feel at ease with them, because I know I don’t have to ask more than once, and they are confident they can say no anytime. There this a sort of elastic connection and mutual consideration that I cherish a lot.

Enough for today… I’m still reflecting on this topic and will likely write more about it, thanks for reading so far!

Book review: “L’Annonce” by Marie-Hélène Lafon

As usual, I picked this book from my meighborhood’s public library and I have read it in a couple days. I sank in the fluent French prose like in a calm lake, and I let myself be carried slowly around. It’s the story of several people in French countryside, I felt the cautious approach of the newcomers, the many wordless statements and the silences among the characters. There was no obvious outcome and not even a clear progress, no heroes, no leaders, no big programs. Things happen, thoughts get deep and feelings transform with time. Little things matter. Nature, animals and weather dictate how and when people can move and work, merciless but full of force and life.

I don’t think I can say more, this is my heartfelt recommendation 🙂 I’ll be looking for more books by Marie-Hélène Lafon and will definitely review them, stay tuned!


The copilot syndrome

I recently thought about my habit of being ready to take over responsibility from others. The classical situation is when I’m with one or more people in a car and I am in the passenger seat. I call it the “copilot syndrome”.


In this situation I feel I have to be alert and ready to help: I check the road signs, the directions, the weather ahead, I ask the driver if they’re tired or thirsty. The funny thing is that I would not be able to take the wheel: I stopped driving in 2010 and am too scared to try again, especially without preparation. So I am in the funny position to feel a lot of responsibility but be unable to actually do much. At the same time I can’t relax and for example simply look outside of the window, or sleep. I have the fear that I would not notice something important and that it would be my fault, that I should have paid attention; as if there were a responsibility chain and I am always the next in line, and all others (except the first in line) come after me, and even worse: none of them would step up if I don’t act.

Source: lupineandruby‘s pinterest

The other, maybe more important, funny thing I finally noticed is that it’s rarely necessary that I pay so much attention, or that I feel this copilot burden at all. It doesn’t mean not caring about how the car trip is going, or be passive if doubts or problems arise – it’s more about feeling a more reasonable amount of responsibility and not waste energy and attention being fully alert while the situation is well under control.

I can understand how my readiness to step up has often been seen as great resource and a cool fallback for the group of people I was part of, because others were reassured that I would take care of glitches before/instead of anyone else. But it’s a disaster for me, when this means that I have to constantly feel in charge: this indeed happened on a couple jobs, that I luckily managed to leave before they drained all my energies.

I have a few hunches on how I learned to feel this obligation to pick up responsibilities. The important thing now is that I have a plan to get rid of this habit. My current strategy is to pick situations where actually nothing serious can happen if I don’t pick up the lead, and see what indeed happens. The experiment is ongoing and it’s early to tell if this approach would work in more critical situations; but I can already say that I feel more relaxed, and even reassured that I’m making progress.

Double book recommendation: local people autobiographies

This time I review two book at once, namely “Ick bin een Berliner, da kieckste, wa?” by Ronald Potzies and “El Zélese” by Antonio Carlizzi.


Both books are the account of the lives of two people I know personally, and this makes me consider these books differently from others: they are the written version of facts and emotions that happened first in real life, while in most other cases either the book is my only connection with those lives, or it is a work of fiction. I enjoyed the direct language of both of these accounts, and the many references to common and sometimes hard conditions of life (both authors experienced world wars) that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for a fiction work, or would be mentioned sparingly, as background information, instead of a daily struggle. I find much to learn not in the abstract model that could be extracted from the lives of these two men, but in the details: the way they took a decision without knowing enough to be sure to make the right choice; their inner strength; their simplicity in being human without becoming heroes or book characters.

These are two books dear to me. I’m curious to know about similar books you read, please mention them in the comment section!

On several ways of experiencing loneliness

Today I listened to the BBC4 “All in the Mind” podcast about loneliness. I found relieving to hear that loneliness can be seen as a neutral or positive state, at least in some cases. For many people, or maybe more for the general expectation of the society they live in, loneliness is seen as unhealthy, unwanted and sad, or even lousy. I agree that there are people who at given times of their life would like to have more social interactions, but have problems finding/keeping friendships, and this makes them unhappy. I also agree that unwanted loneliness can have serious consequences on a person’s health and life quality. On the other side, I think that each one of us has their optimal level of social interactions, so it’s very difficult to give others advice for “feeling better” by suggesting a specific amount (or even type) of social contacts.

I see myself as a solitary person who enjoys close friendships, and I know I’m not good at smalltalk or at mantaining not-so-close friendships. This led me to have a somewhat small network of people I regularly check with, and to feel unpleasantly lonely sometimes. I have recently met new people in the city, during meetings about shared interests, and this has made me feel definitely better. I also think I feel better since I decided that it was OK for me not to improve my smalltalk or my standard social interactions, because I felt uneasy in playing a role very different from my real self: I am authentic from the start, and I find like-minded people to share great moments with.

I don’t feel like celebrating loneliness per se! I’m rather interested about how I feel when I’m alone or with others, what can help me when I feel unpleasantly lonely, and how I interact with other people. I feel it is a work in progress: my understanding of loneliness is part of my path towards understanding myself and maintaining authentic relationships.

I chose to end the post with a picture of the Dolomites. The(se) mountains have been for me the perfect place for being alone in a magnificient, natural, healing, powerful and humbling landscape.