Boundaries

I just had a bad experience on Facebook, and it made me realize some things.

In a nutshell, I tried to set a boundary with someone. It had to do with POCA. I tried to set the boundary in private, though other people knew it was happening and in fact helped me set it (because I needed help). And then the person with whom I tried to set the boundary 1) mocked the effort, 2) made the issue public in order to complain about the boundary-setting and enlist support, and 3) joked about ignoring the boundary altogether.

That sucked. What sucked more was other people piling on and agreeing that indeed, this boundary was ridiculous and also, oppressive to humanity. What sucked most, however, is that I got triggered by the whole thing. Other people who have trauma histories know that getting triggered often feels hideously random: what just happened, exactly, that caused me to cry for 24 hours straight and become afraid to leave my house? What precipitated this incapacitating chemical spill in my brain? Was it a smell, a sound, a feeling, the goddamn temperature of the air? (If you want to watch a sitcom that has some hilarious scenes about trauma and triggers, try “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”. The main character is afraid of Velcro and doesn’t know why.) Why, why am I reacting like this?

The general biological explanation is that people with trauma histories have  an overdeveloped amygdala, the area of the brain that mediates fear conditioning. Being triggered means that your prefrontal cortex (thinking, problem solving, planning) goes offline and your amygdala takes over, activating implicit or explicit trauma memories along with a fight-flight-freeze response.

Sometimes, for me, understanding that I’m triggered helps get my prefrontal cortex back on line. Figuring out the trigger itself is another step in the right direction, though sometimes that doesn’t happen.  This time it did; I got an answer.

It’s not a fun answer. I mean, they’re never fun, but it’s one thing to realize that, say, a certain perfume can trigger you, and it’s another to identify a big, icky social pattern.

What happened in that Facebook thread was a lot of disbelief and indignation about POCA setting boundaries.  And the thing is, this has been happening for almost a decade, when POCA’s precursor CAN drew up the guidelines for its Locate A Clinic list. Not long after that, we added posting guidelines for the website, and ever since, there has been a steady chorus of: why aren’t these guidelines more inclusive? Why won’t you talk about alternatives to the model that POCA was built on? Why won’t you stop doing what you’re doing, what you’ve been doing all along, and start doing this other thing? Why won’t you endorse what I’m doing, which is completely different from what you’re doing? Don’t you care about inclusivity? Don’t you care about innovation? Don’t you care about freedom of speech? Don’t you care about social justice? Don’t you care about the acupuncture profession? Don’t you care about my bottom line?

There have been times when I was genuinely mystified: at no time in CAN or POCA history has the organization ever announced it was trying to be all things to all people; it never claimed to be flexible. In fact, all along, we’ve said the opposite: we’re not flexible and we don’t want to be. Our boundaries haven’t changed much over time (except for a period where we tried being more inclusive, and it didn’t work out.) We’re not a public organization, we’re not the AAAOM claiming to represent all acupuncturists, we’re a private cooperative that’s focused on doing a very specific thing. If you like that thing, great, please join us; if you don’t,  that’s OK, don’t join.

We’ve said this over, and over, and over.

We’ve also been pretty clear about the way we operate, the limits of what we can do with volunteer labor and a strong Do It Yourself/Do It Together ethic. We’ve talked about our limits in a hundred different ways. Why aren’t people getting it? We’ve tried so hard to be clear. Most of the time, these days, we’re even polite about it: no, that’s not what we do; this is what we do. OK? It’s cool if you don’t like what we do, you don’t have to do it, but this is what we want to do.

Why does that make people so mad at us?

I woke up in the middle of the night, with my trauma-hangover slowly ebbing, and I got it: POCA isn’t allowed to have boundaries, period. It’s not the particular boundaries we chose that make people mad, or that they don’t understand them — it’s that we’re trying to have boundaries at all.

That was the trigger for me: how DARE you have boundaries — who do you think you are?

This is the best thing I’ve ever read about rape culture:

“If women are raised being told by parents, teachers, media, peers, and all surrounding social strata that:
    it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
    it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
    it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
    it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
    it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
    it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
    it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
    it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways…People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.” (from the blog Fugitivus — the whole post is long but extremely worth reading)

I’m not so mystified anymore. I do feel kind of sick, but I get it. POCA’s gendered, apparently, and if it says “no”, it’s not going to get a response of “OK, you said no, I don’t like it but OK” —  POCA’s going to get an unending stream of invective about how unfriendly it is, how irrational it is, how inconsistent it is (even when it’s being perfectly consistent), how selfish it is, how stuck up it is, how angry it is, how unenlightened it is, how oppressive it is, how rigid/frigid/insufficiently innovative it is.  And this all translates to: who do you think you are, that you get to say no.

There are four groups of people this post is directed towards:

1) People who call themselves community acupuncturists who don’t want to join POCA, and who are bothered by POCA’s boundaries. You know, the odds are good that you would not be practicing community acupuncture if I hadn’t stuck my neck out, a number of times, in a number of different ways over the past decade, to get the model out there, so you could do whatever the hell you wanted with it. I’m not asking you to be grateful. I am asking you not to keep complaining that I have boundaries or that POCA has boundaries. You don’t have to like our boundaries and you don’t have to have anything to do with us at all. But please stop talking about it, about us. The dynamic is kind of creepy. 

2) Stalker exes.  I think most people get at least mildly stalker-y when a relationship breaks up. Social media doesn’t help. But if you had a relationship with POCA, and it didn’t work out, and you can’t seem to stop yourself from jabbing at POCA, POCA’s boundaries, and how POCA does things, either on social media or in emails, I think maybe you should ask yourself what you want. Do you want to hurt us, or me? If so, you can feel accomplished: in this last episode, you totally did. I felt vulnerable, I felt attacked, I felt unsafe, I cried for 24 hours straight and I’m still not sure I’m going to POCAfest. You pushed the buttons that drop me down into the abyss, and I hung out there for awhile. How much more would you like to hurt me? Are you enjoying this?

When your relationship with POCA broke up, I’m pretty sure nobody here followed you around sniping at you; we accepted that the relationship was over, we didn’t talk about it in public, and we didn’t try to get revenge or punish you. It’s interesting that you don’t feel the same way.

This dynamic is seriously creepy.

3) People in the larger community who are friends with members of the first two groups and who also want to be friends with POCA volunteers. Including me. A long time ago, when Skip and I were trying to get the model out there, we started by trying to build a network of people who would support each other. That’s rare in the acupuncture world and it’s understandable people would want to hold on to that.  And it’s sad, but I’m not sure it’s going to work out. Especially if you are participating in or facilitating places where these creepy dynamics happen, where the network we helped build is being deliberately used against us, where we are being punished for having boundaries.  I totally understand the social pressure to not rock the boat, the pressure to get along with everybody; the difference for me is that this pressure makes me crazy, because it replicates the dynamics of rape culture. At some point, for me and for POCA, it would probably actually be better if you took sides, even if it wasn’t with us. It would be better than saying things like, “it’s too bad everybody can’t just get along”, or “love and light”. That sounds a lot like, “it’s a real shame you want to have boundaries, lighten up.”

4) People who want to get involved in POCA in order to change what it does and how it works.

tl;dr:

Just do your thing and we’ll do ours; why is that too much to ask? Oh right — rape culture.

and/or

This hurts. Please stop.

lisafer
Author: lisafer

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Responses

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  1. Thank you. It’s not comfortable to be shown my blind spots, but I sure appreciate the light. And thanks for everything else, too.

  2. And when you don’t agree that something is “hilarious,” you’re a humorless bitch.

    I was thinking how some “leaders” in the field can set boundaries and it seems to be totally cool with folks – they can set themselves up as experts, even gurus and get away with all kinds of stuff. I think people want to project similar roles onto you (you’re so *inspirational*) and when you either can’t or won’t do something then suddenly people become tantruming toddlers and rebellious teenagers (so sexy! so much more fun than mom!) and mama becomes whore.

    But of course, even though it has a lot of your DNA in it (which is *probably* why we’ve survived this long, to grow and thrive), the co-op is still a co-op. (You want to be a leader? Great! The reward for hard work is more hard work…and get ready for people to be pissed at you.) I think you’re right that it is gendered, though…and it’s gender is bitch. Feral bitch.

  3. Thank you so much Lisa for writing about boundaries. I often feel like that “crazy” woman just to have boundaries. But I have always thought it was the other way around.

    Thanks for pointing out the systematic problems instead of letting people belittle it into a personal quibble.

    Its incredibly empowering for those of us that have trauma histories.

    Its also interesting to think about the words inclusivity and cooperation.

    Inclusivity is defined as including people who might otherwise be marginalized such disability, race, gender, or age.

    Its not about “including” people who fundamentally disagree with you.

    Cooperatives are not about cooperating with everyone.

    They are about “an autonomous association of people who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social and economic benefit”.

    For those other situations there is a real nice conflict matrix you can refer to. 😉

    And in that matrix when people really don’t want to cooperate with your mission or your organization or you in general. You are supposed to avoid them.

  4. Thank you for your words. I am proudly all of those bitches. I applaud you for bringing up trauma and rape culture. Creepy dynamics and “Love and Light” — ugh. Really impressed by this post.

  5. Thank you Lisa. I will respond briefly as one of the self-appointed protectors of the entity that is POCA: I did not have a direct trauma hit from recent events, but initially recognized it as the inevitable cycle of shitty little people crawling out of their shitty little holes at what they perceived energetically as a time of maximum weakness. No secret: MANY of us see them. Having not been triggered personally (even though I see now that my family has taken a hit), I watched and waited for their destructive behaviors to do what they will inevitably do – cycle back on them. That is happening, but I am sorry that I did not really feel until recently the magnitude of the effect it had on you (and Skip). I was not planning to attend POCA Fest Marin, but if it would in some way help you to attend and be safe, I will do what I can to change some things around and get there. And do my job.

    Also, your writing has reminded me that one of the things that has kept the seams tight in the past is richness of discourse. The blog and forums can get a little anemic when folks (pointing the finger at myself here) allow their attention to be drawn elsewhere. I will make time to contribute what hopefully is a little juiciness, and I do hope some other sleepers will consider doing the same.

  6. Thank you for the supportive response and the comments, everyone.

    At this point it’s looking more likely that I will get to go to P’fest (yay). I don’t know if other people experience triggers like this, but they do feel like a chemical flood in the brain and the nervous system that when it’s happening, it’s overwhelming, and then all of the sudden it stops. Identifying the trigger does help and so does being loved. Thank you to everyone who has been sending love, it arrived. I was texting last night with Nora (thanks Nora) and we were talking about something else entirely and all of the sudden I was like, wow, I feel pretty OK, even kind of normal, or what passes for normal for me.

    So Karen, I deeply appreciate the offer to reschedule, and I’d be thrilled to see you at P’fest, but I think I’m OK. I know you are doing your job regardless of your physical location because I can feel it. Thank you.

    Also, I think your point about discourse on the blog and the forums is spot on. Right now, there is a really great thread about the practical issues of practicing at the intersection of racism and classism that 1) clearly took tons of effort and thought, and 2) is an example of the kind of rich, useful, risky content that you are just not going to get on a Facebook thread. It’s here and people should look at it: https://www.pocacoop.com/forums/viewthread/8030/

    It would be great, great, great, if more people wanted to contribute this kind of valuable content.

  7. WTF? This is exactly why I avoid Facebook. I’ve been seriously contemplating closing down my account but then hesitate because there are some people I do LIKE. I apparently missed some troll activity.

    Lisa, your reaction is a normal response to being attacked. Two years ago I was attacked in a similar manner and could not sleep for two days, cried and yelled, felt nauseous and unable to eat and wanted to get in my car and just drive away. (Whole fight or flight thing in high gear)

    A key component to abusive relationships is making the victim believe that they are the one doing something to incite the abuse. Saying no is your right and having good boundaries is necessary to survive in this abusive culture. NEVER let them get you upset. You have created an amazing organization and a safe harbor for all of us who said “there’s got to be a better way to treat people with acupuncture”.

    I know that this was not a fun experience for you, and unfortunately may not be the last time you are attacked because when your light is bright the forces of darkness come to destroy you. Just know that you are loved beyond measure by many others and that love will protect you like bullet proof glass. They can shoot at you but they will have to get through all of us first.

    Please make sure that you come to Pocafest so you can drink up the POCA love and recharge your force field. Oh, and stay the hell off of Facebook!

    We love you!

    Kerri

  8. “I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.”
    – Florence Nightingale

    Thank you, Lisa, from the bottom of my heart for everything you have done for our profession… and more importantly, for our community.