Never Put Your Wishbone Where Your Backbone Ought to Be

My non-profit, Body Positive Dance, was honored to be chosen as fundraising recipient for the Grand Opening party of Texana Lane . They are a community for women with spunk, sass, and soul that offers women-helping-women resources and some very cool shopping.  They have stuff locally (Austin, Texas) as well as online.

When I read the website I was stuck by the phrase “…and never put her wishbone where her backbone ought to be”.

The same day I read that, I got an e-mail from a woman telling me about how she doesn’t know what to do because her friends and family are so mean to her about her weight.  She said that they treat her horribly, always say nasty things to her etc.

A lot of us have been here – with families, friends, strangers –  we can be subjected to all kinds of poor treatment.  This is a situation that requires backbone, not wishbone.  As people of size, hell as people at all, if we want to be treated well we can’t wish for it, we have to insist upon it.  Here’s one way I’ve found to do that:

Step 1: Decide what your boundaries and standards are

You get to decide how people treat you – you are in charge.  How are you willing to be treated?  Do strangers get to make comments about your size without you saying anything?  Do your loved ones get to nag you about what you eat?  How does your mom get to talk to you?  Think about it, make a list, write it down. (This doesn’t just apply to size either – you decide what your standards for treatment are in all areas of your life.)

Step 2:  Decide on the consequences

I have found that this can be tough. You have to be realistic here –  there’s no point in having boundaries and standards if you’re not going to enforce them.  Setting boundaries and then not enforcing them will likely end up making you feel powerless and will teach people that you don’t mean what you say.

Personally I typically go with a teachable moment, then a warning, then a walk away.  Sometimes I give more than one warning but in the end I’m ready to walk away.   I’m absolutely willing to walk away from anyone who doesn’t uphold my standards for treatment…better alone than in bad company. I have disowned family members because they refused to treat me in a manner that was in accordance with my standards.   But that’s me. You may not choose to walk away from family or friends or you may not be in a position to right now.  Neither is better or worse, we just have to know ourselves and our situations.  The main thing to remember is that you can’t threaten to do something that you’re not actually going to do.  So if you’re not going to walk away from your mom no matter how badly she treats you, then you need to come up with a different set of consequences – maybe she doesn’t get to see you (or the grandchildren if any) for a certain period of time or until she apologizes.

I hesitated a little to use the word consequences because I am concerned that there is a connotation of punishment and that is not my intention.  For me this is not about punishing people – it’s not about other people at all.  This is about you choosing how people in your life treat you.

Step 3:  Practice

You have to be ready, otherwise you will have a pretty decent chance of falling apart.  Practice in your head, practice in your car, and around your house.  Imagine what is likely to happen and practice your reaction.  Do it out loud, write it out if that’s your thing.  Just be ready.  Create an affirmation around it, maybe “I insist upon being treated with respect in ever single interaction.”

Step 4:  Engage Backbone

Stand up for yourself.  Consider though, that empowerment may not be about screaming at people, and I submit that it’s most definitely not about controlling the behavior of others.  I have found that being empowered is mostly about being calm and assertive and enforcing your own boundaries, rather than trying to dictate the behavior of others.  So not  “You have to behave [in this way]”, but rather “If you continue to do [this] I will do [that]”.

This may mean that it’s time to have an honest conversation with people in your life who currently aren’t living up to your standards and treating you as you deserve to be treated.  Explain that their behaviors (be specific) have not been appropriate for you and be very clear about what you expect of them moving forward.  Explain the consequences.

They’ll probably be surprised.  It’s reasonably likely that they’ll try to make it a debate – to negotiate.  You get to decide if this is a debate, a negotiation, or simply a transfer of information.   You can expect push-back on this, stay calm and remember that you get to choose how people treat you all the time.  They may try to make it about you – tell you that you haven’t been meeting their standards.  If that’s the case offer to have that as a separate conversation and give them the same respect that you want to be given, but make sure that you accomplish your mission of clarifying your boundaries and standards and the consequences for violating them.

Step 5:  Stick to It

For me, this is where the work really begins. Over and over again you’ll have to decide if upholding your standards is worth whatever the consequences are for doing so.  I personally find that the consequences for not standing up for myself and what I deserve are always worse than the consequences of being inauthentic or not standing up for myself, but that’s just me.

I notice that true freedom in my life has meant realizing that:

I never:

  • Control all of my circumstances
  • Control the behavior of others
  • Control what others think of me
  • Control who I’m an example to

I always

  • Choose to take responsibility for my reactions to circumstances
  • Choose how I will deal with behaviors that don’t meet my standards
  • Choose what I think of me
  • Choose what I’m an example of

I’ve drifted a long way from Texana Lane and the cool work that they do, so I’ll end by thanking the fabulous Lane Ray for the inspiration and the fundraising help, and saying that if you’re in Austin on Sunday 9/12/10 anytime between 12 and 5, come hang out with us at the Grand Opening Party.  It’s free, family friendly, Sara Hickman and other local musicians are playing, there will be cool local businesses and a really fantastic time!

September 12, 2010
At Mesa Ranch Restaurant
8108 Mesa Dr. 3 C-100
Austin, Texas 78759

12pm – 5pm

Details are Here

3 thoughts on “Never Put Your Wishbone Where Your Backbone Ought to Be

  1. I don’t really have problems with family and friends, but I always had problems with classmates. I don’t think I can decide how they are going to treat me. I have nothing they want. They don’t want my approval, if I argue with them they can always out-maneuver me (they have all the advantages and don’t care about truth or logic), they don’t care what I think of them, I can’t walk away (or follow the teachers’ advice to “stay away from them”) because we’re in the same class and we have assigned seating. So how am I supposed to influence their behavior? This is actually not much of a problem for me in the present, since it really mostly stopped on its own as I got older (so, only 16-18 years of constant torment, yay). So I am really only asking as a point of curiosity.

    1. You make a good point – this post was mostly speaking to adults – it’s definitely much more difficult for kids as they don’t have the requisite autonomy to walk away from the situation. All they can do is choose how they are going to react and how they will let it affect them.

    2. the struggle for respectful behavior in the classroom between students is something teachers can *help* with, in the spaces teachers “own” and supervise… but it’s not a cure-all.

      As a teacher, I had a no-tolerance policy for harassment, bullying, disrespect, but it doesn’t mean I’d hear and see everything. One effective technique for teachers in lower grades is to mediate an apology session in which it is okay if, for example, insincere apologies are not accepted; the goal is to give children a social and conversational structure within which they can build their ability to demand respectful actions: i.e., a sincere apology and perhaps restitution, and the harassing child learns that they will be held responsible for their own actions, with the desirable behavior entrained and made clear.

      My experience was that children who taunted and bullied had emotional hungers that were not met, either. But how to meet those needs for children that have learned over YEARS that they can’t get positive attention, but CAN reliably get negative attention? It’s a case-by-case struggle. And then the kids who are picked on have generally learned that “telling” either makes them a “snitch” or at any rate doesn’t guarantee proactive problem-fixing from “those in charge”. =( Ignoring the tormenters isn’t always a reliable strategy for making them stop, either.

      I was picked on frequently in junior high and into high school and also unconsciously learned that, despite not wanting to be abused, negative attention WAS attention. And I didn’t get much positive attention at home or at school so it was this incredibly unhealthy and uncomfortable dynamic going on where I was actively encouraging some of the abusive attention.

      I don’t have a universal solution that doesn’t require a revamp of Western Culture, unfortunately.

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