Emotional Arsonist


I was weary and ready for sleep tonight when it was time for lights out. I did not write yesterday because the words had not yet come to me. Then magically they appeared in the middle of the night as they sometimes do like a song stuck in my head. The longer I lay there trying to ignore them, trying to wait til the morning, the louder the song grew. Until there was only one choice to make, it is time to write.

I woke initially with a pain in my shoulder which makes sense because I am carrying a burden. A burden that weighs heavy on my heart and heavier on my soul.

Before I go further I would like to offer background for this post:
The Unraveling of a Family Tie
Boundaries are Hard in Families
will give some context to this post for anyone that wants it.

Out of respect for my family I have been doing what I consider shadow writing on topics related to family issues up to this point. For now I plan to continue to write in the shadows, I may feel differently about this as time goes on, that is yet to be seen.

So in these previous posts I have mentioned a long brewing issue that one family member is at the center of. In recent months another family member has become involved and when this took place a small flame was lit. A flame of negativity and malice, of confusion and mistrust. This small flame has resulted in a raging fire of destruction and disconnection that threatens to engulf my family.

Previously I mentioned that I am not the fire department and I hold no power to extinguish this blaze; that is still my truth. I am one person with a bucket though and today was the day I decided it was time to pick up my one bucket and use it before it was too late.

Up to this point this flame has been somewhat contained. There are two family members who started it and they have been trying to add small pieces of kindling but the fire has burned away from most of the rest of the family so we have been able to remain uninvolved with collective hope that this fire would burn out on its own given enough time. Today a flame from that fire licked my face and that was too close to comfort. It was time to set a hard boundary.

What took place was that my relative who is one of the fire starters emailed the entire family to speak their truth about another family member who they have a waged character war against. This was done as a way to further discredit this person and lambast their integrity. On this issue I remain neutral, this is not my quarrel. What I will not do however is accept any kind of correspondence that will cause further injury to my family. I did not read more than the first line of this person’s email, that was enough for me. From there I took a breath and decided to respond. My response was as follows:

_________________ ,

Please know that as I write this email I bear you no ill will. I believe that you feel that you are doing what you think is right.

With that said, I did not read your email and I will not read any further correspondence that means to further injure our family. When I say family, that includes everyone. You, ______, and _______ will always be part of my family and I will always have compassion for all of you, as I do everyone in the family.

I feel as though you have lost your way and I send you light and love during this difficult time.

As for  __________, there is nothing that anyone could ever say that would convince me that he is anything less than good hearted.

I hope we are able to heal as a family. The disconnection we are experiencing is hurtful and it does not have to be.

I am sending you love and forgiveness.


This was my bucket of water. This was my offering and my hope is that the healing energy of love and compassion would act as water to the flame. If not, I have at least set the boundary in an assertive way to let them know I will not accept this kind of correspondence going forward.

This person’s email was entitled “The Truth” and they spoke their truth. I took this as an invitation for the rest of us to speak ours.

I have remained silent and neutral up to this point, as the rest of my extended family has, for reasons I have listed before: hopefully this will blow over, it is none of my business, etc.

This is not blowing over, the flames are growing larger and the moment my relative sent that email to the entire extended family this situation went from being none of my/our business to this person making it our business.
There is a time for silence and a time for action and for me the time for silence ended the moment this person hit the “send” button and spewed this venom on the family.

I still remain neutral on the overarching issue because I do not believe it is my place to pass judgement on who is right or wrong. I might have my private feelings about that but I do not have the authority or the right to pass that judgement openly. I also do not believe that doing so will help me meet my ultimate goal for an outcome which is the healing and preservation of my entire family.

Judgement and anger and other negative emotions would only further insight this fire. To put out a fire you have to introduce a new element: sand, water, etc. Love is my water. Unconditional forgiveness  and compassion are my water. An invitation to heal is my water.

When I sent my response I replied all. No one else in my family had responded to this relative, this is still true. My hope is that I was able to set an example of love, an example that my family will have the courage to follow. My hope is that my family will see me here with bucket and join me with buckets of their own healing truth to share with this family member in an effort to extinguish this flame.

In the end we cannot control this person or their reactions. We are not the fire department and we may not be able to put out this inferno. I will not stand by with my bucket and feel useless though. I will not watch my family burn and do nothing when I have a bucket I can offer. My family may be doomed to burn either way but at least I know I did my part.

Tonight I send out love and light to everyone in my family, we all are hurting in the wake of this crisis. My hope and intention is the light I am sending out be the light that guides my family back to a path of love and connection. We have to come back to each other in love and connection to heal and be whole again.


An aside: When I got out of bed to come and write I did what I normally do when I write in the middle of the night. I lit my candles to bring light and love to darkness, I lit my salt lamp with the same intention, and I made myself a cup of tea. Then I took my tea and nested in blankets on the couch for comfort. The tea I often make for middle of the night writing is a brand that has what I think of as “love notes” on the tag. When I looked at the love note on my tea it was as though the Universe knew what I am trying to do with my healing bucket of water and was sending me support and assurance in its own way.



Sometimes You Have to Spell it Out

john stewart

One thing I love about social work is the deep commitment to ethics. This resonated with me immediately after I read the NASW Code of Ethics for the first time. Character, Integrity, Ethics, Principle I place high value on all of these things. I have mentioned before how in a previous relationship I got the nickname of “the moral police”, my partner at the time did not understand this side of me, how important these things were to me. I was made to feel too rigid, it really wasn’t until dating Todd that I met someone else who valued these things on the same level as myself. For once I felt normal. Then upon entering into the program I was again validated, there is NOTHING wrong with being someone of strong principle.

I did have to learn balance though. I came to realize that people are neither good nor bad they just are and we are all capable of being both good and bad. I moved away from judgement which I will admit took some work, my socialization process taught me to lead from a place of judgement. Ever heard of Catholic guilt? It’s a real thing and part of living with your own sin is calling others out for their sins as a way to feel better about yourself. At least that was my experience and still is with family who have tried to shame me for some of my beliefs. It’s bad news, very negative, steeped in shame and self-loathing. Crawling out of that pit takes work.

Eventually I did figure out the balance and then a few years later I found a home in social work and my shared values with Todd. I am thankful for my passion surrounding ethics, it has helped me navigate some tricky situations in life, most recently while being in the program.

I was having a conversation with a professor about character  and integrity during office hours my second semester into the program. When explaining where I stood on something I explained that I never wanted to be in a situation where someone would put a question mark over my head (figuratively speaking). I never want to put myself in a situation where my character would be called into question. If you don’t have integrity, what do you have?

So in the program I am cautious. Although I am flexible in most aspects of my life (that is the P side of my INFP personality) when it comes to anything regarding ethics I actually am pretty rigid as my former significant other implied.

This background about me is important to understand why I am feeling the way I am right now. This semester is proving challenging because I feel like my boundaries are being tested quite a bit and I have had to delicately navigate multiple situations that I perceive as ethical issues for me.

I have made the decision I can no longer tip toe around the issues so now I am going to have to address them which will result in a potentially uncomfortable conversation with a classmate. Not thrilled about this but it must be done, I have to stand up for myself or else face my integrity being compromised (I won’t allow that to happen) or risk being taken advantage of because I was too nice to address the issues, not really my style either.

Here are some of the problems I have run into:

The person asking if I wanted to work on an online assignment together that was not assigned as a group project. I do not collaborate on any assignment unless it was explicitly assigned as group work. I told the person No and got that long awkward OKKKAAAYYYYY….. as a response. I guess it was supposed to make me feel bad for saying No or something? Whatever.

Next they wanted to borrow my book to take an open book quiz. Again I said No. My reason for this No was because I highlight and write notes in the margins when I read my text books (this person knows that about me). They would have extra help on the quiz because I do this, that would not be right so the answer was No.

Another complaint I have is that on more than one occasion I brainstormed with this person for a group project and they ended up using my brain work, my ideas and attempting to pass them off as their own without giving me any credit. It would be one thing if they said, “Jill and I were talking and we came up with…” I am willing to share credit but that is not what happened. They essentially stole my intellectual property. Can I even say that though if I had not written my ideas down? I don’t know how that works. To be clear the ideas I am talking about were not ideas we came up with together, they were my input into the conversation, ideas from my head taken from me and then used under someone else’s name. That is when I learned I could no longer brainstorm with this person. At this point I placed a question mark over this person’s head.

Then I started to realize this person was not doing the work for classes. In a group project where we, as a group of 6 people, gave ourselves a timeline to have our work ready one week before our assignment was due this person showed up the day we agreed to have everything ready and not only had they not done their part they had the nerve to ask what their part was. They had not even started doing the research. That is not an ethical issue but it is aggravating.

So now we are caught up to the latest transgression. Earlier this week this person asked what my schedule was like for the rest of the week. I should have known to ask Why rather than share my schedule, that was a rookie mistake on my part. I did share my schedule though and then the person asked for a RIDICULOUS favor. We had a paper due Tuesday at midnight, the online copy was due at midnight at least, we were also supposed to bring a hard copy to class Tuesday night. Apparently this person had not even started the paper yet so they did not have a hard copy with them , obviously. They wanted to know if they could email their paper, have me print it for them and then drop it off with the teacher (on campus) later in the week when I had time.

Even now I cannot for the life of me tell you why the next words out of my mouth were “that shouldn’t be a problem”. I was annoyed the second they asked which tells me the answer is No. You do not agree to favors you are uncomfortable with, at least I don’t. What right do I have to resent this person though? I agreed to this nonsense. I had an opportunity to say No or that I was not comfortable and I ruined it by saying “that shouldn’t be a problem”? Who is this girl? I don’t even think I know her.

Here is my issue with this. The biggest thing, it is a boundary issue. This is not something I would do for anyone else so I shouldn’t be making an exception for this person. My weak spot is that I had just gotten done hearing all about this person’s personal issues (housing issues, money trouble, work schedule conflicts etc etc) so I was feeling bad for them. I am such a sucker. This person has a track record of not taking the courses seriously by leaving early, coming in late, not turning work in on time, not pulling their weight in group work, stealing ideas and otherwise doing their best to skate by on the coat tales of others. Not to mention I do not live near campus. I live downtown more than a half hour away. We are talking roughly an hour and a half out of my day for this.

After I said it shouldn’t be a problem the person went up and spoke to the professor and I heard her tell him to just email her the paper instead of worrying about the hard copy, all I could think was Thank Goodness!

So I did not give it a second thought. Then tonight Todd and I are getting ready for bed and I go to plug my phone into the charger in the kitchen. Once I plug it in I see I have a missed text. Immediately I am annoyed because I prefer not to receive calls or texts after 7pm on weekdays. I check it though in case it is my parents or a friend in trouble etc. It’s not, of course.

It was my classmate texting to see if I would print their paper tomorrow and drop it off with the professor at school. But that’s not all, of course it’s not, they also asked if I would edit their paper for them. They offered to buy me Starbucks as compensation for the editing.

Are they serious?! Um it’s 10:00 and NO. No to all of it, no to everything. No to you texting me at 10:00 at night, No to driving for an hour to drop off your late work for you, No to cheating and No to your bribe. Just No.

It is time to have a conversation with this person. I will be diplomatic because it is not like this person is going away but it is time to establish very clear boundaries. It is also time that this person understand my character a little better so these inappropriate requests will stop.I cannot fault someone for what they do not know. This person is clearly someone who is going to try to get away with what they can, but I am not your Yes Man. I am not weak minded and although I may have a momentary lapse in judgement occasionally, like when I stupidly agreed to help in the first place, those lapses are few, far between and quickly corrected.

Here are the points I need to make

1. I do not deal in bribes.
2. I do not collaborate unless we are given permission to work in groups. That includes editing.
3. I live a half hour from campus and I am not an errand boy.
4. I am “off the clock” at 7pm everyday and I am not available on the weekends unless it is set up in advance and it is a large group project.
5. I do not appreciate late night calls/texts. It is inappropriate and unprofessional. See Bullet point 4.

I talked to my brother about all of this because he knows the person as well. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being too rigid but he validated my concerns and admitted he wasn’t too sure about this person either. Sometimes (quite often in my case) you have to listen to your intuition. I am going to have to deal with this tomorrow. It is important to me that going forward I have an understanding with this person because I would never do anything to bring my character into question and I am not going to get tangled up with someone else whose character is unclear to me.