Boundaries… so tough to maneuver in close knit communities. We seem to feel that just because someone is close to us or is family or shares some of our beliefs or interests, that we can walk into their space and life.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in therapy is setting boundaries. I’ve come to see boundaries like fences and walls and doors built up around my heart-home. Some are easy to climb over even without an invitation, others are practically impenetrable. I set them individually depending on how respectful a person is of my outward boundaries.
Folks who ignore my initial “no trespassing” sign are automatically suspect and will take longer to find a way in, if ever. Others, who wait patiently at each checkpoint will find the way easy to navigate, though still time consuming.
I’m a complicated sort of person on the outside. But once you reach in (and there is quite a bit of depth and distance to get to the center), you will find me rather easy to read and understand.
Not everyone will make the difficult journey into my heart-home and that’s ok, because not many will want to (though I cant imagine why, I’m such a great person to know!). Differing areas of my heart-home, have different privileges, and obligations. There are many many rooms, corridors, and common areas. There is all kinds of room in my heart-home.
Some can walk into my bedroom, even sit on my bed, but they always must knock. Others are welcome into my home, but not my room. Almost everyone is welcome in my common areas outside my immediate living space or home. If someone starts wandering beyond their boundary, I’ve learned to tell them so. If they ignore my warning, I will set them further back behind a firmer/thicker wall. I am not kicking them out of my life, I am simply putting them somewhere safer for both of us. The few that continue to breach my walls, I completely snip the chords that bind us and place them out of my space altogether. I had to do that with Fairbanks. Very few will get sent out of my space, because my space is fairly large.
Some people like big spaces, other people like small spaces. Some like them open and others like compartments. Like most things I’m finding myself somewhere in the middle. I like a small house with large common grounds. I don’t like tripping over people and things, but I also don’t like stark openness. I like simple lines, predictability and a lot of variety. I like keeping the most meaningful objects and people intimately close to me. Both figurative and literally.
One of the ways people inadvertently breach my boundaries is through passive aggressive behavior. I prefer directness, and I’ll let you know. Don’t tell me I’ve fallen off the face of the earth! E-mail me and say, “hi, I miss you!” Don’t phone me, I rarely answer the phone. It honestly induces panic in me. Text me! Don’t ask me, “is there a reason you are showing your bosoms,” tell me my shirt is unbuttoned…or don’t. if you don’t know me, don’t ask, “does your mother know about your hair?” Because my mother loves my hair and it’s none of your business. Don’t tell me you hate my words, or actions, or artwork, but love me. I AM my words, actions and artwork!! If you don’t like me, go away. If you do. Accept that I am who am. Stop trying to change me. Don’t try to improve me. (I’m pressure myself enough as it is!) I don’t like passive aggressive behavior and I don’t like people breaching my boundaries.
So my siblings and family are allowed to ask a lot more (as long as it is direct) than perfect strangers. But it still doesn’t mean I will answer the phone, because I really don’t do phones. And just because I may attend an event in which many there share similar interests or beliefs, doesn’t automatically make you my bestie, and give you the right to touch me, or share intimate details of your life with me, or expect me to do the same.
It takes a very long time to become my bestie. While family gets far more chances than strangers, they are still bound by my boundaries (depending on how much I trust them) while in my space.
When someone breaches a boundary, here’s how I’ve learned to handle it. I tell them (or write to them) and say:
When you do or say (fill in the blank and I’m very specific)
I feel (fill in the blank)
I then offer an alternative thing to say or behavior that I find more acceptable for me
If needed, I add:
If you continue to (fill in the blank specific behavior of words)
I will (whatever I feel I can follow through on)
I have lost some friends after setting boundaries, so I recommend everyone think long and hard before taking this approach.
Sometimes, (ok, most of the time) the consequence of breaching my boundary is as simple as telling the breacher exactly how I feel about an offensive remark or action. Sometimes, it’s as drastic as cutting them out of my life and space (very rare). Those are two extremes. Usually I don’t have to go farther than just letting the breached know how they contributed to my own feelings and behaviors. There has even been one time I had to set a boundary with my therapist!! (Pat on the back for moi!)
So that’s how I’m currently setting my boundaries. Healthy boundaries are good me me.
Hmmm, as I write this, it makes me wonder if God sets boundaries like me… rather egotistical, I know…it’s how I roll.
How do you set your boundaries? What worked what didn’t work? I’d love to hear.