Boundaries

WE HAVE TO WATCH OUT WHERE WE’RE GOING: Boundary Errors and Boundary Violations

First, a boundary is “This is how close you can come to me:” physically, spiritually, in conversations about love or money, etc.

A “boundary error” is when someone, whether friend or foe, has crossed over into my space, my yard, my soul, or my pasture because they didn’t notice the “No Trespassing” sign or signal. As the poet William Stafford says, “The signals we give should be clear. The darkness around us is deep.” Or, as Robert Frost less dramatically put it, “Good fences make good neighbors.” A boundary error is simply a mistake, made, more or less, innocently. When informed, the perpetrators can see or hear their errors and can apologize and vow to be respectful in the future.

On the other hand is the “boundary violation.” This is committed when a person has been informed and warned, often numerous times, what your particular boundaries are in a certain situation, but keeps pushing and pressing in on the boundaries you have communicated. This is when the person will not respect those boundaries and, to some lesser or greater degree, knows that it irritates you, frustrates you, or makes you angry. This person might justify and rationalize their unwanted behavior and say that they are just “teasing,” “playing,” or “kidding” while telling you to “lighten up.” In truth, the above behaviors are just passive-aggressive pebbles in your shoe as you walk through the relationship. Or, worse violations feel like boulders on your head or stabs to the heart.

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What to do and what to say depends on who it is and in what context you feel those errors or violations are committed. Generally, boundary errors get committed once and are willingly corrected. Boundary violators get two warnings, and on the third time you may have to start rethinking your relationship to the violator, whether a boss, friend, family, lover, or spouse.

The really sad thing is that many people don’t know what boundaries are, don’t have very good boundaries themselves, and often confuse boundaries with walls. Where good boundaries exist, walls are not necessary. Boundaries—done appropriately—increase intimacy and communication, and reduce conflict and confrontations.

Here are a few common examples. People think that it is okay to talk about other peoples’ bodies. I have a beautiful friend who gets told by complete strangers, “You’re too thin!” or, “Are you eating enough?” Pregnant women get their bellies touched by complete strangers. Babies get pinched on the cheek. One friend had to stop a woman he’d never even seen before from putting a sock back on his very young son.

The real remedy? Ask before touching. Get information. Don’t assume—you know what that does. Tell folks your boundaries and tell them when they’ve committed errors so they won’t turn into violations, and get really acquainted with your own boundaries.

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Passivity – Part I

Solving the Problem of Passivity

Passivity is the compulsion to pursue the opposite of what we say we want. This compulsion left unidentified and dealt with leaves us unfulfilled at best, sabotages success and at worst depressed, hopeless and feeling victimized.

“I don’t care. Whatever you want is fine with me.”

“It is not the job I want but in this economy you really can’t be choosy.”

“He’s not perfect but I’m thirty-five years old. Nobody’s perfect. I’m sure we will grow into love.”

“I’d love to write. I’ve always dreamed someday I’d write but I have kids and a job. Not everybody gets their dreams to come true. Maybe when I retire…”

“I can’t believe what is going on in Washington these days. They are all idiots and con men. But there’s nothing an average Joe like me can do about it.”

“Go ask your father. If he says yes, then it’s okay.”

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

“It’s just not in the cards.”

“It’s not God’s will.”

“I guess I’m just unlucky.”

“Some people get all the breaks.”

“It is what it is.”

Does any of the above ring a bell? If they do you may have some areas in life where passivity rules your attitudes, behaviors, personality and decisions. Perhaps you have settled for less than you felt you deserved or you “adapted” to your present situation or relationship rather than changing them. Did you “cop out,” give up, quit and become hopeless and helpless feeling like you were a victim of fate rather than a creator of your own destiny?

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Unfortunately, many people have developed a greater connection to loss and feeling less than; they settle for unfulfilling relationships or careers that never quite achieve their creative potentials. Surviving, rather than thriving, has become the state that many of us are not only used to but are compelled to pursue.

As one highly successful surgeon said to me who was growing increasingly wary of settling said, “I always feel I am half the husband, half the father, half the friend and half the doctor I know I can be even though I’m considered to be very successful in my field.”

I said, “It sounds like you are living a half-lived life.”

“Exactly! But I am fifty years old. I don’t want to say this at sixty or seventy. I want the second half of my life to be a much fuller, satisfying life, but I’m not sure how.”

I’ll tell you what I told him. By coming out of denial, identifying the parts of your life where passivity prevails, working with the origins of your passivity, becoming aware of the signs and behaviors and acquiring new, but tried and tested tools, information and insights that will serve as solutions you can fully engage life, work, relationships, creativity, parenting, grand-parenting and much more.

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Unbecoming: From Despair to Love-Part 3

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Emerson

Coming here to this cottage in the woods I assigned myself what I know now to be an impossible task and that was to learn how to be alone again and in so doing engage in the task of being happy. I needed to know that in this rural setting with no lovers, wives, little money, but dump truck loads of peace and quiet I could I acquire this illusory thing called happiness that everyone including me has been so desperately searching for most of our lives.

It turns out that once again the philosopher Kierkegaard would have a useful insight, “Happiness is the greatest hiding place for despair.” “But Herr K” I whined, “the United States’ Constitution says, as does the internet, formerly Madison Avenue everyman has the right to pursue happiness—it is a guaranteed if I get the right job, right education, right spouse, right kids, right house in the right neighborhood I should be happy right?”

So happiness is “If this—Then”. If I don’t get the “right” everything then I’m not going to be happy. This is the cracked foundation on which our “happiness” home is built. It may take years or even decades or a divorce or a death for us to realize this house of straw could be blown over by the big bad wolf of bad luck, bad timing, and bad choices.

Yet it is in this house that we try to “make” our wives, children, husbands or parents happy. What happens when happiness is not achieved or acquired, caught, trapped and claimed as one’s birthright? Most of us feel like we’ve done something wrong, missed the proverbial boat and maybe even fallen out of God’s graces.

Outer circumstances, objectionable people, wars, bankruptcy, poverty, alcoholism seem to be the unhappiness rain that falls on both the just and the unjust. Happiness is more like a mirage in the desert that looks like a place we can eventually get to, claim as our own and drink it’s eternal, flowing waters—our own personal, emotional, spiritual and financial oasis.

“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out into the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Let me be clear here I am no Thoreau. I have wifi, laptop, desktop, ipad, iphone, and a satellite tv with a million channels. However what I’ve found now that I’ve lived here a year is that when I’m calm enough to remember to take full deep breaths and stand on my studio’s deck and look at the gentle pastures, slopes and hills and I see the horses in the pasture across the road buck at the first sign of cool fall air I experience joy. When I’m quiet and not missing somebody or something and the geese fly right over my house every year about this time headed south I feel a deep and abiding sense of peace and joy. When these honking angels decide to light on the still, small pond beside my studio I think this joy could last ten thousand years in this one eternal moment.

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Joy is something, as alone, lonely, sad, as I am almost every day is experienced a dozen to a hundred times a day. While happiness seems like a permanent commodity I should have bought off the internet and that I’ve paid for emotionally, educationally and financially it always seems to be just beyond the grasp of these too short arms.

Happiness is pursued while joy is received. All these elegant trees on my property and the neighbors’ stand waiting for the joy of their beauty to reach my eyes and then my heart. Some times when the wind is strong enough they wave at me to get my divided attention. The pines especially today are insistent on saying hello. It seems like joy is enhanced in direction proportion to how I reduce my expectancy and search for happiness. Joy can be experienced only in the precious moment. It can give birth to ecstasy, enthusiasm, and even momentary enlightenment. For us to be happy something has to happen to make us so. While joy is quixotic, mercurial, temporary it is available anytime night or day.

Happiness then says something must change and you’ll have me. Joy says you can have me anytime you want; I’m at your beck and call. Anytime you want to see that hawk that just flew over your head, that look in your own eye when you see your children that comes from within, anytime you access that ability you have to stop wanting, wanting things to be different than they are, wanting yourself to be different than you are, wanting happiness, you can experience the joy that is in you, and around you twenty-four seven whether you’re in the woods or in a high rise.