A common life saying goes something like, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” But I’d also like to add, “And it’s not your fault.” While we easily think our way in and out of problems we can see coming for miles, the invisible ones require a different awareness to keep us from repeating frustrating or painful experiences. These may involve unexplainable behaviors that make us feel sad, mad, afraid or even tired of the relationship. When these issues show up for you, setting a course of self-reflection and change may be a good choice.
You might fairly ask, “How can I change something wrong when I don’t know what it is?” First of all, nothing is wrong; blind spots in how we are perceived and how this impacts our interactions with others is as natural as air – we all share in it and breathe deeply. If you are hurting (feeling sad, mad or afraid) when you are with certain people in your life but not others, and feedback from many sources you trust additionally confirm you are not perpetuating the pain on your own, something is likely awry and may be a rich target for serious self improvement work. While it would be easy to conclude “They’re doing it to me! They’re the crazy one!” I refrain from going down that path as it is the least accountable (and least effective) way to think about your pain in specific relationships or situations.
In the holiday season what is likely to test the tenacity of your personal boundaries, however, are of course certain types of people – often from our own family systems – who seem teed up perfectly to hit you in your most vulnerable area. And who look for that moment when you let your guard down so they can get their way.
For example, people who have the hardest time saying “no” to people they love and/or those in their close extended family inevitably end up face to face with emotional trespassers – or, as some professionals refer to them, people who are “boundary free.” Simply stated…your boundaries are meaningless to them, especially when they keep them from getting what they want from you. When they are at their worst, and you at your most vulnerable, you likely feel you are just a resource to them and not a person at all. That combination can be devastating. It’s a bit like a wild bull stampeding toward your front door and just as it arrives you swing the door wide open (you hate to say “no”) and it barrels into your home and life (boundary free) and tramples you completely.
None of this is a personal failing, it’s learned – on everyone’s part. If you have less than strong and healthy boundaries you may attract (or are simply a welcome habitat for) boundary-free people. If you were raised in a home where one or both parents didn’t appear to respect your personal boundaries you probably don’t have healthy ones yourself. Most challenging too is the incidence where people who abhor the boundary-free behavior of others while at the same time have a blind spot to their very own similar behaviors.
The parent-child relationship is, to be candid, fertile soil in which to grow boundary issues that flourish later on as life progresses. Parents can trespass their children’s boundaries in numerous ways.
A few examples include:
(1) Blaming or enrolling a child as being responsible for the parents mood or feelings that may have nothing to do with the child’s behavior.
(2) Acting overly hurt (melodramatic) or getting excessively emotional and playing victim (perhaps when the child simply disagrees with the parent over what movie to watch or whose pie tastes better), and/or when he/she can arrive for a return visit home (adult child).
(3) Competing with the child to serve a deep insecurity such as needing to seem smarter, prettier, funnier or just….better. An individual shared an experience about a regular family event which included playing board games where the mother would transform into a brutal competitor…taunting, cheering herself on, and taking great joy at wiping out her family members one by one with a visible sense of triumph as she figuratively beat them up through-out the evening. Ok…winning is not an evil thing but this kind of behavior is not a about healthy family time or even competition. It’s an emotional over-reach that signifies someone has some serious work to do…inside themselves. The trouble is everyone else sees (and feels) it – but they don’t see how it changes them. Which brings us back to our original thought – they don’t know what they don’t know.
The risk that boundary-free people can seek you out and may trample your life at any time, whether you hold the door open or not, reminds us to urge you all to think of your own worth. Reflect on your relationships – all of them – and refine your sense of when and how you feel most (and least) valued. Is your value based on how you make someone else feel or look, or is it based on loving attention to your needs and personal worth, which can be signified by your ability to feel, more often than not, that you have a voice and a choice….and (to top it off) that you feel respected.
This holiday season may put you squarely back into the corral of long repeated patterns of family or other relational dynamics which inevitably test your (and everyone’s) boundaries. You may feel yourself acquiesce into a past comfortable though now outdated and undesirable role. If you feel yourself slipping into anger, disappointment, or fear (assuming you are not intentionally using these emotions yourself to manipulate others) your boundaries may be slipping. You can hoist them back into place without making a scene by simply and respectfully saying, “No thank you.” And if pressed again, “Yes, I appreciate that….thank you…but really, no thanks.” You get the point….use whatever works but make sure the word “no” shows up. A “No” without a hole in it would be best but if someone sees through it then back it up with a “Niet” (Russian), “Nai” (Japanese), “Ni” (Irish) or “Nein” (German).
Your polite and respectful “no thank you” is not a killjoy; it’s actually a preserve-joy. And, like with some brick walls, people may hit their heads against it a few times before they realize how solid it is. After all, it’s a boundary forged in love, the love you have for yourself. When others see and feel this from you they too might learn to love and respect themselves in the very same way.
Living for the love of it,
Dawna Grigsby and Alan Daigneault
Learn about the Ribbon of Worth at Zest of Life.com it is a necklace with a story for gift giving.