Thursday, June 10, 2010

More on Setting Boundaries


Over at MrSponsorPants, there has been some quarreling over setting and keeping boundaries. He had posted a saying: "If you can't keep the boundary, don't set the boundary," and the drama-mongers descended like flies.

Of course it wasn't entirely clear what he meant. I took it to mean that if somebody keeps crossing your boundaries, then stop setting them at all--walk away from that person. Others took it to mean he was saying "give up and don't tell them what you need," but obviously that would be destructive advice; it would be like saying, "Okay, since you're going to walk all over me, I'll just let you." I can't see MrSponsorPants ever advising that.

He cleared the matter up today by saying what he really meant was that he has a tendency to beat himself up when he sets a boundary and then somebody keeps crossing it. He gets mad at himself: "Why did I even try? I set myself up for this." That's actually not all that far from what I'd originally thought he'd meant.

Getting clear about boundaries has done wonders for my own peace of mind. It's all related to the "serenity" and "personal responsibility" and "what's my business and what isn't" concepts. If I draw a line and say "here's what I'll do; here's what I won't do," that's damned clear. If someone pushes and tries to cross the "here's what I won't do" line, then they're either an asshole; or they didn't really hear me; or they're prioritizing their own need over mine. That happens. Sometimes there are just conflicting needs. You can agree to call a truce and just avoid this particular hot spot with each other. But if it's a hot spot that can't be avoided, then sometimes there has to be a merry parting of the ways. It's really that simple.

No blame; no finger-pointing; no judgments; just a simple "this isn't gonna work."

I've been pondering lately the frequency with which I used to adjust my own boundaries in the past for the sake of accommodating someone else. I think I used to think of boundaries as negotiating points. That was dumb! If they're negotiable, they're not boundaries, now, are they, Joyce? Duh. So it's no wonder people didn't respect them. They'd push, prod, poke, until I'd back up a bit. And then so I could feel okay about things, I'd have to rationalize giving in and somehow try to square it with myself. Meanwhile, they're working on trying to get me to back up even more. What a sucker I was. It's no wonder I drank. I was constantly trying to live with myself.

I just figured, "Damn. Life is hard."

No. Not really. It really isn't. We make it complicated ourselves.

I have become incredibly direct. I think about things for a few days (instead of making impulsive decisions, which are usually self-serving decisions and not well made) and then state the rules as I need them to be. I never knew I had such power. Who knew how many people would back off once they realize you MEAN what you say when you say it?

When I first got sober, a colleague who has been sober for a little over three years told me: "The way I see it now is, I just needed to grow up." He was dead on. Alcoholics, addicts, and even a good many sober people--we just need to grow up. Toss the bullshit in the trash. Find your values. Then align your behaviors with your values. Everything else will follow.

It's not always easy because sometimes your values will bring you into conflict with others. But their stuff is THEIR stuff. THEY are free to do as THEY want. It's THEIR life. I can sit here all day and psychoanalyze everybody else and tsk-tsk-tsk over mistakes I think I see them making, which can range from a bad haircut to voting a certain way on the ballot. BUT THE BOTTOM LINE IS, IT'S NOT MY BUSINESS.

It's only my business when they make it mine by involving me, or by trying to involve me. I then have the choice to be involved or not. If being involved requires me to do something I don't want or something that's not good for me or will hurt someone I care about, then sorry. I will choose to walk away. Period.

I'm not going to even bother setting the boundary. I'm not even going to have the conversation. I'm going to say, "Not for me. But you have fun."

Thus: "If you can't keep the boundary, don't set the boundary."

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