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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Boundaries & the Unacceptable: Is It Always Possible to Say No?

In these posts and my monthly newsletter articles, I've written a lot about the importance of developing healthy boundaries, and about the fact that implicit in this growth is that this is one of the ways we learn to love ourselves.

So when someone behaves in ways that are unacceptable to you, or speaks to you with words or in tones that are unacceptable to you, it's very important not only to make that known - that their behavior, words, or tone (or all three) - are unacceptable, but that there will be a consequence.

If a four-year-old is practicing picking up his toys before bath time, and his mother is showing him how to do this, it makes sense that after some time of practicing, she then tells him that from now on, picking up the toys will be his job when he gets called to have his bath. Suppose the mother asks if he agrees to do this, and suppose the little child says yes. At this point, it would be very important for the mother to explain that because it is his job, if he doesn't do it, or refuses, or dawdles too much, that there will be a consequence. NOT, I hasten to add, a punishment. You agree to adhere to this way of behaving, and if you don't, then this is what will happen. In the child's case it might be not being allowed to watch Sesame Street that evening, or whatever it is that kids are watching nowadays. Something short. Something that will neither break him, nor the parents, but nevertheless something that is important to him. In our adult lives, the consequence might be a €300 fine for speeding in our new sports car on the expressway.

So in our adult relationships consequences have to also be spelled out with courtesy, kindness, and patience. Without them, boundaries mean nothing. And of course this applies even if you are only coming to the "table" regarding the subject of boundaries after years of having put up with unacceptable behavior. So then you apply some measure of the above, will hopefully get through to the other person, or, if not, you may need to make another kind of decision.

But what happens when you are caught up in the depths of Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole with your partner (or whoever it is with whom you are having a boundaries issue)? Let's say that there seems to be no clear reality-based foundation upon which you can share your differing points of view. Let's say your partner says the earth is flat and you, of course, know it is not (no, I am not talking about the man in the White House). Or let's say your partner says that yesterday you said it never rains, where it clearly shows in the texted conversation you both had that you said it always rains in the spring. But it's not acknowledged as such, and therefore you:
  • arrive at an impasse
  • engage in a tremendous argument
  • recommend your partner makes an appointment with a psychiatrist
  • break off relations
  • or you pretend all is well, and for the sake of peace things carry on as they were in a flat world where it never rains
Do you see my point? Insisting on maintaining boundaries in situations of this nature may imply impossible options, assuming you have been trying to resolve this for some time. 

I don't pretend to have any answers. All I can say is that I also continue to search.

But remember this: if you are caught up in one of these situations that can be heart-rendingly heart-breaking, remember to work on maintaining your inner peace, remember to hold compassion and loving kindness high in your heart, and above all, remember to love yourself. Remember as well: this may be the path you need to walk in order to allow that lotus that you are (we all are) to emerge further from the mud ...


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