Friday, November 30, 2012

More thoughts about boundaries - but still not a series or that insures the Myans will be right.

If we know our own boundaries, we can identify what makes us uncomfortable.  Boundaries are impacted by a multitude of factors like self-esteem, past experience, and (my favorite) COMMUNICATION SKILLS.  Since we are not perfect mind-readers, it is inevitable in relationship that someone will step over that invisible and often changing boundary line.  When we make our boundaries known, we set LIMITS.  Limits have a volume knob, and can be turned up or down depending on the needs of the situation.  Some people keep the volume on 27 all the time, and the slightest boundary infringement is met with LOUD AND AGGRESSIVE LIMITS.  Some people don't turn it up enough and their limits are often ignored.  I feel like I need a flow chart.  (Aside:  I actually tried to make a flow chart.  Yeah.  I have 2 kids, 4 horses and a full time job.  Not enough brain cells left over to make one.  See blog post on reasonable expectations)

Limits too strong says "SCREW YOU, YOU DID IT ON PURPOSE AND BY GOD YOU'RE NOT GOING TO DO IT AGAIN!!!"  However, this is just one violation met with another.  Tit for Tat.  You violated me now I'm going to violate you.  Then the other person reacts to having their boundaries violated and so on, and so on, and so on . . . Strong emotion (see previous posts on the addictive nature of strong emotion and endorphins!)

Not strong enough says "I'm worthless, you don't care about me, I'm a hostage."  The violatee feels helpless and resentful, unable to take care of him or herself and frequently responds with passive-aggressive behaviors or avoidance.  The violat-er is totally clueless most of the time, and has no idea why all of a sudden they're getting the cold shoulder.  More strong emotion as our amygdala responds to a perceived threat. 

Reasonable limits say "Hey, I care about myself, and about our relationship and I need to let you know that you crossed the line.  My expectation is that you will accomodate my need for you to step back."  With a good sense of boundaries and reasonable limits, there is no need for strong emotion.  It's emotion on the level of "please pass the salt."  The expectation is that your needs will be met, if at all possible.

Let's play this out in real life:
You're dating someone, and they ask you to get together.  You are feeling tired, and looking forward to a quiet evening at home.  Panic ensues as you decide how to proceed.  Do you do what you want to do and risk the other person getting irritated about it?  Or do what they want you to do and ignore your own needs??  Is there a compromise to be found?  Boundaries mean you face this situation without anxiety.

Hey - want to get together later?
Actually I was looking forward to crashing on the couch and being in a TV coma.  How about Tuesday?

Good boundaries looks like no one getting their feelings hurt, no one feeling rejected, and no one taking the information as a personal attack.  We leave the situation with the same emotional neutrality as if we'd asked someone to pass the salt.  We expect the response to be a positive "Sure!"  or at worst "Hang on one sec."  Point is, we go into the situation anticipating that our need will be met, so we have no anxiety in asking.  If we were to ask "Could you please pass the salt?" and hear instead "ARE YOU KIDDING ME????  I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU EVEN SAID THAT!!!!   I DON'T HAVE TO TAKE THIS S&^*!"  We would clearly identify that the OTHER person was out of line, wonder who peed in their wheaties, and fear for their sanity.  Goodness.  A simple request treated as if we'd shown up naked for Christmas Dinner AND asked for a kidney.  However, when we make that request for something else . . . like "excuse me, but I believe I was next in line . . . "  Filled with terror.  Often leading to reacting with ANGER and nasty glares without saying one darn thing.  In relationship, we often don't ask, and get resentful because we didn't get our needs met.  

Ask, and ye shall receive . . . at least an answer.  What I know is that if you DON'T ask, it's a sure thing you won't get it.  Worst that can happen is someone says no.  Actually WORST is that they don't know how to say no, and get pissed at you for asking.  But you don't have to own that :)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Everything I need to know about boundaries, I can learn from my horse.

It's fairly common that I write a post and then spend the next few days thinking "I wish I'd said ______!"  I've been thinking about boundaries in relationships and thought I'd continue on that subject.  I'm tempted to call it a "SERIES" but that implies intent to come up with some sort of coherent plan.  Here's a shout out to all the magical thinkers out there when I say I'm not going to call it a series because that will insure that something crazy happens so I can't finish it.  So we'll call it "another thought on the subject of boundaries in relationship."

I've been hanging out with
 this tree for 12 years.
 In my humble opinion, the number one thing that makes relationship work is boundaries.  Now I'm not talking about just dating here, I'm talking about relationship with any other person on the planet, but it's especially important in an intimate relationship, mostly because this is the place where the stakes are highest.  We have relationship on many different levels.  I often say to clients that I have a relationship with this tree outside my office window.  I am quite attached to it in fact.  We spend a lot of time together and it brings me joy.  The relationship isn't very deep, and I don't think it's reciprocal (I think I get more out of it than the tree), but the tree hasn't made any needs known to me so I can't really be responsible for that.  I have a relationship with the bank teller, the grocery store clerk, and my mailman in addition to the close relationships

So boundaries. 

This word gets tossed around willy-nilly out there, but it's another one of those words that has been over-used and mis-used so often it isn't all that helpful (like "codependent" and "alcoholic."  Try to get an objective definition of those out there in the world.  Ugh.)  Boundaries refer to where your space is, and how much your space gets to mingle with someone else's space.  In relationship, it is important to have a sense of our own boundaries, as well as a sense of the boundaries of others.

My horses have a supreme sense of boundaries.  Their relationships are well defined.  Max is in charge.  Interestingly, he tolerates Josie eating out of his same pile of hay rather than the other two mares and NEVER the other geldings.  I'm guessing it's because Josie is the herd whipping girl.  Low man on the totem pole.  Not any chance she will challenge Max for his throne.  At this point, they have figured it out.  Recently, we added another horse to the mix.  He's another gelding, and came from a herd where he was the boss.  Max, my docile, sweet 900 pound golden retriever chased the newcomer through the pasture at a dead run.  Teeth bared, ears pinned any time that youngster even looked crosseyed at one of the mares.  Mr. C stopped even trying to join the herd after a few minutes, and picked a clump of grass far away from Max and his girls.  C tested the boundaries, Max set limits, and they all settled into the relationship. 

Order is restored.

Animals know how much emphasis to put into setting boundaries.  I'm looking at the newcomer in my pasture and knowing he's one heck of a horse if Max had to convince him that thoroughly that he's still the boss.  C's owner is one lucky human.  :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm Jealous of my Cats.


As I'm sitting here on a chilly Saturday afternoon procrastinating about work, realizing that I could realistically work all the time and still not get caught up, the family cats are keeping me company (see, you thought I just learned from horses!).  Frankly, I'm a little jealous.  They throw themselves into grooming each other with complete and utter abandon.  I'm struck by the ease with which they accept nurturing from each other:  eyes closed, no worries about whether they're doing it right or enough or whether the other will get up and leave. 

I'm sure there's some sort of formula for reciprocity going on here, but from the outside it doesn't seem like they're worried about matching each other lick for lick, it's just pure heaven.  What would this sound like in many relationships out there?

(We enter the scene as both are sleeping soundly, paws entwined)
Shadow: (flips over, grabs Cali's head and licks her enthusiastically)  IT'S SO NICE WAKING UP WITH YOU!!!  I LOVE YOU!!!
Cal:  (doesn't budge) Hey that feels awesome, thanks.
Shadow:  How come you're not licking me back?
Cal:  Ummmmmmm . . . I guess I was soaking up the love. 
Shadow:  You're so selfish. (pouts)

When one or the other has had enough, they just move - or bite.  There's no hurt feelings, no pouting, nothing.  Imagine people saying "Ok, I'm done with you now" with no backlash!! 

That's what a world full of boundaries would be like.  We could go to one another and say things like "I really would like some affection, " without worrying that it makes us VULNERABLE (shoot.  that's supposed to be a sound effect . . . someone screaming NOOOOOOOOO!!!!).  Because God forbid we ask for something and the other person says NO.  That must mean we should never have asked, right?  No, good boundaries means anyone can ask for anything anytime they want.  And anyone else can consider any request and decide, based on a number of factors including quality of relationship, available energy level, etc.  And no one has to get their feelings hurt, because "NO" is not a commentary on one's goodness and worth as a person, it's just an answer. 

I'm working on being more like my animals.  Tons easier.  So get out there and love with abandon.  Communicate fearlessly.  Quit worrying so much about what's going on in someone else's head.  Say "I REALLY LIKE YOU" or ask for something without worrying if you're going to sound stupid, or if the other person is going to think you're up to something (which they may).  Yep.  Sometimes it won't be reciprocated, sometimes it will fall flat, and sometimes it will feel downright weird.  But vulnerable?  Vulnerable to what?  Hurt?  Disappointment?  The only way to avoid those is to never take a risk.  But then we're just alone.  My cats think alone is not the way to go.  I'm with them.