Building Better Boundaries

“Honestly expressing yourself…it is very difficult to do. I mean it is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky and be flooded with a cocky feeling and then feel like pretty cool…or I can make all kind of phony things, you see what I mean, blinded by it or I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself…now that, my friend, is very hard to do.”

Bruce Lee

Bruce lee said this in an interview many years ago. He was being interviewed about a movie he was in, but went off into his philosophy of martial arts and expression, with the former being something he studied in school. He tries to find a link between the intrinsic desires we have, and the physicality of martial arts. I think he nails it when he says, honest expression can be hard, but why is that?

Learning how to set boundaries with people around us can be challenging, especially when speaking up feels hard to do. But why is it so hard?

Growing up, I was a push-over, and I usually said yes to everything. I used to be called spic and other racial terms all the time, but I never fought back; instead, letting myself build up anger and blowing up on people that didn’t deserve it. And let me tell you, I got in a lot of trouble in school for those times.

What happens when we don’t stand up and set a boundary is it always backfires. We are responsible for any response we give to others, and to not say anything is a disservice to them and yourself. The reason I suspect some people don’t say anything is fear from the other person, fear that they will be resented for saying anything. Another reason could be a lack of self-worth; imposing could be asking for attention and trouble, and the thought could be “I don’t want to be a bother.” Why does that thought occur?

Setting boundaries means having respect for yourself, and understanding boundaries acknowledges respect for the other person. This may sound elementary, but everyone didn’t learn from a place of growth. And if lack of self-worth is there, it contributes greatly to setting boundaries or understanding boundaries. I didn’t think I needed help in this regard, but man was I wrong, and I find myself learning all this now, while making many mistakes along the way. Lack of self-respect affects your working relationships too, saying yes to everything, or letting things slide because you don’t want to speak up. Not changing and lacking self-respect cost me everything, and now I am back to square one, learning things that were probably encouraged in households with kids as young as five.

You could argue that those in developmental hell aren’t worth a damn since they only cause problems in the work force, and I can agree… to a point. Development is life long, and it doesn’t end with a degree or high paying job. Why else do many people suffer in silence, or have issues with confidence and are preyed upon to pursue cars and other products to feel “Happy,” despite having that six-figure salary? Why else are we drawn to gyms and other superficial things that really mean nothing when we are 6 feet under? You can see it with certain companies and industries: you are a better consumer if you are weak willed and insecure. And truthfully, now is the best time for companies and marketers to make us think we need something to feel better then how we may feel now.

I like to think we crave some form of continuity, connection, and community. We love to walk into bars and shops and be recognized instantly, and to receive a greeting of warmth and geniality. And I believe we desire intimacy, and we like knowing that we are cared for. Being intimate is to be human, and to do so requires an understanding of boundaries.

Intimacy can be defined as “close familiarity or friendship; closeness.” During this time, we have been utilizing social media to remain close, making phone calls or texts to reach out and check-in with friends and loved ones, or using face time or Zoom to feel like we are in the same room speaking to one another. One of the major adaptations I see is who we talk to. Before, having connections with people or saying a hello here or there was taken for granted. When there were no limitations to speaking or connecting, maybe it felt easy to throw a hook into the ocean and expect anything to swim up and take the bait, the bait being our intrinsic longing for closeness. I bet it is no surprise to notice that the many people you may have been talking to aren’t cracking your top five people to speak to on the phone.

In a way, it is kind of sad to notice, that person you may have been saying hi to in the morning and chatting with for a few minutes is someone you aren’t thinking of, or the person you chat sports with at work isn’t engaged at all on social media with you. But it can also be a blessing in disguise since we can better find out who we recognize as our close friends, and may also remind us that everyone’s time is precious, and maybe getting to know someone is more than chatting sports and saying hi. And noticing the boundaries of those we are living with in this purgatory can also be a reminder of ourselves and those in our lives, something couples have been learning and dealing with for decades, so it is nothing new.

Who do we really value, and who do we truly desire to have in our lives? Who do we love, and who do we care about? How much effort to we put into our friendships and relationships? And what even is a friend? And how much do boundaries affect all of this?

There are no rules to friendships and relationships; rather, the rules are the boundaries we set between one another, which is something to be mindful of and respected. And the first thing to understanding boundaries is to really acknowledge ourselves for who we are, our shortcomings and our triumphs. At the same time, being around people in our lives that don’t acknowledge us for our triumphs can, in fact, be an opportunity to learn and grow. I heard this the other day and I loved it.

“The person that is challenging our boundaries, challenging us and perhaps making us angry and irritable is in fact our teacher, and they are teaching us how to deal, how to approach, or how to set a boundary if necessary.”

And I agree, but most importantly, I think boundaries helps in how to express ourselves honestly.

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