You probably know that a lot of the work I do with clients is around teaching healthy boundaries.
That I’m fascinated with Boundaries in no way implies that I’m excellent with them! Quite the opposite: because I’ve built the skill from scratch, because I’ve observed and pondered and obsessed, because I’m good at teaching, my service is useful to those are a few steps behind me with their boundary skills, those who wonder if they’re passing on bad boundaries rather than good ones to their kids.
Which brings me to today’s Boundaries ah-ha story, how I’m still learning and working on myself, and maybe this step forward for me will help you too.
Having great boundaries is really a bundle of skills, not just one. There’s noticing that your boundary was crossed, and then there’s knowing what to do about it. This is a story about the noticing and resolving to speak up in a constructive way, rather than continuing with my usual reactive pattern.
A member of my family watched my 2 year old while I went to a yoga class. He had a commitment right after, so we agreed he’d meet me right outside, hand over le bebe, and be on his way.
As the class ends, he texts me, “Meet you across from the stairs, in front of the park” and I respond “OK.”
I’m looking for a man with a blond toddler and I don’t see them. I’m looking across the street at the park, confused, and so I call. He answers and is annoyed that I’m confused, tells me they’re parked in the car. So now I’m looking for a parked car, on the park-side of the street, and not finding them. Eventually I see they’re double parked on the other side of the street.
With my cheery yoga glow, I say, “I was looking for you over there!” My daughter wants a full explanation of my confusion, and I say something to the effect of “we didn’t communicate well,” and the driver of the car gets huffy. He says that his communication was perfectly clear, and with his tone implies that I’m a total dunce. Yoga buzz kill.
We go back and forth a bit. I point out what would have been clearer for me, but I stop talking when it’s apparent that he’s unwilling to take any ownership. This is a pattern of ours. I engage with Mr. High and Mighty and disengage when I don’t get anywhere but blamed. Then we usually drop it.
This is a minor incident, but I certainly feel annoyed with him. It’s fair to say my boundaries around how I expect to be treated were crossed. This pattern distances us, and it’s not what I’d characterize as respectful or healthy.
My not-so-helpful response? To withdraw. To stew in resentful thoughts. To wonder long after I’m home whether I want my daughter treated this way by this family member, blamed for silly things I hope a wiser person would simply take in stride.
Then I started coaching myself, recognizing that I was shamed and then I went into stewing. I thought, I’m caught in Pig, wallowing in the dirt, getting dirtier with the hurtful thoughts, making a mess instead of cleaning it up.
Recognizing my response as separate from myself is so useful! It brings back choice. Instead of saying “This is just how I am” or “This is how I feel”, which seem permanent and unchangeable, I was thinking, “I’m caught in Pig mode…do I want to be?” That lens makes it possible and actually quite easy to shift.
What’s better than being Piggy? Deciding how I want to speak up about this pattern, getting vulnerable about how it hurts and where my mind goes, actually talking about the problem rather than sweeping it under the rug because I’m grateful I got to go to yoga tonight.
Try it yourself: What animal do you become when you’re reactive? What about your kids?
This is a playful way put the problem a bit outside ourselves, so that those animal traits can be examined, questioned, and tossed aside for a better solution. With time, I’ll recognize that my boundaries were crossed and I’m in Pig mode more quickly. Then I’ll shift and make the better route the habit.
Give this a try and tell me how it goes!
In support of you,