Violating boundaries

I love thinking about boundaries.  The more I study them, the more ways I find that I have violated my own or another’s boundary.  Lately I’ve been considering how boundary violations make it more difficult to deal with conflict.  Obviously, boundary violations result in someone losing their sense of safety.  Conflict is neither resolved nor managed when safety is compromised for any one person in the disagreement.  Here are a few ways I have been rethinking the applications of boundaries during a conflict.  Boundary violations include:

1. Assuming that we know what others think, feel or why they do
2. Trying to solve other people’s problems
3. Asking other people to solve our problems

I am amazed at how certain I can be about what someone else’s motives are AND how often I am completely off-base.  It’s incredible to me how many times I have sought to help someone solve a problem that they did not believe they had.  But what flabbergasts me about myself the most is the number of times over the years, in both small and large ways, I have asked someone else to solve a problem that was my responsibility to tackle.  This doesn’t mean that we are all alone and without resources; this doesn’t mean we are never given the opportunity to provide our opinion on a subject. We can invite people to help us, we can offer help to others, we can ask for and/or ask to give feedback, but none of this is ok without permission.  And none of it gives us the right to expect others to follow our advice OR requires us to follow the advice given us.

Today, think about boundaries in terms of how our misuse of them can exacerbate conflict and how being sensitive to what is ours to do can free us up to work on ourselves (or play tennis)!

What are your dreams for yourself?

My friend, who is obsessed with her daughter’s success, is in trouble with her daughter and doesn’t know it - yet.  She is unwittingly teaching her kid things that I do not actually think are true.  For instance, my friend wants her daughter to get into the business school at UVA and come out a shark.  She dreams of the days when her kid can work really really hard and make a ton of money and then retire at 40 (it’s the new 30 after all).  

But what her daughter explains to ME is that she dreams of becoming a guidance counselor and working in an at-risk school.  She wants to make a difference in the world by leaving a small footprint (i.e., a minimalist lifestyle) and focusing on relationships not achievement OR material possessions.  My friend’s daughter is sad that her mother does not “get her” and I am concerned that this conflict may lead to not only a relationship schism but an array of mutual misunderstandings.

Of course, there’s another side to this story.  This mom got pregnant with this child when we were in high school.  My friend who is brilliant and capable and filled with drive and ambition chose to become a single mom rather than accept the invitation to go to her dream college (too far from family support).  She chose to ditch her dream of going to medical school (too hard without a husband to help raise her daughter).  Does she resent this?  She says not.  But she is acutely aware of feeling under-educated and she mourns the loss of her own unrealized goals. 

Lately I’ve been pitching the idea that mom consider going back to school and studying anything that makes her heart sing.  She is coming around to giving it some thought.  All I know is that these two lovely women really love each other and I have a feeling they will work this out.

Be careful with your aspirations for others

What is so wrong with a mother having aspirations for a child?  Or a spouse for a spouse?  Or a boss for an employee?  Or a sibling for a sibling?  Or a child for a grandparent?

A few things:
1.  Aspirations are primarily what we have for ourselves, not others.  I know.  This is hard.  But ultimately my friend’s bright and capable daughter needs to decide for herself who she aspires to become.  
2. When we try to coerce someone into wanting to achieve in particular ways, we run several risks:  we may confuse them from doing their own investigation about what they want to work hard for, we may foster a stubborn resistance to caring or trying anything, we may end up decreasing our relationship access on an intimate level.
3. When we get too focused on what others “should” do, we may not be paying enough attention to our own goals and dreams.

Every relationship does indeed have a component of expectation.  I expect Pete to not cheat on me; if he does, we’re going to have a problem.  I expect my children to treat me decently; if my kids behave in ways that call into question our mutual love for one another, we’re going to have a conversation.  These are not unreasonable expectations.  I am not asking anyone to be different than who they are.  I am not asking Scott to give me hugs 12 times a day or Michael to text me 4 times a day keeping me apprised of his schedule.  I don’t ask my daughter to loan me her shoes.  I don’t ask my  husband to develop a sudden appreciation for mushrooms.  

To say that there are no expectations in relationships is an over-statement.  But I am so concerned that we keep heaping expectations on ourselves and others that I am willing to overstate my case.  Check our expectations and reel ‘em in!