A Lesson in Boundaries

setting boundaries

“If you spend your life sparing people’s feelings and feeding their vanity, you get so you can’t distinguish what should be respected in them.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was working on the computer the other day, which just happened to be by the front window. I saw the flash of a shirt go by the window to the front door. Dang it. I didn’t close the blinds. It’s too late. They already saw me. Maybe it was the mail, and nobody will actually want to talk to me.

And then the knock.

Uggh. It was not the mail. Usually, I can head off salespeople by seeing them making the rounds about the neighborhood, and I can get to the appropriate window closings, door shutting and blinds down before they make their way to my driveway. It is even worse and more work to close down as the weather gets nicer, and I leave the screen doors open (always locked) and blinds tilted to let in the beautiful sunlight. All these open spaces allow those who might be assessing whether there is anyone home to whom they can pitch their product, to see clear as day, an able body is available.

So back to the door.

I made my way over to the door, and looked at the young salesman, wearing his company logo on his hat, shirt and accompanying bag. I made eye contact, and he saw my hesitation. Before I could even politely let him know I wasn’t going to unlock the door, he asked if he could just leave his card tucked in the mailbox and he’d be on his way.

Well, that was easier than I thought.

As he walked away, I returned to my work station, by the window, and pondered this whole situation.

Silly, really. Why all the hub-bub about the possibility of having to talk to a stranger? I don’t mind talking to people, that wasn’t it. In reality, it was the knowing that I was going to say something that this person did not want to hear. I didn’t want to hear his pitch, I didn’t want to buy his product. My answers were not going to please him, and that made me uncomfortable.

I have no problem (for the most part) telling people ‘no’ or giving my honest opinion to others when I know them, or even when a situation has come to a head. However, the prospect of disappointing a stranger or setting a limit to someone who has done nothing to me can make me squirm a bit.

But why?

So often, we are so quick to jump at anyone we think is offending us, our family, or even our beliefs. We can resort to defensive name-calling, rumor spreading or even swinging out the middle finger, staking our claim to the lines that have been crossed by the would-be offender. However, we tend to have a harder time laying out the boundary lines long before any are presumed to be needed. The old adage, “I’ll be nice to you as long as you are nice to me.” Or, "If you cross me, watch out!" Why do they have to cross you to watch out?

If we can lay out the expectations of how we are to be treated, it eliminates the guesswork and game-playing. It eliminates the need for a presumptive fight and wasted energy on constantly trying to defend and letting other people take up space in our heads.

We teach other people how to treat us.

If they don’t treat us how we wish to be treated, move on. It won’t work. That doesn’t forgo the kindness or respect rule. If someone is honest to me, I will be honest with them. If someone is dishonest to me, I will still be honest with them. Equally, if someone is unkind to me, I don’t plan to return the unkindness. We just won’t be friends, yet that doesn’t excuse me from being respectful.

We have the right to set boundaries with strangers, friends and even family. These boundaries are not just for other people. In fact, they are more for us than for anyone else. When we know our limitations, we are not subject to the emotional pendulum that comes with reacting to everyone else’s feelings. How other people react is about them, about what is going on in their world, and their expectations. How I react is equally about me and my expectations.

The beauty is, when we permit ourselves to set boundaries, we allow others to do the same. Hearing something unfavorable from someone might still not feel good, yet it allows a more honest dialogue where we can respectfully listen to someone else’s needs just as we state our own. We learn to trust our own judgment and intuition to say ‘yes’ when we mean ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when we mean ‘no’.

Now, I just need to apply this to the cable guy. Or I can take the passive approach and just make a sign. Although, I’m not sure how effective a sign would be with family. Actually, a sign might be just what is needed.


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