Monday, January 28, 2013


Often, when contemplating a concept, I like to look up the definition even though I know helps me conceptualize what my mind is attempting to grasp.

I have been grappling with boundaries as of late.  This is what Webster has to say about them:


something that indicates bounds or limits; a limiting or bounding line.

Growing up, weak boundaries were strongly enforced by my environment. I was told what to wear, how to spend my time, what to think. At church, the male leaders were allowed to ask very private questions about my sexual practices. Every year, the leaders continue to ask if I drink coffee, tea, alcohol or use tobacco, if I pay 10% of my income to the church and obey my church leaders and whom I have sex with.  To most people, these things are a private matter, but when you are taught loose boundaries, you think nothing of offering this information over to ecclesiastical leaders. 

Now that I am free of religious ties, I am able to decide on my own what my boundaries are. The problem I have discovered is that after years of not being allowed to set my own boundaries, it is very difficult to begin to set them.

When a man makes a comment about my ass or breasts, I find this rude and offensive and it makes me want to recoil from him...the problem is, I have been told by society to be nice, that nice girls are soft and submissive, it's more important to be nice and allow men to step all over us, turn the other cheek, etc. I want to tell him to fuck off, but that wouldn't be nice, so what I do instead, is try and be funny. I'll usually make a joke.  Unfortunately, this type of man takes my humor as playing along, and that I'm only unintentionally encouraging him.

I am learning to be more bold, to set stronger boundaries, but it has come at a struggle. I was recently looking for a roommate, but when the person I thought would make a good fit, tried to tell me I needed to send my sick daughter out of my home early to make room for them, I actually stood up to them and told them my family comes first.  Needless to say, they didn't move in. I'm glad I set my boundary, but now I don't have that extra income. It felt really good to stand up for myself, though.

People who are comfortable with themselves and have a sense of self confidence, are not offended with an assertive person saying no. What I have found, however, is that there are many people who do not possess a sense of self confidence or were raised in passive-aggressive or aggressive environments and have not learned to act or accept assertiveness.

  Some examples of passive-aggressive behaviors include: chronic lateness (I'll show up, but I refuse to be on time); sullenness(I'll go to dinner, but I won't like any of the food); chronic forgetfulness(did I say I would be home so we could meet the Smith's? I don't remember that) ineffective task performance (I'll do the dishes, but I won't wash off the counters and you can't make me!); refusing to talk with you about a problem leaving it unresolved; being ambiguous about their meaning--even when directly asking them what they meant; or with holding sex, love or affection.

The passive-aggressive person views assertive people as being aggressive, or attacking them.  They see any boundary setting as a threat.  It is very important to set clear boundaries and let them know that it isn't okay to be treated in this way. Be firm, clear and calm.

A passive person allows others to infringe on them, not speaking for their own rights, or speaking up for their own needs or wants. Many women fall into this category because of societal dictates.  When a group of men are present, it is even harder for women to feel they can be assertive. I was recently confronted by a group of men who were making comments toward me, and I chose to ignore them rather than confront them; it is just too difficult to be assertive when several men are in a group. Passive behavior is chosen to avoid conflict, but it often leads the person feeling like a doormat and their needs unmet.

An assertive person is able to act in their own self interest, without trampling on the rights of another. Assertive behavior is honest, direct, as well as expressive. Being assertive does not guarantee that you will always be listened to, understood, or have your needs met, but a person can come away feeling good about themselves that they communicated in a clear way that did not infringe on others.

An aggressive person attempts to get their needs and wants met at the expense of others.  They often use tools such as domination, anger, humiliation, hostility as well as violence to get what they want.

Communication in a relationship is very important.  I have learned in my career and in my relationships that when a misunderstanding occurs, or when a conflict occurs, several things often happen:
1. One or both people get defensive
2. One or both people pull away emotionally
3. One or both people begin using defensive strategies they have learned in the past to cope defense mechanisms
4. One or both people will rely on their personality type to communicate, either passive, passive-aggressive, assertive or aggressive.

There are five potential outcomes each time a conflict in a relationship occurs:
A. Win-Win
B. Win-Lose
C. Lose-Win
D. Lose-Lose
E. Compromise

The  best possible outcome is of course, the win-win. This is where all parties are able to work through their conflict and each person feels as though they did not have to give up anything in order to be heard and no boundaries were crossed.

The second best outcome is the compromise.  This is where both parties gave up a little in order to be heard,  but they still feel as though they gained and no boundaries were crossed and they feel as though they didn't lose, only gave up some ground.

The next two scenarios are the Win-Lose and the Lose-Win.  This is where one person gives up everything at the cost of the other person winning everything. Boundaries are crossed and one person goes away feeling like a doormat or even worse, violated. May people confuse this with a compromise.  I hear women say all the time, 'I'm the only one compromising'...if only one person is giving in, they are in a Lose-Win situation, not a compromise; and they are a doormat.

 If a person has to win at all costs, and the other person has to lose, you are dealing with an aggressive person or a passive-aggressive person. Setting firm boundaries early on may help put a person in a compromise with this type, but if the problem persists, even with firm boundaries, this is a red flag that the relationship needs professional help. Some passive-aggressive or aggressive types will prefer the Lose-Lose rather than give up any ground...if you find yourself with this type; this a big red flag to get out of the relationship.

I am learning...slowly, slowly, I am learning.

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