Spam Filter For Your Brain - Episode 21
Welcome to the boundaries course; you might not know what we will get into this week. Well, you might have a very clear vision of it, but I bet if you put everybody in this group in the same room and asked them what they thought, boundaries where you'd get some quite different answers. And that's what's interesting about it, a very emotive topic but rarely defined.
So the journey that we will try and step on in this course is first defining what we think boundaries are. We will take an intense dive into what I think boundaries are not. And I think that's a perfect place to start because my understanding of Instagram pop psychology's idea of boundaries is very binary, black and white thinking, "They did something wrong; I have to say no." There is something other people have done (probably to harm me, try to harm me, or violate me, my space, or my needs). Or, selfishly, another person tried to do something to meet their needs, which infringed upon my needs. And I had to put up a wall to stop them from doing that to protect myself.
My understanding of what boundaries are is different from that. My understanding of boundaries is that boundaries are a set of values about your life that you want. That's it. Well, this puts us in the space of trying to look at boundaries themselves as neutral a boundary isn't harmful or wrong. A boundary is not something about someone else's behaviour that is bad. A boundary itself is neutral.
Most people think a boundary is to be put up when someone's behaviour is. "bad enough" or something has gone wrong. But if we only keep it to the negative, then the conversations we have about things are all about defending ourselves, and when we feel the need to protect ourselves, there's very little space for learning.
We think that a boundary has to be something we look on and lean on when behaviour has become intolerable for us. And only then, when we have overstretched ourselves, or we have breached our own boundaries in a way, do we have to firmly stake these things in the ground about what other people can't do.
And what's interesting about looking at boundaries in that light is that somewhere in there, you've convinced yourself that you can change other people's behaviour. At the significant, considerable old age that we are, we all know that trying to change other people is incredibly futile.
So it's not a good starting place. If you think you're doing this to change other people, you're already making the whole story about them.
Please look at this concept that boundaries are a set of values you have decided on that you do or don't want in your life. That's my definition of what a boundary is. It is your rule book for the life you want to live, what you are willing to tolerate, what you're ready to welcome, and what you're eager to be around.
In this meme-based culture of so-called psychological terms being thrown around without any diagnosis, we often think of boundaries as things that are done to us that is a response to an imposition rather than something we can use to be able to outline where our tolerance and our love and our needs extend.
It's not about what other people do to you. I'm going to be repeating this a lot because you're all going to come up with 100 reasons why I'm wrong, and we're going to be learning this together; I hope it's not about what other people do or don't do to you. It's about what you choose to or don't choose to tolerate.
Boundaries are your definition of how you choose to look after yourself. And looking after yourself means a whole load of different things, in an entire bag of other areas, to a full load of different people. When I think of boundaries, I think of a fortress or a fence or something which cannot be breached - when we put these things in place - this idea of other people imposing on us., leaves us entirely at the whim of other people's behaviours.
But actually, boundaries don't need to be this hot-headed, emotional, highly charged subject. Lots of us have all kinds of boundaries that we may or may not feel particularly strongly about. Starting this week very gently, notice some of the limitations you may have that you might not necessarily have called borders before. I am trying to think of some off the top of my head...
I have a boundary that I think is respectful if I kiss someone; I expect them to have cleaned their teeth. I don't have any emotional charge, whether right or wrong, for my life and body. That is a boundary. That is what I'm choosing.
I have a clear boundary in my life: I don't want to be in a car with someone texting or on their phone. And this is an interesting one because I think probably most of us found this became socially unacceptable in a brief period, maybe over two years. Everyone used to do it. I mean, none of us had phones than we had phones. We all had phones, and people were always on their phones while driving. Suddenly, we started to acknowledge this was dangerous, and then it became entirely socially unacceptable to do that (although some people still do).
I don't have any of my feelings about it. I don't look at people on their phones (apart from if they swerve towards me and they're driving dangerously), I don't judge them for if someone I'm just obvious, I'm not willing to be in a vehicle with you if you are driving and choose to be on your phone. There's no emotion for me. I'm just completely clear about it.
I don't like fish in my fridge. I don't want it in my house. I don't want my house to smell like that. I don't feel massively strongly about it. I'm just sure that that's how I think about it. And those are all boundaries.
It is probably quite helpful for you to think about some boundaries you have that are non-emotional boundaries to start normalising them. I think when people talk about limits, they quite often if they think they're gearing up for battle. And actually, we put loads of boundaries in place to landscape the life we choose.
The problem with this idea that boundaries are about what other people do to us or when other people have crossed this line, they have violated our boundaries (which we may or may not have stated) is that there's just so much second-guessing about what someone else did, what their intentions were, what their motivations, why they should have known, how could they do that? We get so caught up in other people's drama, and who has that energy?
You might disagree with me, whether you think boundaries are about your rules or think that limit is about whether someone else has done something right or wrong. But frankly, like what are your other options? You could go around judging and hating other people. But it's just exhausting. Second, guessing what other people's game plan was the whole time like. I mean, if you have that energy and that desire, you steam right ahead. But I'm tired, I'm tired, and we're conserving over here. So I like to keep my own story because that's complicated enough to work out what's going on in my brain. There's no way I can second-guess what someone else has going on. And honestly, the chances are, they probably don't know in the first place. So the more you can stick to your own story, the more chance you have of keeping yourself in the driving seat.
It's just essential to remember that boundaries are about cultivating the life you choose, and boundaries are just a set of decisions you get to reclaim agency over what you want in your life. So, that is the beginning intro of what I think boundaries are.
The thing that will cause a lot of confusion is this understanding of what boundaries are not, and boundaries and not a set of judgments on other people about what they can and can't do.
I was going to say you don't have the right, but you can't set boundaries for others. Everyone is out there grown up and will be putting their limits.
The more you step into your own power and agency, the more you grow accountability. And if everyone took responsibility for themselves, we'd all be winning. It's because we keep getting involved in other people's business and keep writing other people's stories in our heads (and not letting them know about it) that it will get muddled.
So basically, what I'm asking you to do at this stage (somewhat unkindly), is to try and forget everything you've learned about boundaries before and ask how you can make this about your story.
The idea of boundaries protecting you from other people gives you no agency. You are entirely at the whim of waiting for other people's behaviour to change or other people's thoughts to change other people's moods to change. All. The. Time. It keeps you in a position of waiting. And if you have ever been waiting for someone to text you back or pick you up, or have ever been stood up, you know, waiting is an ugly place. It is such a painful, in-your-stomach, visceral waiting-to-exhale nastiness. And we can transform this just by continuing to bring it back to ourselves and our own stories.
So a way to another way that you could frame this is that boundaries are not a set of rules that you lay down to manipulate other people to behave how you want them to. It's tough. We all want people to act according to the rulebook that we invented. But actually, they're not going to. They're not going to. And as long as we spend our energy trying to control other people into behaving in a way that we think is acceptable or morally correct, we spend our time and energy living someone else's story for them or judging them.
What you need to keep bringing it home to is, what do you want? Do you like it? Is it something that you want to be around? Is it something you want to tolerate? Is it something you want more of? Is it something that you love? Is it something that you can see from someone else's side? Keep bringing it back to your story.
Because if you make the boundary about other people's actions, you will want to change them. And your limits cannot be about how you want others to behave. You can try all you like to tell other people how they should behave, but they're probably going to do what they think is right, and there is very little you can do about that.
Once you step into this (and I know it is a challenging idea), boundaries are not about what others do, once you get into that headspace, you can start to think about now that you know that other people probably don't change; you can accept their actions as part of their story, and you can get your responses as your responsibility.
If you believe a boundary is about what someone else has done to you, or if you make their behaviour wrong or bad, you're trying to push them into changing or manipulating them into behaving a particular way by stating your boundary.
So to think of an example, "I want you to do the washing up or else..." if you make it about the fact that you believe you need to set that boundary because the washing up has not been done because they didn't respect you enough, (is the underlying story and messaging here). The chances are they're going to carry on doing what they were doing anyway because that was in their nature, and that was how the thoughts were going on in their head quite often and probably has nothing to do with you. And when they don't change, you will use this as evidence that you were right about the wrong thing you ultimately invented, that they were thinking about you and disregarding you or how you feel about them. It spirals quickly.
We use other people not behaving by this rulebook that you have suddenly written (and probably haven't communicated very well) as evidence as to why other people are wrong and probably how you are hard done by. It's just never going to feel good. Even if you want to argue with me about the idea that boundaries are your responsibility rather than what other people do to you, the only other option is that boundaries are all about other people's behaviour is morally good, bad, ethically sound, wrong where is your agency in that? Where is any power to take charge of how you feel, think, or respond? You are left in flux at what others do and how others inflict life on you. And that doesn't seem like a very peaceful place approaching life to me. I prefer to stick to my story and have some agency regarding how I respond.
If we go back to that idea (I got a little bit sidetracked) of the washing up, it's essential to be clear when the difference between a boundary and a request is: especially in relationships. The difference between a boundary and a request is clear to me: a boundary is something you're willing to enforce and a request to the threat. Both can be you trying to manipulate other people into behaving in a way you want. One of them is something you're willing to act out. And one of them, the entire focus is on the other person changing. And even if that isn't the case, if you are making your boundary come from expecting the other person to change or wanting the other person to change rather than what you do or don't want in your life. When you make it all about their behaviour, there is a lot more room and space for you to give people just one more chance or to try and manipulate people with things like "Oh, I didn't quite mean it like that", or "Maybe just this once" or 'They did this" or "They weren't paying attention than" or "Let's just try again..."
These kinds of feelings all comes from expecting another person's behaviour to change so they don't violate the boundary, rather than you being in your power of what you do or don't want in your life.
I hope I'm explaining it well enough, but to me, it's much more precise and much cleaner to go; what do I want? Not what are they doing? This kind of chance to change, or I'm sure lots of you have friends, you've seen them go back to a partner repeatedly over and over again just because you they expect they're willing to flex this kind of boundaries that have quite often had empty out terms at the end of the relationships. And they like to manoeuvre around and bend and flex all types of their own needs, necessities and desires because that is their hope; they're hoping the other person will change. And based abound when a boundary comes from the rejection of another person or their behaviour. You're just not keeping in your own story; you're getting involved there. Why did they do that? How could they have done that? I wish they hadn't. What were they thinking? It's just taking so much of your heart, soul and time trying to guess second a narrative of something going on in someone else's head.
Other people's behaviour isn't there for you to reject, take, or make any value judgments on. Everyone is allowed to do what they can (legalities and laws aside). But everybody, everybody, is allowed to make their own choices. If you stay in your story, and you stay within your agency, and you stay within your power, and your decisions about what you want to create in your life, then you get to be the person who maps your horizons, who writes your script and who decides what your life is going to look like.
Your disapproval is never going to change another person. Sorry to break that to you.
When I say that everybody has that one person, they think, "Yeah, with that person, I'm still going to carry on disapproving of that person" Frankly, I've got better things to do with my time. And I am sure you have too. You only have so much more energy and space, and freedom. Life is so much lighter when you do not involve yourself in other people's narratives, telling yourselves that you know what is going on for someone else and what's happening in their story. It is just exhausting. And it's cumbersome and unknown, murky territory because all you're looking for is evidence of stories you've already told yourself, and probably most of them aren't kind.
So the more you stay in your story, the more you stay within your power, and the more you can set boundaries for the life you want to be living. Rather than trying to extract yourself from one from a life that you think another person has wronged you in