“Boundaries are like drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘Beyond here I will not go and you cannot come.’ ” –Iyanla VanZant
Here’s a revolutionary thought: other people get to choose the experience they have of you.
- Not, “Let me try to be better so that they’ll like me.”
- Not, “I’ll do my best to be a good person so that no one ever thinks I’m a bad person.”
- Not, “If someone thinks I’ve done something wrong, I’d better go to them, find out what I did, and profusely apologize.”
Nope–Other people get to choose the experience they have of you.
This is not to say that working on shifting habits that don’t work for you, living your personal vision of integrity, or apologies are wrong.
This is saying, as Mary Oliver writes in her poem Wild Geese, “You do not have to be good.You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”
You do not have to lash yourself with a whip to work it all out so that other people will be happy with you, endlessly evaluating what you “might have done to upset them,” filing away behaviors into a mental card catalog of do’s and dont’s. All you can be responsible for is your intention and attention. Apologize and make amends as necessary. Move on.
You’re Choosing Your Experience (right now)
You’re choosing your experience of me, right now.
This blog post is either a New Agey, self-helpy rant by a bitchy, wannabe guru (all accusations that have been lodged at me, though not all at once, thankfully), or I’m someone who’s truth-telling, attempting to be of service, and ferociously committed to believing that you matter and deserve to live a good life (other interpretations of this blog and my writing that I’ve been offered).
Either way, you’re choosing.
I really have no part in your experience, actually. I’m just over here, doing my thing. The interpretations are 100% yours.
The same philosophy applies whether you’re dealing with conflict at work, feeling the strain of judgmental in-laws, or you’ve just made a joke at a party and realized it was a complete faux-pas.
Other people are choosing their experience of you. Understanding this is how to establish boundaries.
Conflict at work: They choose whether they see you as a team player or an arrogant control freak. Only you can really know whether or not you’re being a team player–and your integrity matters, so I hope you’re being honest.
Judgmental in-laws: They choose whether or not to judge what you do and say. Only you can really know whether you desire to get along with them, or not, and whether your actions are intended to achieve that aim–and your integrity matters, so I hope you’re being honest.
The faux-pas: They choose whether to see you as a human being who made a mistake, or not. Only you can really know whether you intended to offend–and your integrity matters, so I hope you’re being honest with yourself.
If you want, you can dance in a top hat and spin more top hats on canes, putting on quite a show for people.
In the end? There are still going to be people who are going to say that you suck.
Why? Because people are going to do what they are going to do, and we can’t control other people’s behaviors or interpretations.
Meet me on the Flip Side
You’re also choosing your experience of other people.
If your co-workers accuse you of not being a team player, if your mother-in-law monitors every move you make, if you make a joke and people don’t like you for it–you get to choose an experience of them as “bad” people–or you get to choose something else.
A few options to consider: Perhaps they are…people who have a limited perspective that might change if they had a fuller picture? People who need a heart-to-heart with you? People who just need to be left alone with their opinions of you, because life is short and sometimes, it’s okay to just let people not like you if that’s what they want to do? People who are in choice around forgiveness? People who don’t have the tools to use open communication because they’ve never been taught? People who are dealing with untold stress that you don’t know about, and they’re not acting the way they’d normally act, otherwise?
Choosing powerfully is not about self-righteousness. Setting boundaries is not about rigidity. I’m not suggesting that anyone sticks their nose in the air and says, “Fine, they just get to think what they think, I’m so much better, I choose more powerfully than they do!”
You’re not suddenly flipping them the bird to compensate for a lifetime of people-pleasing.
This is about having boundaries–drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Beyond here I will not go” (I won’t be beating myself any longer to hope to meet your approval, nor will I avoid taking responsibility for my own integrity), and “beyond here you cannot come” (I won’t take on your stuff–you get to choose the experience you want to have of me–nor will I avoid taking responsibility for my own integrity).
Either way, you’re taking responsibility for your own integrity, in whatever way the situation calls for it. Having boundaries is about saying, “I will take responsibility for choosing the experience I have of you, and let you go ahead and choose the experience you have of me.”
It’s boundaries, baby–boundaries. Guess who’s in charge of those? Guess who gets freed up when she lets go?
You got it–you.