Driving without a clear destination
Imagine driving in the middle, unauthorized yellow lane separating two lanes of moving traffic. Although you wish to commit to one lane or the other, you lack the strength to get to a place of clarity and decision. Soon, the pressure of indecision weighs heavily on your mind and heart.
As you judge yourself for wasting time and losing the ability to be rational, your internal messages tell you to seek the nearest exit and stay off the road for a while. Feelings of indecision make life unbearable, and it’s high time you find arrows pointing to freedom and forward movement.
The reason someone deliberately chooses to live in the straddling yellow lane is because it represents fuzzy unbounded territory. The yellow lane straddles the clearly defined acceptable lanes on either side. Someone cruising here may mistakenly believe boundaries for them do not apply. They are cruising in the dead zone, so to speak. These travelers tend to ricochet from boundaries loosely defined (blurry), rigidly defined (fixed) or not defined at all (leaky).
Lacking healthy boundaries, the ego slips in and leads us to believe that we/others are granted permission to:
abuse, judge or trample ourselves or others
manipulate, brainwash, dominate others' minds
violate personal space
create confusion and chaos
Driving in the wrong lane is hazardous
How can we possibly drive when we don’t know what gear we are in? Psychologist Dr. David Gruder, offers a clear and effective definition of boundaries:
A boundary is any limit you need to honor in order to love or work with someone without resentment and with integrity.
Boundaries involve more than a cushion between people: they teach us respect and safety. They assure others that our limits allow us relationship freedom vs. restriction. There is nothing worse than walking on eggshells and using passive-aggressive language to send a message. If we want to be seen and heard by others in clear and open ways we must have and maintain healthy boundaries.
The road to healthy boundaries includes:
1. Understanding your personal road signs as markers for staying in your lane: your Values, Beliefs and Needs
Priscilla is a long-time supervisor who continuously oversteps boundaries with co-workers and clients. She speaks out in favor of projects for which she has little involvement or ownership. For example, Priscilla often claims work as her own by inserting possessive words such as “I/me/mine” instead of “we/our/the team”. She rarely acknowledges others for their efforts. Priscilla jostles for proprietary information to use to her own advantage.
Debbie is Priscilla's colleague. Debbie is often uncomfortable at work because she believes in a more generous, team approach. She values camaraderie and acknowledges her peers publicly. A big supporter of the organization’s mission, she looks for ways to promote team accomplishments.
Team members express their frustration by gossiping or withholding information from Priscilla. They are unable to relate to her. They describe their interactions with Priscilla as “walking through a minefield" because her behavior comes off as condescending and cruel.
2. Listening to inner turn signals for guidance
Debbie’s gracious and open style is in conflict with her environment. She feels helpless trying to navigate an atmosphere of mistrust generated by Priscilla's overbearing ego needs. Before she figures out how to approach Priscilla, a key team member, Jamie, quits his job without notice. Team members suspect he exited the company because of Priscilla’s constant nagging and usurping credit for his work.
Priscilla’s direct manager really liked Jamie, and wants to know why this valuable employee has left. Following a heated exchange about Jamie’s departure, Priscilla‘s manager puts her on probation for two weeks. To avoid a written HR reprimand, Priscilla must come up with a plan to replace Jamie. Priscilla is desperate and takes her supervisor's suggestion to begin meeting with a coach. She is aware she has unhealthy work and personal boundaries which sabotage her relationships and now threaten her livelihood.
3. Avoiding driving in the dark
Work was once intense for everyone around Priscilla. Staff driving lanes were cluttered by Priscilla's in/out zigzagging ego maneuvers. She realizes how her behavior lead to gridlock. Debbie now checks in weekly, uncertain if Priscilla can stick to the newly defined company boundaries. Priscilla admits she thinks everyone is watching her and maybe even hoping she will fail and get fired.
4. Respecting other drivers on the road by pointing them in the right direction and establishing safe distance
Priscilla desperately wants Debbie to feel sorry for her and tell her she is just fine the way she is. Debbie sees through Priscilla's manipulation, and isn’t afraid to explain that the office is not a place to exploit co-workers for personal gain. Debbie enlists the help of popular team members to encourage them to have more limited interaction with Priscilla. It's hoped that group morale can improve in the meantime.
Following the end of coaching sessions a year later, Priscilla and Debbie organize a staff retreat. The objective is to promote trust and team work. A few co-workers courageously speak out. They share their reluctance to volunteer for work projects with Priscilla out of fear she may verbally attack and challenge them or take over the details.
In the past, Priscilla would yell or run huffing and puffing out of a meeting. Today she is able to hear the feedback and ask questions to gain understanding. Priscilla now understands appropriate and reasonable boundaries and guidelines for working together.
Freedom is worthy of healthy boundaries
Dr. Robert Masters wisely articulates the importance of healthy boundaries (hint: great journaling questions!):
What really matters is what we do with boundaries:
Do we use them to fortify our ego or to illuminate it?
Do we lose ourselves in them or hold them in healthy perspective?
Do we use them to keep ourselves from love or to deepen our capacity to love?
Do we concretize them or do we keep them flexible?
Do we allow them to be overly permeable or do we allow them to be as solid as circumstances require?
Do we use our boundaries to isolate ourselves or to create and deepen connection?
Thanks to Dr. Masters' insightful perspective, we are assured freedom in all life's aspects. We are returned to byways leading to destinations of Peace, Love and Joy.