It starts within, as do all good things.
This morning I sent a very difficult email to a guide I used recently, a tome it took me four days to pen, asked several people to review for tone and implied intent, and still I had a hard time sending it. Such feedback hurts, but in all cases it hurts far more when we get dumped or fired without warning, without explanation and without any kinda way to know what on earth we did.
This person did plenty, and apparently was quite unaware of it, in that way that folks with intense fundamental agendas believe that it's their duty to force the rest of the world to see their way or validate their world view. They missed the message entirely, which doesn't surprise me at all.
Interesting how folks complain bitterly about ghosting, but yet if a person actually gives us feedback we don't like, we also complain bitterly. Pick one, folks. The latter is a gift.
Boundaries begin with in. Sadly, those of us who start life with incest, and my hand is up here, have those boundaries erased early on, and as a result, may well have an extremely hard time rewriting and establishing them. I sure have. However, as with the guide in question, they are necessary. The work I put into that email had far less to do with the guide and vastly more to do with my increasing commitment to establishing clear boundaries. How they respond (it wasn't positive) is largely meaningless.
What does have meaning is that I took the time to set the boundaries to begin with. Such as: if we are to work together you will not spew racial epithets, trash other paying clients and try to engage me in arguments about toxic political issues.
The response didn't surprise me if for no other reason than folks who do such things don't respect others' boundaries to begin with (they don't have any of their own for whatever reason) and are hard-pressed to agree when told to back off.
The exercise was for me, not the guide.
All such work is personal work. We cannot do others' work for them. We can only do our own.
When it comes to boundaries, and we all need them for our mental and physical and spiritual health, here's a story I've used to establish how we make critically important agreements with ourselves and others and then we obliterate them with our choices. That undermines our trust in ourselves, which makes us unreliable with others. And unable to set healthy boundaries.
The Poker Game
A guy tells his wife that he wants to play poker with the guys on Friday nights. She says yes, but asks hubby to be home by midnight. He agrees.
That is their Visible Agreement. Hubby gets to play poker but has to be home by midnight on Friday nights.
He plays poker. Gets sloshed. Wanders home by about 3 am.
The wife was waiting in the recliner for him after he didn't show at midnight. She lets him in because he's too drunk to manage the key. Hubby stumbles in and goes to bed. Wifey is livid but she says nothing. She stomps upstairs.
This is their Invisible Agreement. Hubby can come home any time he wants. That the wife never says anything that first night and all that weekend forms the contract, the binding agreement which completely overrides the Visible Agreement.
The Invisible Agreement is far more powerful than the Visible. This is the one we've signed in blood through our actions.
This goes on for a year. Hubby wanders home whenever he likes. Wifey, still furious and steaming, lets him in but says nothing.
Then one day she's had it. She goes to the locksmith and changes all the locks. Doesn't tell the husband. Hubby can't get in that night and sleeps it off in the bushes.
Who broke the contract, and why?
I get lots of arguments that Hubby got what he deserved.
Nope. The wife broke the contract, which she signed the moment she let Hubby in at 3 am that first night and didn't say anything ever.
When we want to renegotiate an Invisible Agreement we have to have a serious discussion. If Wifey wants Hubby to stop, she has to say something to this effect:
I know that I've allowed you in at 3 am or whenever you make it home. However from this day forward, if you do not arrive at midnight as we agreed, you will find the doors locked. Do you understand?
He will likely agree, then test her, because after all, history.
However, he's been told. And she's ready. The next Friday night when he stumbles in at 3 am, he finds out she's serious. This time he broke the contract.
We live our lives every day by Invisible Agreements, the contracts we make with ourselves and others signed in blood by our behaviors.
To wit: I'm gonna quit (smoking, eating donuts, blah blah). That's the Visible Agreement.
Then I light up, or stop at Krispy Kreme. The Invisible Agreement, by which I live daily, is what I do. Visible Agreements are worthless unless backed up by action.
Back to the guide.
I was a bit stuck in the country of choice for there are few English speakers and I don't know my way around. So I sucked it up and put up with the comments and the attempts to argue, which effectively set the contract for the behavior. I kept quiet, so the behaviors were perfectly acceptable, so they thought. But I had little choice in the matter.
I renegotiated the Invisible Agreement with my email.
It was rejected. My response is that's the end of that. I will not work with them if those boundaries aren't accepted, and neither will I refer anyone to that guide. Not from my community, at least. When people can't respect boundaries that are important to us, they need to be released if at all possible.
We do the same things with ourselves every time we set a new boundary- the Visible Agreement- with someone, and then let them stomp all over it, the Invisible Agreement.
You may not treat me like that or I will leave. Then you get treated like that and you stay. Doesn't matter your reasons. The point is that you and I repeatedly sign the Invisible Contracts with the blood of our actions.
The more often we stomp all over our internal boundaries where we have made well-intentioned Visible Agreements, the easier it is for others to obliterate ours.
Oh, so easy to see, but so hard to implement.
Some folks without boundaries are those people screaming about how they are SO offended about SO many things that it is impossible for them to function. You could crack an egg for breakfast and they will scream that it's a baby chicken. Or swat a mosquito and they will scream that it's getting blood for its babies. You know the type. They have no boundaries at all, so life is offensive. All of it. It's overwhelming. There is no internal regulator, and no peace.
In the space of one weekend, I sent the above-mentioned email to a guide, sent another clearly-worded email to an ex whose doom and gloom and self-harm talk has left me exhausted, and listened to the story of my closest friend Melissa's experience with an elderly client who tried to rip her bad arm out of the socket.
Said client has been fired. My friend Melissa and I have been discussing boundaries a lot lately. She is gay, and in a long-term relationship, and she has also suffered incest. So for us, this discussion is crucial.
Last night she called me after my bedtime.
That's a step over a boundary, but for the conversation we had, it was worth it.
The next half hour was so full of joy and laughter that the minor infringement was just that: minor. She knows when to call, but she needed something. In this way, we make room for people who show up for us and respect our boundaries regularly, which earns them the sacred right to step over once in a while.
Melissa and I have worked very hard to be curious and respectful about where our mutual boundaries lie. As a result we have become very close. This is what comes of respect and trust.
I tried to set a boundary with my father when I was in my early thirties. I asked him to please treat me with respect, as the adult I was.
He refused. There was little respect and trust there, for my father verbally abused me regularly in front of the man who later became my husband, who ultimately would not visit my family for this reason. He couldn't watch.
It has taken me decades to learn to set boundaries with people who don't have them inside themselves, and therefore are largely incapable of honoring anyone else's.
This is Goddess work, for all sexes. Boundaries are essential for our ability to thrive.
Melissa and I laughed like little girls when I told her that after I'd sent the email to the guide, a part of me worried all day if she wouldn't like me any more.
See how we are?
How are you with boundaries? Can you protect them without taking someone's head off? Can you even define where they are, and when someone steps over?
Good fences make good neighbors, says Robert Frost's neighbor.
Yes. Sometimes they do.
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