Here’s the thing about new beginnings: There is always a lot to learn.
There’s a reason that the word school rhymes with fool. The Fool is the first card in the tarot deck. It’s all about the new start to the journey. It makes sense for me lately, as I’ve been in a major learning era of my life.
My daily habits feel as familiar and annoyingly structured as a school curriculum: First period is studying Spanish by listening to Pimsleur classes and living in the Canary Islands. Sometimes I take a field trip to the fruit market and try to have a little conversation or at least pay attention to the television news they play there. Then it’s second period, studying Final Cut Pro with Ripple Training so I can record and edit the audiobook of One-Way Ticket. Next, I go to gym class at GoFit. I may have music or meditation club after that, or perhaps my book club.
And just like when I was in high school, I also have to, oh yeah, work for money!
I haven’t yet mentioned my hardest class: Self-Mastery.
The most recent lesson in this never-ending class is on boundaries. How are you with boundaries? OK, that’s a trick question: Really, I’m just asking if you’ve ever been to therapy, because otherwise you’d likely have no idea what I’m talking about.
I am challenged by boundaries. This week, a client — who I let repeatedly dump her personal problems on me during the work process of the eBook she hired me for — had an emotional meltdown and verbally abused me. She had just received the final draft of the work. She’s now threatening not to pay me for the work I completed that she previously approved. Great.
The last guy I dated? Yeah, I let him treat me pretty poorly too. Same goes for the previous guy. And the guy before that.
I’m really good at pulling up the anchor and fleeing once I realize I’m being abused — but I seem to need a big, neon flashing sign before I figure it out.
I approach most people with an open heart and a positive attitude, ready for a win-win relationship that helps us both. It works well with my large, supportive group of friends. But bad actors have a field day with my tender heart.
I know the answer isn’t to build a wall around that flowering field of my heart, either. I’ve certainly beaten myself against some brick walls, and it hurts! I am stuck between being wide open and being locked in a box.
How do you build healthy boundaries? I’ve got some homework to do.
But first: let me pass you a note that’s folded like origami. Did you see there was a man who dressed as a wall and Trump invited on stage at a political rally in Iowa? That’s one kind of boundary I don’t need, I know that much!
Personal boundaries, of course, are different from political boundaries, which are crossed all the time. That’s what many wars are all about. Russia denied Ukraine’s boundary, for example.
I don’t know how to defend boundaries very well, either political or personal. It doesn’t seem like most countries can, either. Can you?
Boundaries seem usually one of two ways: It’s all or nothing. Rigid or porous, as they say in therapy. Either you walk right over the line, or you can’t even find the line. File under: Can’t win for losing.
I do have many friends with whom I practice boundaries. One of my best friends calls me when she can — I know she’s busy with a big family, and I am secure in our friendship. I don’t overstep with her. Another dear friend calls me almost every day, and sometimes I have to tell him directly to not vent so angrily with me. I get upset with too much venting. It’s actually not healthy!
There are a few things — the operative word being few — I’ve come to understand about boundaries.
You Have to Communicate
Communication is a two-way street, which is a radical concept in today’s one-way splatter-gun content creation. Not everyone can handle a direct and effective communication style that requires the patience that listening requires. Some people view honest communication as confrontation, so I try to be as soft and compassionate as I can while talking to someone.
But if you’re not clear about what you want and what you don’t want, you simply can’t give the other party a clear definition of what you find acceptable and not. You can’t make presumptions that everyone is on the same level as you. Sometimes, the only way to find out is to ask and really listen to the answer.
I’m slowly discovering that many people have no idea about this. Like the client, I made a presumption that she would share my ethics because I knew her casually and had mutual friends. But I was wrong. I actually had to tell this person that it’s not okay to take a final product of work and not pay me.
Look for Red Flags
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound in cure, as I’ve confirmed as I work on staying clear of people who are less likely to respect my boundaries.
Here’s content from a Facebook post I made last spring about the early warning signs of abusive men, which I learned from reading the highly recommended “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bandcroft. They include:
😬 Speaking very negatively about former partners
🔪Saying she “falsely” accused him of abuse or that, in fact, she abused him (may show photos as “proof”)
💕 Says you’re different (phrases like “I didn’t think people like you existed!”)
😒 OR glorifies former partner (you’ll never stand up to her)
🤦🏻♀️ Takes no responsibility for end of his last relationship
🙅🏻♀️ Is disrespectful to you (interrupts you, talks over you, yells at you “because you’re not listening” or to prove he wasn’t yelling previously)
🏮 OR puts you on a pedestal (very uncomfortable)
💐 Creates a sense of indebtedness early on (does favors you do not ask for, often publicly to create an image of being such a good guy)
🐲 Is controlling (makes comments about your body or clothes or friends, or dictates how you should text a friend, etc)
🦮 Is possessive (calls you “his,” needs you around all the time)
🧸 Nothing is his fault
🙎🏻♂️ Makes excuses, plays the victim — cannot apologize
🕺🏻Self-centered, always brings conversation back to him
🍻 Heavy drug and alcohol use, pressures you to do more than you want, too
🍆 Pressures you for sex
👩❤️👨 Gets serious too quickly (posts photos on social media after first or second date)
‼️ Shows intimidation when angry: too close, finger in face, blocks way, shouts you down, drives recklessly, throws things
🎭 Double standards for himself and you
🤹🏼♀️ Has a negative attitude toward women (such as saying women always win in courts, women cannot care for themselves)
🥊 Treats you differently when around others
🧚♂️ Is attracted to (perceived) vulnerability
Clients “love-bomb,” too. Before that client told me to “go f**k myself,” she said that she wished I were nearby so that she could hug me because she was so pleased with my work.
Listen to Your Instinct
Yes, I had that nagging little voice in my head telling me that the client was no good and the guys were no good. In fact, all my past bad relationships — the ones that made me doubt my abilities to stand up for myself and uphold my boundaries — all started with me ignoring myself.
I think this is the biggest lesson of all. If you don’t quiet your mind enough to hear what your instincts tell you, you’ll be in for a rude awakening! I practice meditation every day, but I’ve still got a beginner’s mind! And so it’s back to school I go ….