Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What I've come up with

I spent the morning thinking about 'icky'. And, I think, in a nutshell, it boils down to this:

There are people in this world with whom I feel a strong need to keep my boundaries explicitly clear.

This can be interpreted as my thinking something is 'wrong' with them, the other people. In fact, in white-bread culture there's an implicit rule against highlighting boundaries: the implication is that it's impolite. That it implies something negative about the other. That it will hurt someone's feelings. That it is selfish. ...This is probably the dynamic that runs the widespread and fabled reticence of saying 'no' to a request, at least in white American culture. There's a sort of phobia to being anything other than 'nice'.

There's a difference between feeling a need to delineate boundaries and a criticism or accusation of another. But sometimes that distinction gets blurred and it's hard to tell one from the other. Certainly it's not occurred to me before to interpret that feeling inside in that way, instead: I need to make my boundaries absolutely clear became I-don't-like that-person/something's-wrong-with-that-person (which in turn became something's-wrong-with-me-for-feeling-that-way). I've interpreted it before in terms of the 'worth' of the Other. To see it instead as a need for distinction puts it in terms of mySelf. This feeling is a fact; I can't deny that I have this feeling. This is about a personal internal experience which has little to do with another's intrinsic worth.

It's interesting that in the same way distinctions between the need to clarify boundaries and the worth of another become blurred, I think it's the sense of an impending boundary breach that activates the need to clarify. Most other people I know don't activate the need, but occasionally someone enters my life who does. Traditionally I've second-guessed that need and thought if I wanted daylight between myself and another that it was because there was something about them I didn't like and there must be something wrong with me for feeling that way. Maybe it meant I was mean-spirited. And I'd be troubled when the feeling persisted.

In a way I owe this family gratitude. It was through my ruminations about the escalations of their requests that I got the 'Yes/No' insight, which was big. This latest insight...might be huge.

5 comments:

Aunt Becky said...

I've noticed that the people I need to set clear boundaries with on a subconscious level like you felt are usually Users. It appears that my brain likes to protect my often too nice heart.

that girl said...

I don't think you're mean spirited. Mean spirited would imply that you take pleasure in excluding people or creating boundaries..

We all have that feeling - I think those of us who are smart enough to set those boundaries are a little more free.

Martha said...

I think boundaries are what strengthen and define relationships. Those who respect and honor boundaries don't require reinforcement of them, but your "carpool" family doesn't GET It.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

I love insights like that!

I have been thinking a lot lately about etiquette and politeness -- and boundaries and inclusion and exclusion -- myself lately. Complicated stuff!

excavator said...

Hi, Aunt Becky. I was talking to a social worker friend of mine about this episode. She has an interest in personality disorders and said that a feature of this one (can't remember the name of this particular disorder) is the 'icky' feeling they inspire in people around them. In other words the icky feeling itself is an indicator of dealing with that sort of disordered person.

I'm curious about the origins of whatever made me almost phobic about doing what my natural inclinations say--RUN! Say No and run. From where came the 'rule' that there was something wrong with *me* for having those feelings and the demand to override them?

That girl! Hi, so nice of you to drop by. I've seen you around on other sites and visited you at yours. Then of course I stumbled into a whole other fascinating network of bloggers to explore, and the issue of time management.

Yeah, Martha, it sure seems that boundaries are my theme right now. I suppose that's a consequence of committing to be truthful.

MPJ, I'd love to read some of your reflections about this issue. It's funny, it doesn't seem intuitively obvious that this is a spiritual issue, but it seems to be. Maybe the thing about being truthful.