Archives for posts with tag: boundary setting

I am alone with my anger right now. It’s not my favorite state of being, but if I am angry, I generally very much want to be alone with that shit. “I’m sorry” doesn’t sound at all the same if I snarl it at someone. Barely matters if I mean it, at that point, you know?

“Please leave me alone.” That’s some first rate boundary setting, I guess. Simple. Practical. Actionable. To-the-point. “I don’t want to be yelled at any more today.” Also pretty clear.

I don’t know what the fuck just went wrong with my day, my mood, or my interaction with this human being I generally enjoy so well. I was barely in the door with lunch in my hands and a smile on my face when shit went sideways most spectacularly. I’m medicated very differently now, and I was for sure caught off guard when my temper flared up. I don’t have an appetite, now. What a waste. I could have stayed warm and dry and merry in the co-work space, working. Instead, I am sitting here dealing with my bullshit and wondering very much what I could have done differently and better that would still have been… me.

I’m in (physical) pain (my arthritis, this headache). It’s not an excuse, just context. Don’t know what was up with him that “this” was the outcome – I only know my end of things, really. I for sure overreacted to what felt like – subjectively, in the moment – an encroachment on my freedom of thought, or use of language, or… something. I don’t know that it even was, though. I knew I had gotten too angry too quickly for something so small as… what was it, exactly? It felt like I was being “yelled at”, and that’s a trigger for me. No “emotional runway”… what the hell?? I don’t like that I blew up over something so small, and it’s scary that it happened so quickly (doesn’t matter at all that no violence came of it, it’s still just not okay). Subjectively, my impression is that he took what I had said by way of a reply to something he said quite personally, inappropriately so. That’s a judgment on my part. An opinion. Was I right? Wrong? Neither? Is that what matters most? I don’t think that it is.

Who blew up first? Doesn’t matter as much as that we both lost our tempers. Who is right, who is wrong? Also less important than treating each other well regardless. I dislike how easily provoked I can be. That’s a thing I’d very much like to change. The keys to that kingdom are, rather annoyingly, within The Four Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

Well, shit. More practice. More verbs. More failures. More beginnings. I am, if nothing else, so very human. Right at the moment, I’m feeling pretty “broken” and “flawed”. The woman in the mirror lets me down on the regular, and I’m annoyed with myself over it. It is what it is. I have these raw materials to work with, and a finite mortal lifetime to make some fucking sense out of things.

My Traveling Partner leaves the house angry, without telling me. He texts me with his own anger. I respond with an apology and ask that he be safe out there in the world. (It’s windy and rainy, and the driving conditions are pretty bad.) He returns home; it’s just not safe to be out there driving while stressed out. I know he’s home; the slamming doors are a giveaway. He leaves me alone. That’s what I’d asked for. I feel chilled to the bone; it’s a stress response. I know it’s not actually cold in here.

I breathe, exhale, and try to let shit go somehow. I’m not succeeding immediately. I keep at it. I remind myself that this will pass. My “lunch” sits next to me on the desk, silently mocking my lack of appetite.

Funny (not) thing, though; I’ve often had some difficulties with fully understanding “be impeccable with your word”… it’s clear, reading the book, that this is not solely an admonishment to tell the truth, or an emphasis on “honesty”. It’s bigger than that. It’s about using language, generally, in a way that is not hurtful, based on a couple of quotes from that chapter…

The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life.

Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.

Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

I sit reflecting on those words. I hear power tools running out in the shop and feel worried about safety and my partner’s state of mind. I’d like to know what to say to “make him feel better”. I want him to feel similarly inclined toward making things right with each other. First steps are sometimes complicated by the assumptions that exist in my implicit thinking. Why, for example, would I doubt that he does want to make things right with each other? Why would he assume that I would want anything else, myself?

“Don’t make assumptions” is very good advice. “Don’t take anything personally” is also very good advice. There are verbs involved. My results vary.

I would do well to take a different approach toward flat assertions of causality than equally bland assertions to the contrary or equivocating language, I think. Would the conversation have proceeded in a commonplace pleasant and agreeable way if instead of sounding contrary, or feeling forced to agree with something I wasn’t certain I agreed with 100%, I had asked a clarifying question about the cause/effect connection observed? I’m not certain. This headache does not support my best thinking. 😦

I can’t honestly say I did my best on this one. My results vary. A “do over” would be awesome, but in realistic terms there’s no getting around my partner’s hurt feelings; the answer and resolution require me to consider those and address the hurt directly, with kindness and compassion, and quite likely making room to listen. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Being the likely “bad guy” in this scenario sucks severely.

I’m just going to have to begin again anyway.

It’s been a wonderful weekend with much to celebrate and very little stress. πŸ™‚ Life doesn’t always hand out such lovely weekends, uninterrupted by bullshit and drama, characterized by laughter and love; warmth and affection saturated each welcome moment. It was beautiful. I’m sipping my coffee and smiling, and taking time for gratitude. I can even pin-point what made this particular weekend so incredibly delightful; kind words.

It is not an exaggeration to observe that when most people talk about giving “feedback”, they are talking about negative feedback. Let’s be real about that; negative feedback can also, generally, be called “criticism”, and being criticized, especially if it is a regular thing, is not pleasant. It’s quite difficult to give negative feedback in an encouraging way that lifts someone up, and promotes improvement and positive change. It fairly commonly feels like a beat-down, discouraging, punishing, and devaluing. Yes, even when well-intentioned, and particularly if there is no balancing positive feedback or encouragement offered. Negative feedback is hard to do skillfully, and can be damaging.

You know what isn’t all that difficult? Positive feedback – encouragement. You know what is also fairly easy to do skillfully, and rarely causes damage? Kind words. Yep. Negative feedback isn’t nearly as effective, but it does provide a certain something for the giver-of-feedback (that isn’t at all needed by the person receiving it); the satisfaction of insisting on being heard. Many people avoid clearly understanding what the negative feedback experience feels like for the recipient – until they are, themselves, receiving it. It’s a shame, because positive feedback, encouragement, and kind words, given honestly, and from an authentic place, work in the most remarkable way to actually change behavior over time. Seriously.

(No one is talking about “white lies” here! Or lies at all.)

The key to both positive and negative feedback is the honesty and authenticity, but without kindness and encouragement, negative feedback is often just… mean. Whether we intend it that way or not. It’s just that no one likes being criticized. Feeling rejected actually causes an experience similar to physical pain. It does not matter in the least whether we are “right”; negative feedback stings a little every time, and if it comes as a barrage of nagging and complaints, all the positive intentions in the world won’t ensure the person we are speaking to thinks of it as “helpful” or “welcome” or will recognize that we are well-intentioned, at all. It’s often what comes to our attention most commonly, and most quickly, though – all those things we see as “could have been done better”. We notice that immediately. We are irritated by things that aren’t “right”. We speak up quickly to offer “feedback” – or feel like we’re not being “heard”.

Kindness does take a bit more effort; it’s important to actually notice real things that please, impress, or support us, or which we want to acknowledge and reinforce. That means actually actively paying attention to that person we care enough about to give feedback to. It also means understanding what is important to us, and being very aware of words and actions that support what we see as something that “matters”. Where negative feedback has it’s own notification system in place to let us know when something isn’t quite right, positive reinforcement doesn’t seem to do that, and puts the burden of awareness in our relationships where it belongs; it our here and now, a practice we practice. Can you even count the number of kind things, encouraging words, that you’ve said to your partner or a dear friend in the past 24 hours? If you’re like most people, that number is pretty low, most of the time, and the number of criticisms, “negative feedback”, and back-handed compliments are probably pretty high. It’s a pretty sad state of things considering that there is science to support the need for healthy relationships to have a high ration of positive to negative interactions. Just saying. Do better. Be kind. Be present. Be encouraging. πŸ˜‰ Have pleasant weekends. πŸ˜€

…Now, having said that, it’s also a real thing that if we’re not playing the game of life by the same rules, within our relationships, it can get weird and unpleasant very quickly when we make a change in our behavior of this sort. If a person living in the context of a very negative, sarcastic, gas-lighting relationship starts trying to embrace positive feedback and kindness, it’s not going to “fix” the other person, or the relationship. It’s just not. (I’m not saying negative feedback and criticism are therefore the way to go; sometimes the way ahead isn’t easy, and a few small changes just aren’t adequate to put things right, generally.) What I am saying is that otherwise generally emotionally healthy people do well to treat each other truly well, placing more emphasis and priority on positive feedback, encouragement, and kind words, than on negative feedback.

This past weekend really proved that idea for me. The once or twice I was offered any sort of negative feedback in the moment completely fades from my recollection. I remember the points being made, and the suggestions, but not the negative words or moments. What I remember most about the weekend was the kindness, the compliments, the encouragement, the supportiveness, the listening, the connectedness, the shared humor… it was a wonderful weekend. I felt valued, appreciated, and loved. Words do matter. Assumptions do matter. How we approach each other as human beings does matter. All weekend long I’ve felt the heartbeat of this partnership in a warm, positive way, wrapped in love and held in high regard. So much kindness and tenderness. πŸ™‚

There are subtleties to consider. The difference between “a helpful suggestion” and “unwelcome criticism” is in things like tone, context, and intention; it’s super hard to make useful “rules” about how to do that skillfully, that I could share and someone else could make use of. I am painfully aware of the complexities and required nuance – I’m learning as I go, myself. (Sorry for the extra “homework”!)

Empty compliments are hollow, and don’t work as positive feedback. Content, authenticity, honesty, these things matter. The moment matters. The choice of words matters. Tone of voice matters. Sincerity matters (we can all hear a passive-aggressive “tone”, or sarcasm.) It does take some practice, particularly if we’ve tended to be very negative in our life (possibly framing our choice to be so as “taking care of myself” “expressing my needs” or “setting boundaries”). If you find yourself reading these words thinking “well, except for so-and-so, because I literally have nothing good to say to them”, well, now you’re in “if you can’t say something nice…” territory. Seems unlikely that any one individual could be someone with literally no redeeming qualities of any kind worth reinforcing or encouraging… certainly seems unlikely you’d have chosen to marry such a person, or build a life with them, or develop a deep friendship with someone like that, right? So, start where that positive feedback and those encouraging kind words will make the most profound difference; at home. This holiday season, don’t be a dick. πŸ™‚ Tell the people who matter to you that they do matter. Say nice things more often than you criticize or “correct” them. Trust me; it’s painless to be nice. πŸ˜‰

…And if you just have to offer up a “correction” or “criticism”, definitely try to at least soften your tone! Sounding angry or irritable is real communication of emotions. It’s helpful to be at least aware that the emotional experience we’re having is our own, and to acknowledge that honestly and not try to put it on the person we’re talking to in some kind of blame-laying way. πŸ™‚

Are you afraid of fucking this up? Are you worried about “being wrong” or “taken the wrong way”? I get it. Change – however necessary, or desirable, can be hard. Fortunately, there are a ton of opportunities to begin again. Go ahead – take a chance on being kind to people you care about. Hell, it’s the holiday season, be kind to everyone, as though each person you meet is human, and really matters. (They are, and do.) If you don’t like who you become, the new year is here, soon enough, and you can begin again, again. πŸ˜€

It is afternoon, sometime. I am tired – so tired. I woke in the night for no obvious reason, and after getting a drink of water to soothe me of nightmares I had already forgotten, and checking my email and finding profound connection, and amazing good news, both, I just couldn’t sleep. My mind would not quiet itself. So… I rested quietly in the darkness, smiling.

I’ll start a new job soon. I’m excited about it. There’s nothing much else to say at present. It appears to be a good choice, made in the right moment, and it is an excellent “next step” toward a future that remains unscripted, and wholly unpredictable. This amuses me, considering that a large part of what I doΒ  professionally gives every appearance of “predicting the future” in some way. lol

I’m tired now. So tired. Too well caffeinated, and I may regret that later… but for now, it sustains my attention on the matters currently at hand.

New beginnings? I see several coming up fast. πŸ™‚

I am brushing off my practice of not scrolling through Facebook, reading the news, or clicking shared links about events, and giving is a good restart. It messes with my head to be tossed into the festering pool of hate and despair that our political dialogue has become, and first thing in the morning I have little ability to protect myself from being sucked in, and reacting to it. So… Β there’s that. No more reading the news in the morning (again). It’s a poor practice for me as an individual.

This morning, I am thinking about the “no words” – boundary-setting language. I am thinking about what works, what doesn’t, and the how/why boundary setting can be so objectionable for some people that they immediately begin to rationalize, manipulate, or defy boundaries that have been set. I don’t know why I’m thinking about this, today; I woke up thinking about it. Well, sort of…

I didn’t sleep well. I was tired fairly early, went to bed “on time”, fell asleep promptly, but… it didn’t last. I woke around 2 am. I never slept particularly well after that, if I slept at all. I wasn’t distressed by my sleeplessness, that no longer plagues me in that fashion. There wasn’t any anxiety or stress over it, even knowing that if it persists for another day or two, I won’t be well-rested to make the 5 hour drive to see my Traveling Partner this weekend. I wasn’t laying awake in the dark thinking about boundary setting, though. Still… it’s what was on my mind as I woke. No idea why.

So I start the morning with my coffee, hot, and ideas to do with boundary setting swirling in my consciousness: agency, consent, saying “no”, saying “yes”, “reasonable” boundaries, consideration, respect… and on it goes. My thinking hasn’t really become anything especially share-worthy. My words this morning are unlikely to excite, inspire, or even to truly communicate. I am adrift in a sea of thoughts about boundaries, and boundary setting. There’s no stress over that, either, it’s rather a calm sea. πŸ™‚

I’ve been struck by the seeming general lack of consideration between and among individuals of late. It’s probably quite subjective. It may not be at all an accurate experience of life. It just seems to me that people I observe are much less considerate than they were rather recently ago…but… when I attempt to take time to prove that assumption for myself, it falls apart when I attempt to show things were previously actually any better. I still subjectively feel that something “has changed”. I don’t know that the change is anything that affects the world… it could just be me. I am, perhaps, more sensitive to inconsiderate behavior, regardless who it affects, than I once was? Consideration is a big deal for me, personally. It’s one of my “Big 5” relationship values – something I value so highly, I both seek to practice it reliably in every relationship and interaction, and also require it, reciprocally, from others. My idea of “decency”, “civility”, and basic good manners requires consideration be a default behavior. Yes, and there are verbs involved.

The sky has grown lighter, and the morning is on the other side of day break. I finish my coffee, and notice that the house has cooled off completely. The morning breezes have blown through the open windows. It’s forecasted to be very hot all week. I’ve been very grateful to have already moved. My last place, without any trees shading the west wall, a floorplan with limited air flow, and no AC, quickly got into triple digits indoors if the outdoor temperature exceeded 86 degrees (F) or so, and if temperatures remained high, it gradually worsened, and reached dangerously high indoor temperatures poorly suited to human life. No joke. (It wasn’t that bad before the property management company cut down all the trees.) The new place is quite different. It is both well-shaded, and also has AC – and a floorplan that allows air to move efficiently through the place. Very livable. I pause to really appreciate how nice this is… and remember that I will need to water the container garden on the deck.

I hear a bird or creature of some sort, just beyond view outside the window. Curiosity pulls me to my feet… and the day begins. πŸ™‚


It’s a true thing; language functions by agreement. We understand each other because we believe we share definitions of terms. It’s often true that we do (more or less, individual subtleties and variations notwithstanding). Language also fails to function – by agreement; we often implicitly agree that in order to “keep peace”, to avoid “starting shit”, to evade “drama”, we overlook failures to explicitly clarify our meaning, even though we’ve seen that we are not communicating with clarity.  Well, damn, people, don’t do that. Just saying.

My idea of a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday and yours may differ – it’s generally not the sort of difference that causes terrible heartache, unless someone defies some commonly held familial, tribal, or community tradition based on novel (or merely outside the group) thinking. What about words like “equal”, “truth”, “non-biased”, “fair”, “considerate”, “honest”…? Our dictionaries differ, and we do tend – as human primates – to give our own point of view a great deal more weight than someone we perceive as “other” than ourselves. We find a lot of words to fight over.

It's hard to unsay the words.

It’s hard to unsay the words.

Last night OPD made a special delivery to my place, unexpectedly. My peaceful evening was shattered by angry voices. Not just angry – the sort of enraged fury that seems unique to people who are frustrated, struggling, emotionally invested, feeling unheard, and coming from a place of learned helplessness and impotent rage. Domestic violence makes that sound. It’s that bit just beyond lovers quarreling, that scary place where imminent violence seems highly likely…. and it’s not okay. Entirely unacceptable to treat love in that frightening, disrespectful, and callous fashion. It’s entirely unacceptable to treat one’s neighbors to it, either. It was after 10 pm, after community “quiet hours” begin, and completely audible through the walls. I could have put in earplugs and turned up the stereo to mask it… but I was acutely aware of two very important (to me) things: firstly, those are my friends over there, treating each other in that shabby fashion. Secondly, and most importantly, many years ago I promised myself I would not be a bystander to domestic violence. No excuses, no fear, no “it’s not my business” – no standing by and letting someone go through that, the way I once had to, isolated, frightened, hurting, injured, and without emotional support.

I threw on my coat, and went next door. We have a shared understanding on the knock we use; a roommate opened the door, knowing it was me. He had that “I’m staying out this, sorry about the noise” look of apology and discomfort on his young face. I nodded as he opened the door ever so slightly wider, and I walked purposefully past him toward the ongoing screaming. I could feel my symptoms surging from my own stress; this particular kind of verbal violence, emotional violence, the screaming at each other with such relentless deaf fury triggers my PTSD just about faster than anything else can – and I needed it to stop. For me. I stepped between them and began the process of separating them, helping them de-escalate, reminding them their behavior is simply not acceptable adult behavior (and no, I don’t care who you are, or who did what, or who is “right”, or the why of any of it all – knock that shit off, it’s not okay).

He had asked her to leave. It’s his place. I backed him up on that, knowing they definitely needed some moments or hours to calm the fuck down and get their heads right. She threw drama “I’m not taking anything! No one will ever find me! I’m never coming back!”. It was bullshit and drama, spoken from an emotional place, feeling hurt, angry, frightened, stressed out, not heard, treated badly… all of the things. Still unacceptable drama and bullshit, and I really wish someone had firmly said as much to me when I was a much younger, very volatile woman, myself. (Boundary setting is a useful skill. I am grateful to have survived my first marriage to undertake to learn some.)

She left, he was still storming, wanting to justify his anger, to explain himself, to demonstrate how his reaction was understandable. I didn’t argue those points, just kept reminding him the situation was not about “right”, only that it was an emotional situation in which his behavior was not appropriate. I pointed out how much time he has taken to grow as a man, to become the man he most wants to be, on his terms, and that this behavior was no part of that. I reminded him that his own dignity and self-respect were at stake here. I reminded him how young she is, and that we are each having our own experience. I reminded him that I, myself, for my own reasons, cannot tolerate that kind of violent behavior in my vicinity, and that indeed I do consider that emotional and verbal violence to be “violent” and that it causes human beings great pain. Hell, he was obviously hurting, himself. He was hurting himself. Hurting her. No one needed to raise a hand in violence; the damage was being done quite efficiently using only words.

I went home, hoping things would stay quiet. Already pretty stressed out to be exposed to the drama and bullshit. Triggered, aware, sad for them – hoping I’d done more good than harm, and hadn’t burned bridges with friends over it. Would I choose to intervene if I knew with certainty it would end my friendship with someone? Yes, I would. That shit is not okay – and its high time people (all of us) were more committed to saying so, each and every time it comes up. Violence? Not okay. Racism? Not okay. Exploitation? Not okay. Being a dick to people on mass transit? Not okay. Small stuff and large stuff. None of my business? Well… I suppose if I am content to watch the world burn, maybe that would be reasonable. I think we can do better. I think we can treat each other well; there are verbs involved, and a shared responsibility for the quality of life for all our neighbors and brothers and sisters and strangers and “others” who are not like us. The screaming and abuse has got to stop though. Non-negotiable, at least for me.

I heard the door open and close next-door, a little later. Quiet voices. I sat with my memories. It was a long time before I slept. I woke this morning, Thanksgiving Day. I woke this morning, grateful. I’m grateful to be alive. To have survived domestic violence – to have survived hell – with a heart still capable of loving, and eager to see my Traveling Partner; the first person to look me in the face in a moment of emotional violence, utter hysteria and rage (years ago, early in our relationship), and say “this is not okay, and you have to stop”. Thank you, Love.

Love matters most.

Love matters most.

Today is a good day to be grateful for the easy stuff – and the hard stuff too. Today is a good day to appreciate love and lovers and moments of profound change of perspective. Today is a good day to be honest, to be frank, to be compassionate, to listen deeply, and to love well. Today is a good day to change the world. ❀

Thank you for reading. Thank you for everything you do to become the person you most want to be. If you’re feeling up to it – let’s change the world. πŸ™‚