I was reading this blog post by Dr. Trish about fences and boundaries. I love her writing style, but also agree with her on the 80/20 rule. See for yourself, could you apply this rule to other areas of your life? Rather than going into accusation, Dr. Trish used her own advice and went into her feelings. It allowed her to feel and express her anger, but also to leave a mutually respectful note at her neighbor’s house and not disrupt the friendship she has with her neighbor. ~ Dr. Saskia Coté, Relationship Editor
By Dr. Trish Whynot
Most people think of fences or walls when they think of boundaries. They think of how to protect, defend or shield themselves from other people’s crap. When I think of boundaries I think of my desires, not my defenses. I haven’t always thought of boundaries this way but when I do it serves me quite miraculously. Rather than protect myself from the ‘negativity’ I am attracting, I’d rather understand why I have attracted it in the first place.
- Sometimes it’s because there is something inside of me that is ready for maturing.
- Sometimes my past is coming up for healing.
- And sometimes a boundary violation is just an opportunity for deeper intimacy.
Several falls ago we planted some trees along our property line. We were adding to an existing strip of woodlands that buffered the boundary. A 4-foot fence marked the line between us and our neighbors.
In the spring, just after the snow had melted, we went over to the property line to see how the new trees were doing. But when we got to the fence a horrendous stench caused us to forget about the trees. It looked to me—a non-dog-owner—like a winter’s worth of freshly defrosted poo from our neighbor’s dog was lining our side of the fence.
Put yourself in my shoes. (Excuse or enjoy the pun.) How would you have felt?
If you want to do some healing by proxy, take a minute to do some stream-of-consciousness writing about it. That’s what I did. I wrote a series of stream-of-consciousness letters. The first was to our neighbors. I let it all hang out here—how dare you, I’m angry, how rude, etc. etc. The second was in response to reading the first and going deeper. (I was angry. What was I angry about? My boundaries had been violated. I was angry because I felt disrespected and it hurt. Had I felt this way before? Yes! Quite a bit of my life. I had been taught that I had to suck it up to spare others their feelings.) These findings and more were revealing and I was able to do much healing, which included stream-of-consciousness letters to others from my past, ALL of which I had no intention of sending. This sh!t on our side of the fence was quite a picture of what it looks like when we suck it up to maintain connections.
The body of the note I sent to our neighbor read something like this:
We really like you guys. As neighbors we think it’s important to be honest with each other. If we ever did anything that bothered you we’d want to know and if there was something bothering us we’d want to be able to tell you about it. This is one of those times. We found a lot of dog crap on our side of the fence. We’re sure you have an explanation, but we’re feeling disrespected and would appreciate you cleaning it up.
I could have stewed. We could have put up a bigger fence. I could have talked smack about them to our friends or I could have told myself that I didn’t have a right to my feelings because the poo was in the woodlands and it wasn’t hurting anyone. But the only thing that could make a permanent difference was being with my feelings with interest rather than with judgment and then bringing the situation to our neighbors’ attention.
Only about 10-20% of what I was feeling had to do with our neighbors. The other 80-90% was from all the other times my boundaries had been violated and I had been called selfish for admitting it, shamed into sucking up my feelings or voluntarily sucked them up to avoid conflict. This boundary violation had brought up my whole history. And it was true. We liked our neighbors and I desired to keep liking them.
I left the note on their door. Later that day when the husband got home we saw him with a barrel and shovel cleaning up the mess.
The next weekend we ran into each other and he brought it up. I found myself holding back tears as he apologetically shared how his dog sometimes gets stuck on our side of the fence and because of the snow he hadn’t realized how much of a mess he had left behind.
“This is how people are supposed to treat each other,” I thought.
We were communicating and I was deeply moved. Sucking up our feelings, building bigger fences and talking smack to others doesn’t foster healing, maturity or healthy connections. It only serves to build walls that isolate us.
Addressing my feelings with interest rather than with judgment led to:
- more mature communication skills.
- revisiting that “Suck-It-Up” mentality and meditatively giving back a lot of sh!t that had hopped my proverbial fence over the years with or without my conscious permission.
- giving my neighbors the benefit of the doubt rather than judge their character and assume their motives, allowed them to own their side and apologize.
I was not resentful when I dropped off my note. I was more in fear of the unknown outcome of my new attempt at vulnerable communication but also filled with gratitude and humility for the healing and growth opportunities that emerged from the situation. It was truly a miraculous outcome in my definition. That doesn’t mean that I’d welcome a repeat performance, but if I find myself feeling disrespected in the future I’ll chuckle in my knowing that sh!t doesn’t just randomly hop a fence. It shows up to provide me with an opportunity to deepen intimacy by drawing on my real strength which is born of the humility to admit that I am bothered with intrigue. And then to use my feelings to lighten my past, illuminate my present, and consequently brighten my future connections. And now that my adult children have dogs, I have to admit that “a winter’s worth of poo” may have been an exaggeration.
Where did your stream-of-consciousness writing take you?
I’m interested… What is your tendency when feeling violated?
- Do you stew?
- Suck it up?
- Talk yourself out of your feelings… I don’t have a right to my feelings because…?
- Vent to a friend?
- Or something else.
Friends in this Love,
If you’d like Dr. Trish to facilitate a “Fresh Approach to Boundaries” discussion in your area or for your private group or if you’d like to schedule a private session to discuss a boundary issue that is eluding you, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Permission to re-publish this article provided by the author.