Friday, July 20, 2007

Bountiful Beautiful Boundaries

This was sent to Aunt Babz via email...

Hi B,
I got the sense reading your site that you might have something interesting to say about the following situation. If you do, I'd really love to hear it 'cause I'm right stuck trying to figure it out.

This is kind of a complex problem, I'll attempt to be as concise as possible.

My problem is in the way that I communicate myself to people I have just met. I seem to give off some kind of vibe that suggests that I want to get really close to people really fast. This happens with both men and women and I have a long history of it. It's much worse with men because of the obvious sexual aspect. Suddenly people I've just met are telling me intimate details of their lives and acting like we're life-long friends, or worse some guy I've just met figures he can start touching me or even directly asking me to sleep with him! After only an hour or so conversation! It's not everyone I meet of course, but it happens a lot-they don't seem to get that I want relationships (platonic and otherwise) to proceed at a sane pace. What's even worse is that when a misunderstanding occurs I feel awful about it and am loathe to embarrass them, so I end up playing along until I can find a way to physically escape the encounter, then I dread bumping into them. It makes me feel sneaky and dishonest.

I've given it a lot of thought and I can't seem to pinpoint an exact cause, this is what I know:

I do not dress provocatively and I am very careful not to exhibit sexually suggestive body language.
My looks are about average, nobody's attracted to my stunning beauty.
I am a very respectful and polite communicator; always wanting people to feel at ease I am careful to listen and to not give offense, I try to show empathy to their points of view. I never put people down, I smile and accept others. When I express opposing view points I do it gently. I'm willing to discuss pretty much anything (but obviously not a lot of personal details about myself early on)
I apply a lot of social lubricant-filling silences before they become uncomfortable, telling funny stories, trying to include everyone present, that kind of thing. Also I'm enthusiastic, so I talk animatedly and smile a lot.

I am happy that people feel at ease and want to open up to me, it makes meeting people a lot easier. Also I am a writer and there's a lot of inspiration to be had by meeting people and talking to them, I really enjoy it. BUT somehow it ends up being more than a casual conversation and they start having expectations of me that I didn't agree to. AND because I don't want to hurt people's feelings or embarrass them, when I know it's gone too far I have trouble setting the record straight. Of course I could say "HEY! BACK THE HELL OFF!", but it's not my style and I'd feel just awful watching their reactions. The way things are though, people get hurt and disappointed anyway (when I book-it out of there), and any possibility of a mutual relationship with these people is lost.

Finally, it's bad enough on an average day, but I'm travelling alone in SE Asia, meeting people all the time, and cultural differences are a big part of it. I find that here NONE of my subtle hints (not holding a eye contact that is too intimate, slightly pulling away if a person gets too close, etc...) work at all and it's happening more than ever! Add to that a need to show proper respect as a visitor and I feel totally stuck! It potentially puts me at risk, AND gets in the way of making personal contacts.

SO how do I project an expectation of personal space without being rude and without giving up the chance to have great conversations; and once a misunderstanding has occurred, how do I diffuse the situation without making people uncomfortable? I'd really love to hear to hear your insights on the situation.

Thank you so much for your help B,
Girlaboutglobe, Canadian, 27

Dear Girlaboutglobe,

There was a time, when I went through the exact same thing. I was the one people chose to confess their deepest darkest secrets to, still am, in that respect but I don't get hit on, like I used to. Doggonnit. But I have the persona, where people feel the need to tell it all, give it all and often touch all.

I did not grow up in a touchy, feely family. When I used to go to AA/NA meetings, people were always hugging and we had to hold hands. I would cringe and have a bit of anxiety, as I am not like that and I'm not comfortable, or at least I wasn't.

It's all called "Boundary" issues. Some of us have no boundaries, good or bad. Some of us have issues and have extensive boundaries.

Boundaries can be interpreted in many different ways. It can be issues of how we interact with others, in a physical way or how we communicate. An example of this, is my approach to life. I have few boundaries, when it comes to spitting things out. Some times, I do it for shock value, sometimes, I do it or say something, to make my point. Most often, it is because I am not Politically Correct and I speak the truth, even if it makes you cringe.

Another form of boundaries, might be, what and how you share with family or friends, new friends, associates and so on. To explain this, I will use my own relationship with my sons. We have very few boundaries, when communicating. Most people would either die laughing or curl up in a little ball, from just one exchange between myself and any one of my sons. We talk about everything, they tell me everything and there's only real graphic detail, that I am spared. In example, my youngest, we fondly call, "Johnny Appleseed," or "Romeo" will tell me of his sexual escapades like he might a buddy. He told me about going to a strip club, in Chicago about a month ago. He'd gone home with four of the strippers. Curious as to what had happened, he told me that , No, he'd not slept with them but all four had danced around their apartment naked and a couple had given him a lap dance. He told me this beaming with pride and prowess, as he usually does, when it comes to conquering the women.

My middle son and I were just talking about, he and his wife and her, "No butt lovin' rule." He likes to kid her and pretend like she's not fulfilling her husbands needs by denying him, kiddingly, tattle taled to me on the phone. She was giggling, like a school girl, in the background. Of course, I defended her, hahaha!

My oldest son, who happens to be Gay, had told me a tale of his adventures in a NYC Club and without elaborating, it was, well, I did learn several things, I had no idea about, we'll leave it at that.

If I were to repeat some of the things, you might even cringe. I do not have a lot of boundaries, when it comes to my sons, as you see and it often , is the same rule with people I speak with, friends and even on this site. I do get letters, some rather explicit, that I answer but do not publish. I do answer them though, that is my rule. So, the point of this, is that imaginary boundary line.

Here is a list of, so called healthy and unhealthy boundaries. I do not and can not agree with them all, on either spectrum but I do say, he has a good compilation.

So, boundaries can be either physical, emotional or the way we communicate. One thing, you may want to do is put on my Bitch Belt. You must begin to wear it, figuratively and begin to envision yourself with boundaries. Thus far, people can't see it or feel it, possibly, more so with the guys.

Believe it or not, I think we are more instinctual, intuitive and all about reading body language and vibes, than we understand. I think most of us, don't realize just how much, all this comes into play, in our every day lives and interactions with people. So far, my assumption, is that you have been somewhat passive-aggressive and I don't mean this, so much, in the clinical aspect, the psychology of it. What I am referring to is the premise of boundaries and setting them, wearing them and understanding them.

Quite often, guys especially, tend to view a chick that is really friendly, as a target. Thus, the need for the Bitch Belt. You must become an assertive woman, inside and it will permeate, then, on the outside. If you have self-esteem issues, this does and can play an integral part within the scope of boundary issues and establishing healthy boundaries, within the scope of friendships and intimacy.

Begin by being honest with yourself. Look in the mirror and examine who you are, do what you can to improve, even if it's a smile. Accept who you are and look for contentment within yourself. What I mean by this is, you must be happy with yourself, no matter what. Yes, we must always strive to improve ourselves, whether it is academically, intellectually or in the aspect of heath matters. But we can not change who we ultimately are. We can improve it and then accept it, can't we?

So, begin to look at who you are, improve what you can, strive to be all you can and acceptance of you, is the key. Once you've accepted yourself, you will not feel the need to please or lose. Being able to say no, if you are uncomfortable is paramount. Wearing the persona of an assertive woman will place you in this position.

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