I feel like we talk about boundaries quite a bit. Not just because I teach them, but because it seems we are talking about them incessantly as a culture and because I frequently see someone screaming about their boundaries being violated on social media. I will say I think social media has eroded our sense of boundaries for one very simple reason: It allows us to say things we would never say personally with minimal consequences. This was not the purpose social media was created for, but we can add it to the list of things we have misused (or at the very least cheapened.)
Part 1 of this series dealt with common boundary challenges and communication skills. This blog post will deal more with practical application and why I think we have room for improvement regarding boundary applications. Let’s jump back to social media. Why are things so contentious on social media? Is it the times we live in? Partially. But social media was a sea of useless conflict a long time prior to 2020. How come? One problem is many of us like to be right far too much. Quite often we argue about scenarios that have multiple solutions, but there is always someone who believes in the “one true way.” We are invested in conflict for conflicts sake. We could find better ways to use our time. I have known more than one person who ruined their day before 9am due to arguing on social media over their coffee and corn flakes.
We must remember people are allowed to disagree with us. If we all kept that particular boundary in mind, we could save ourselves a considerable amount of grief. Remember, boundaries are barriers we use to keep others at an appropriate physical and emotional distance. If we keep in mind it is perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree, we might find we have fewer conflicts to navigate on the Myfacetwitterbook spaces.
How many of us are currently capable of discussing issues with others in an open manner where ideas are genuinely compared or exchanged? My observation is social media has become incredibly polarizing. There is only one correct point of view and any disagreement is viewed as an aggressive assault. The ability to exchange ideas in a civilized manner also involves boundaries. It helps if we know why we think what we think. That way we can discuss and explain why we believe it is so. I don’t believe many of us question our beliefs often enough and when these beliefs are challenged in any way, reactions tend to be reflexively defensive with no thought as to why someone may see it differently than we do. We don’t spend much time on the boundaries necessary to discuss differing opinions any more.
Because of this tendency, we tend to only “friend” those on social media who think the same as we do. Exchanges quickly become “us vs. them.” Conflict, rather than debate or compare and contrast seems to be our current default. If this is how we are currently arranging ourselves socially, how do new ideas and new information get through? How do we reach beyond our own echo chambers? How many of us think we need to? Disagreements do not have to be viewed as deadly threats.
On that same note, boundaries also exist so we can have civil disagreements in order to compromise and resolve issues. I have often told couples in session they need to establish ground rules (boundaries) regarding how to argue. These rules need to be set up well in advance of any contentious discussions so all parties know where the lines are and both parties have agreed upon them. Most couples learn over time which lines should never be crossed and what the likely consequences are if those boundaries are not respected.
Why would we want to stray beyond those boundaries, especially with a significant other? We want to “win.” Winning becomes more important than resolution. Winning becomes more important than a genuine exchange of knowledge and ideas both parties could benefit from. What is the grand prize for winning in this way? Typically it results in more conflict. The conflict may spread to other areas, escalate more intensely, and the cycle repeats itself until neither party is observing or even remembering the originally agreed upon boundaries. I feel sometimes it is important to be right, but not every single time, particularly when there is more than one answer or solution. Boundaries keep us civil and civility keeps us talking. I also want to add I need to focus on this daily, in multiple areas of my life.
Reestablishing boundaries after someone did not respect them tends to be anxiety provoking for most. This requires bringing specific attention to how someone did not respect the established boundaries the two (or more) of you agreed upon. This will entail a confrontation of some kind. This does not have to be an inflammatory situation, but it does need to be direct. Were the boundaries in question violated deliberately or accidentally? Was it the heat of the moment or calculated to cause upset? Let’s remember, particularly within personal relationships, if we don’t step on someone’s boundaries we wont have to apologize for it later.
Do you have a clear picture of where too far is for you? Where is the line that if crossed, will cause you to walk away from someone for good? This is not necessarily about your significant other, it could also be a friend, acquaintance, or coworker. Everyone has a point of no return where things cannot be fixed if that one line is crossed. Knowing where that line is means you are clear on what is acceptable and what is not. Honoring that line means your self-esteem and self-awareness is intact and fully functioning.
Other people in our lives have boundaries as well and their boundaries will likely overlap with ours. I think we need to remember others have the same right to their boundaries and beliefs as we have for ours. In other words my boundaries do not supersede or cancel yours and vice versa. The Golden Rule is always a good measuring stick if we are in a position where we are unsure. As I said in Part 1 of boundaries, if you are unsure, ask. If you think it needs to be said, say it. Clear and open communication encourages good boundaries and that pertains to face to face exchanges with friends and family as well as our sparring partners on social media. With a slight change in approach, our sparring partners become our new teachers. Now go practice!