I was trying to exert control over others to force them to do my will. I had no real control over myself, as I discovered over the following years of struggle with my anger.
I realised later in life that you can only control yourself. To lead others you need to be seen to be in control of yourself, then others will respect you and follow you.
This was the conclusion I reached, last week, after considering the question of ‘Taking Control‘.
I started thinking about setting boundaries. I wanted to understand what boundaries really are.
I discovered that they are not as simple as they seem. The meaning of boundaries depends on which side of them you are.
I love this image,
“There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. […]
“Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”
(Ursula Le Guin – ‘The Dispossessed’)
I can imagine the wall being built, crudely, before the builder had any skills. It was rough but it was confident. When it came to the road, the way that was open and used by many people, it lost its strength.
The idea was there, the imaginary line, but it had not been marked, either with wall or gate. The line did not really exist.
Yes, it was important, but it did not work as a wall.
This is what boundaries are, for many people. They are built early because of some childhood event. They are built before we understand their significance.
Then they fall apart as we interacting with other people. We lose confidence and we become upset.
What we all forget, though, is what the wall means to those on the outside. We know the inside, we see it all the time, but we forget that it looks different on the outside.
To see what this means let us look at three men and their experience.
Adam had years of conflict with his parents. His father wanted him to go into the military, to follow in his footsteps. His mother wanted him to become an artist, something she had failed to do. His parents were in conflict with each other and avoided the issue.
Adam wanted to please them both. He loved them but was confused about how to establish what he wanted. He ended up leaving home and travelling the world. He was unhappy and unable to show any strength. His relationships failed.
He found it difficult to set any boundaries because he wanted to please other people all the time. He found himself unable to see himself as being important.
Ben was a strong person who came out of the terrible two’s in charge. He got what he wanted all the time. His parents thought the world of him and spoiled him.
He became a businessman who created empires and made money. He created companies and employed people who did what he wanted. He ruled his creations with a rod of iron.
His relationships failed and he found himself rich but unhappy. People avoided him, afraid of his sharp tongue. He had clear boundaries but got angry when other people crossed them. He did not understand why people did not enjoy being with him.
Chris was taught by his parents about right and wrong. He grew up discovering himself and understanding the effect he had on the world and on other people.
He knew what he wanted out of life and he knew what he wanted to contribute. He became a doctor who dedicated his life to saving people from disease and teaching people about wellness. He was able to create balance in his life between his personal life and the demands other people made of him.
He knew that saying no to one thing was also saying yes to something else. Crucially, he was able to balance yes and no in a way that people understood and accepted.
It should be clear, from these stories, how to build your wall and how to see it from all sides. Before you do there are some critical issues for you to resolve inside during this process
Inside World – Outside World
The world you see, out there, is the world you create.
Buddhism talks about emptiness, the emptiness of non-attachment. A thing that exists has no meaning in itself. It is just a thing. Meaning is attached to it by people who see it and associate it with something.
When you attach to the world you give it meaning, your meaning. You then react to the world you see and create an inside world, of anger, compassion, love, hatred etc, in relation to it. But you forget that you have created that very meaning from inside your soul.
We need to take control of ourselves, of our thinking and of the meaning we give to things. To take control of ourselves we need to take responsibility of what we do and how we react.
We create the world ourselves, not others. This is a crucial issue, one that is at the heart of boundary setting.
We decide what we will do, not others. If we are doing what others want it is because we have decided to do so. We cannot blame others for what happens to us.
To set our boundaries we must be aware of who we are and how we have become the person we are. We then need to know where we want to go, what we want to be.
We need to understand what we need on a personal level and what we want, and need, to give to others. This should be clear to ourselves and clear to others. Bridging the wall is achieved through communication.
When I find myself getting angry, which is rare today, I know the wall has started to crumble. I know the way is no longer clear. It is time to get out the mortar and re-build the wall, on both sides. I need to take responsibility for what is happening and clearly communicate.
I talk, I listen, I explain, I hear and I re-create my boundaries and, as a result, I am happy man.
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