Personal Boundaries

"Okay honey, just let me see if I have it in your size" said the sales assistant who looked no older than perhaps 17.  She had crossed the line.  It wasn't just the "honey" comment; it was the whole tone of condescension that was not okay with me.

I touched her gently on the forearm to get her attention.  She turned to look at me and when she made pupil contact, I spoke gently, respectfully and clearly.

"I need to explain to you that you are about to lose a sale."  I paused as she exhaled and looked at me with genuine curiosity.

"I was going to say nothing and just leave and then it occurred to me that you may not be aware of what you are doing." I smiled warmly, as I could see she was starting to show concern on her face.  She remained silent.

"When you are serving a woman older than you, like me, I am nearly 50, and you call me Honey, Sweetie or Babe, 80% of the time you will lose the sale.  It is disrespectful and condescending.  It is an intimate term that a lover might use, close friends could say to each other, or perhaps how an adult might address a child.  But in the workplace, it is not professional from a young woman to an older one." I explained with genuine compassion because I could see from what I had said, she had no idea.

"Oh my God, thank you, I had wondered why old women would sometimes storm out without explanation; I thought maybe I had bad breath or something. Oh, my God, Oh my God." She put her hands over her mouth as the penny dropped.

"I am so sorry, Madame".   I could see she was having an awakening.

I had to let the old woman comment go to the keeper, to her I am not middle aged, I am old. 

"There is no need for the Madame either, you don't know me, so you don't have to find a tag for me at all, I just need the right size now." I reassured her as she seemed awkward and flustered.

Calm assertion, I just love it!  To be able to speak up for the things we will and won't stand for as a mature adult is so liberating.  It has taken me years of practice, and I don't get it right every time, however when I do, my self respect grows; it is a wonderful thing for an older chook, who no longer chooses to be called "a chick", like me. 

People often ask me in workshops, "What are Personal Boundaries"?  I always respond with this little story that seems to explain them in a non clinical, but every day, sort of way.

I have come to understand my Personal Boundaries to be like landmarks on the estate that surrounds the exquisite palace of my own hearts inner world.  They clearly outline where my responsibility and morality finishes and other people's begins.  Once I began to construct them (back in 1995 when my emotional recovery began) they then commenced to provide a framework that now preserves my emotional energy, quality of life, sense of self respect and privacy.

Without Personal Boundaries other people are able to come and party on our hearts emotional estate, destroy what we have taken time and care in growing, and leave their emotional trash for us to deal with.  So it is important to remember it is our responsibility to create, and then preserve, our own Personal Boundaries.

I wrote in yesterday's Blog about Rescuers, Victims and Perpetrators.  I observe that it is a Victims stance to blame a dog for polluting their property if there is no effective boundary constructed to keep the intruding dog out.  It helps to remember that when we blame others we give up our power to change.  It is up to us to construct the boundary changes we now desire in our lives, to keep the dog poo off of our hearts lawn.  Then once our Personal Boundaries are constructed, we must then be willing to show others, respectfully, where we begin, and they end, and how we now choose to be treated.  Easier said than done, I know.

So where do you start? 

This exercise I have been told in my workshops is a helpful one.  Think of three people in your life that you have trouble holding your Personal Boundaries with.  For example the people that when you say yes or no to, you often change your mind and eventually give into them.  These are the people with whom you cannot hold true to your own word and what you honestly want to do at a heart level.  In a nutshell, you give your power away.  Write them down if you have time now.

Person 1 ......................................................

Person 2 ......................................................

Person 3.......................................................

I have found that with different people we often need different styles of Personal Boundaries.  I always explain this concept with these three visuals as a starting point.  This model  has worked for me personally as emotional visuals over the years and enabled me to preserve the quality of my own hearts garden and its whole estate.

So picture these three types of Personal Boundaries as new options in your life as of today.

  • 1. A low row of frilly petunias of all colours if you wish (I actually love just white for my visual). This row of delicate but gorgeous flowers anyone can step over, even a child, and enter the heart of your private inner world with ease.
  • 2. A waist height hedge that allows others to see into the property of your hearts estate but not enter without coming to the gate and respectfully requesting access.
  • 3. A very high, ivy and moss covered wall that surrounds the palace of your inner world. Nobody can see over this wall, or climb it as it has sensitive security alarms installed within it. To gain entry, others must come to the solid wooden locked door and talk into the intercom to ask for permission to enter.

Petunia Boundaries are only for gentle and respectful souls in your life, and this type of Personal Boundary will work beautifully with them.  These types of people are usually quite intimate with us and can be trusted.  They are the ones in our lives that encourage us to care for our boundaries and would assist you in maintaining them if you were ever suffering from heart fatigue.  As non invasive personalities they generally have a good quality of intimate relationships with others themselves. 

Why do you even need a boundary with them you may ask?  Well because they are human and at times might need a subtle reminder. 

Petunia People make requests in relationships not demands.  If we can't meet their requests, they are understanding and supportive as we are of them.  It is a true partnership of loyalty, love and respect, a two way street of give and take.  These are often what I call primary heart relationships.  If you are having trouble thinking of whom your Petunia People might be, ask yourself this question.  Who would you allow to lie next to you on your bed, in your bedroom and read a book or just chat with you?  Those people you feel absolutely comfortable with in your jarmies, without makeup, brushed teeth and tamed hair  ... these are your Petunia People.

My Petunia People are my glorious two sons Big and Little Chicken who are now men (aged 21 and 23), my husband Mr. Delicious, my Heart Mother, Beautiful Barb and a couple of select girlfriends you have already met in previous Blogs as The Glamazon and Lilly.  These people are granted quick access to me if they ever need me.  They are the calls on my Blackberry I will take as a priority even if in a meeting.  They have earned heartfelt intimacy with me.

Hedge People are not as intimately close to us but are still consistently involved in our lives.  These secondary relationships may include ex-partners who are parents of our children, colleagues, friends and social acquaintances.  We don't allow these people the same level of easy access into the emotional bedrooms of our private inner worlds.  Hedge People must use the gate to enter our worlds which involves making a time to see us, and understanding that some areas of our emotional lives such as our hearts private bedroom are not available options for them to have access to.

To help establish who your secondary relationship Hedge People are think of those that you would prefer knocked before entering your home.  Those that would be welcome as long as they didn't get food out of the refrigerator or go and lay on your bed without asking.

For me a consistent Hedge Person has been my ex-husband Pete, who is the father to my two sons.  Over the years when my boys were younger I have memories of Pete standing at my gate, where I did have a hedge growing at the time when we had first separated.  Pete is a landscape gardener and so whilst he was waiting to pick up the boys, if I was caught on the phone or the boys were taking their time to get their gear together, he would get tools from the back of his Ute and clip my hedge.  This is what inspired me to use this term.  He was always respectful as he knew he no longer had petunia access in my life, so he never entered my home unless I invited him in.  Pete became a Hedge Person once we separated and later divorced, for he still needed to see into my life to continue his relationship with his sons, but needed to make specific times to do that, as I did when he had the boys in his home.  It was understood that I did not invite myself over unannounced for a cuppa to his house, as I might a petunia friend.

Palace Wall People are the last or tertiary boundary people.  These Personal Boundaries are necessary for those who consistently arrive unannounced at inconvenient and inappropriate times at the emotional doors of our hearts.  They could be door to door salesman on a Sunday morning, or individuals that have shown us disrespect and invaded our sense of safety and privacy in the past.  The intercom represents protection for us and for some this may translate in real life as a professional mediator or lawyer.  For Palace Wall People clear restrictions about communication access via visits, email, telephone or letters will have to be addressed.

I have needed to construct Palace Wall boundaries in my life for individuals who could not respect my new recovery boundaries and complained that they no longer had free access to my private world.  Some became very angry and abusive and even though it saddened me, it was essential to preserve the beautiful new world I was creating for myself.  There were times I sat on the other side of the wall and cried as they yelled abuse and criticism into the intercom.  They felt betrayed by my change in lifestyle and relationship choices and I often reminded myself of that wonderful line in 'The Invitation' that asks "Can you bear the accusation of betrayal by another and not betray your own soul"?  The Palace Wall People eventually learned that the changes in my life were here to stay no matter how much they huffed, and puffed and tried to blow my wall down.

Palace Wall People have either not yet earned the right to access into your life or have abused the privileges that came with being granted either Hedge or Petunia boundary status.  Whilst these are challenging Personal Boundaries to install with family and friends, sometimes it is absolutely necessary for emotional survival.  History and biology does not buy anyone the right to abuse you, consistently make you wrong and disrespect you.  One of the hardest lessons with selecting the Palace Wall boundary is the reality that we can no longer betray ourselves in order to honour those who dishonor us.  When The Victim honours The Perpetrator they must take personal responsibility for the emotional outcomes.

After considering the three people you selected at the beginning of this blog, now choose what type of Personal Boundary you feel is appropriate to install in order to preserve your emotional health and wellbeing within this relationship.

Person 1....................type of boundary .................................

Person 2....................type of boundary .................................

Person 3 ...................type of boundary ..................................

If we don't preserve our hearts garden with effective Personal Boundaries we feel used, invaded, overwhelmed, powerless and become a helpless Victim.

People that don't understand what Personal Boundaries are and why they are necessary are of course the ones who cross the line the most.  The young sales assistant is a perfect example.  She was speaking intimately to me, but also disrespectfully to me as if she was doing me a favour by even taking the time to serve me. 

I would have betrayed myself respect had I not spoken up.  She thanked me as I left the shop and I will return there again as she was such a lovely young women once we got talking.  I hope she now saves the "honey language" for her Petunia People, and not to strangers in the workplace.

These Word Vitamins are a wonderful reminder for me that the quality of my life and the depth of my self respect is my responsibility and that is a wonderful thing.  Have a great weekend wherever you are and I hope to meet you here again next week.

"They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them."

Mahatma Gandhi


Love Cynthia

© Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Morton
Emotional Fitness™ Emotional Monogamy™

(All names in all blogs are changed to protect confidentiality)