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Re-examining Our Boundaries

It’s amazing how we have compelled people to conform to simple requests without regard to their personal boundaries. By simple, I include the routine invitations to join gatherings or group activities. It’s like the compulsion to say, “God bless you” when someone sneezes or (at least for me) the conditioned response to say, “Amen” at the end of a prayer scene in a movie.

I was at a conference where 600 people I didn’t know, shared this huge hotel ballroom space with me, the presenters and over-sized ornate décor. I describe it this way because I’m not a mingler. Places and spaces like this one are overwhelming to my introvert sensitivities. Not being a mingler is one of my shortcomings – one that I’m working on especially because I’m in ministry, yet one that I’m working on at my own pace to minimize extended time periods of great emotional dis-ease. At the end of a very long period of sitting, one presenter told us to get in groups of three. (UGH) There were 3 of us at my end of the table so we looked at each other and nodded. Then we were told that we were going to do a salsa exercise. (Oh no – please no dancing!) Each of the 3 of us would be either a tomato, an onion or a jalapeno. (Ok – no dancing. Whew!) I “volunteered” to be the Tomato. The Onion and the Jalapeno were strangers to me. One of the men I knew enough to pick out of a crowd. The other man I knew only for the short time we shared the table. We were told to stand. Then the Tomato was instructed to turn her back to the Onion and Jalapeno and lean over a chair in front of her. (WTH? Are you getting the dynamics of this picture?) All my boundary alarms went off but I felt compelled to comply so as not to cause a scene. I looked at them and they looked back at me, all of us looking unsure about this “exercise.” It turns out that each of us in turn was to be the recipient of a quick back rub and karate chop massage – you know, the way salsa is made. I’m still shaking my head. I realized in the midst of what was supposed to be a fun thing, that I had fallen to my own perception of peer pressure and an instance where I was unaware that I had absentmindedly accepted this group activity with unmerited trust. Since then I’ve reminded myself to re-examine my boundaries, particularly in unfamiliar settings and have a plan B response ready. I have also forgiven myself for not taking better care of me.

But there’s another boundary that needs to be re-examined. Since I’ve been on this spiritual self-care journey, I’ve looked at my boundaries in a different way. Gatekeeping (I know this is a "bad" word for some) is not just designed to keep unwanted things out but it also keeps the good stuff in. The problem (one of them anyway) is that we rarely re-assess the good. I have defaults that I don’t question - like I always find ways to support my daughter. I’m not changing or re-examining that one. However, there was an incident recently that led me to question why my stance on one of my default issues brought me so much pain. How could something that once felt like a valiant response now leave me feeling emptiness and betrayal? I had hung on to this part of my personality for so long that it had become a fixture – like part of a purposeful and immortal necessary brick in my emotional wall. I realize I have grown beyond the need for that brick and have decided to remodel my safety net to exclude it. I’m thankful for this new feeling of freedom.

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