Standards & Boundaries

When we are negotiating changes in a relationship, often people attempt to get other people to change in order to manage their own internal state. I call this “externalizing.” Unfortunately, even the successful exertion of control over others doesn’t tend to make us feel more safe. It can even make us feel less safe, because we know the other people are rescuing us and their efforts to please us aren’t coming from their own desires and needs. Eventually, uninterrupted rescue tends to become persecution, and persecution is an extremely unpleasant consequence to our desperate attempt to control how we feel.

Empowered Boundaries

Our boundaries are limits that when expressed constitute consent for our bodies and selves. It’s helpful for us to internalize the dignity of our boundaries. We are responsible for holding our boundaries, and we express our boundaries in conversation and actions that are natural consequences of other people’s behaviors and choices.

For example, we might say to a roommate, “When you choose to play loud music in common spaces, and I want it to be quiet, the natural consequence is that I’m not going to stay in the same room as you. If you want my company, we need to figure out a way for both of us to get what we want.” Our dignified boundary is that we’re not willing to remain in a location where the music is too loud for us. We will either ask for the music to be turned down or off, for the person to wear headphones, or we will move our bodies to a different location. Hopefully, if we’re in a cooperative relationship, the person will value our desire for quiet as important just as their desire for loud music is important.

Big Picture Stories

A Lesson from Cooperative Communication: Telling Ourselves Big-Picture Stories

Here’s a sample lesson from the Cooperative Communication course. I’m posting it here to give more folks a chance to see the course materials.

If you have questions or comments, please post them below. I’m delighted to learn what you’re thinking!

Types of Stories

When we tell ourselves stories about other people, very often the story we tell ourselves revolves around ourselves and our experience. The advantage to this tactic is that we have some power over a story if we are involved. If someone’s story is all about them and their experience, we have little or no power or influence over their story. Because we are trained to avoid our feelings of powerlessness, the idea that someone’s story could have nothing to do with us may be frightening or overwhelming. Yet most people are having their own experiences and telling themselves stories that put themselves at the center of the action. When we can differentiate between our stories about ourselves (self-centric stories) and stories that are genuinely about other people (other-centric stories) we are much more likely to create a whole picture that includes everyone (a big-picture story.)

Trust Formula from Nancy Shanteau's Trust-Building Worksheet. Illustrations by Patrick Stein.

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