Making Life Work Better

I think I've always had a kind and caring side to me, and also an adventurous and fun part, but I often used to be a complete mess.  In fact it's only in the last 15 yearsor so that I have been 'sorted!   I would have a happy spell, then suddenly be in some kind of bother, perhaps an upset at work or in my personal life. The trouble was I was usually clueless about what  had caused these difficulties, I just knew that I was there in the mix somehow, which left me feeling unhappy, confused and with low self esteem.

Then in 1995 I heard about an Assertiveness Course in my area, and went on it.  What a revelation!   It felt so empowering to be in a class with others who all turned out to be in a similar situation, experiencing life as difficult, painful and conflicted yet unable to solve these problems . We were all asked to bring a current issue we were struggling with, and tell the class about it.  It wasn't hard to do, we were all in the same boat and rooting for each other.  There was one man who couldn't pass an interview.  Our class was mostly about role play, and I was chosen to play the interviewer!   I sat behind a desk to simulate as near as possible the real thing, and when he knocked on the door I called  "Come in".   As soon as he came in we could see why he had not managed to get a single interview.   It was as clear as that! 

After a few minutes we did the feedback, he told me how nervous he felt, even though it was only role play, and I told him the good and bad news.  Yes, he was right, he was shite at interviews!   The good news was that he wouldn't be for much longer.   After feeding back to him that he shuffled in with his head down, avoiding eye contact and mumbling incomprehensibly, the class all said what they thought he needed to do the next time, and we then did it a second time.   He was so much better, and all went well for about 3 minutes before he messed up again.   We told him where he'd gone wrong, and what he had done right, and then repeated the 'interview' a third time, when miraculously, this guy was amazing.   He got the (pretend) job! 

Of course, we all learned so much, acting out our own dilemmas in role play, and it felt fantastic to be lifted from a sort of confused  fog by other classmates, who seemed able to see clearly what I and others were doing wrong, and make spot on suggestions that worked in such a short space of time.   I learned that day how to state what my complaint was, and what I needed and would like to see done instead next time.  So for example, suppose you have a problem with your partner staying out late at night and not letting you know, you might say something like, "When you didn't come back for dinner last night, having taken the time to cook it, I felt taken for granted and disrespected when you did that, so in future I would like you to please phone me and let me know,okay?"   The best bit was learning how to do it pleasantly, and that there is no need for a confrontation which like a lot of us,  I didn't relish - a very happy and informative week.

I learned more formal psychology on a 3 year course straight afterwards, and found its revelations mind blowing!  Yes, it does sound dramatic, but it was dramatic at times learning not only all these fascinating concepts that made utter sense to me, but seeing where I had been going wrong in my life!   Bit by bit, the more I learned, the more everything fell into place, - I don't want to tempt fate, but I don't really have any problems now!   I have felt at peace with the world ever since. I will write about one of the most important elements, which was learning about boundaries. 

I learned first that a boundary is a line between you and me, beyond which neither of us should go.  I was brought up in a house where the boundaries were a bit fuzzy to say the least;  for example family members would barge into my bedroom without knocking, or even the bathroom where I was having a bath.   Boundaries apply to everybody without exception, shopkeepers, your children, spouse, parents, work colleagues etc.

Perhaps a helpful visual image is imagining you are in a large tall white house, with a nice garden surrounded by a picket fence.  That is your boundary.  Others also have their own boundary.  We need to respect our own boundary as well as those of others, by not walking through theim, invading their space and knocking down their fence.  It is a good frame of reference too, because if you feel a meeting with someone didn't go very well but you cant put your finger on why, you can think back, and check your mental picture.  Ask yourself if you were too pushy and intrusive with your questions, - did you invade the other persons space?  Or if you're feeling hard done by, check whether you feel your own boundaries were pushed to a point where you felt the other person had gone too far and come through your fence? 

Another way of thinking about it is again visual, - I imagine a ginger cake in a tin, each slice cut exactly the same size.  If you're not happy with an interaction you have just had, you might find this image helpful, - is your slice of cake too small or too large now?  If it's too large, you may feel you were overpowering with the other person, if your slice is too small and not taking up enough room, then perhaps you felt bullied, intimidated, or pushed further than you are comfortable by the other person, or perhaps you revealed too much to them indiscriminately and now you feel bad.

If we have an awareness of boundaries in our lives, we automatically have respect for ourselves and recognise that others also have these same rights, and this is a great attitude to have, keeping your life clearer and less complicated.  One of the secrets of life is to understand that other people like us if we are clear, - they are not drawn to us in the same way if we are 'fuzzy'.  You will  find people dont get upset with you, or if they do, you will be able to apologise or behave in a way that is appropriate,  that others seem to appreciate and forgive!

deleted deleted
4 Responses Dec 11, 2010

Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading your stories with their brilliant insight and warm flavor. It's like getting advise from the mother I never had. May you continue to grow and share your growth with me ... Hee, Hee, :D ... no really all of us.

This was well written. I think I have gained much from your insight.

This is wonderful ... the images are so helpful too and they are warm images too ... I love white picket fences and gingerbread is my favorite!!!

agree with what you said and would like to add,what is believeable is achieveable but it is easy to see a solution for another person but when its on other foot it seems like its a mountain to climb.