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Out of Bounds

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The people who I choose to allow in my life are kind individuals. Note I say, choose to allow, because we do have complete control how far into our life we let mean people in– also known as boundaries. Healthy boundaries are typically not taught in formal education, but they are as essential to good health as the infamous Food Pyramid (Ugh, I remember making a poster board in Health as a kid). Chaos and pain oft’ enters when we let the wrong person too far into our world.
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Now before I go any further, let me stress I have made the huge error of misjudging someone and opening the gate to my world.

Naively, with enthusiasm I have said, “Come on in,” without thinking through my choice.. However, once I had the “Oh shit, I can’t believe they said/did something so unkind!” they were immediately put on probation and pushed back a level for further observation. (I will explain levels in a minute). It may sound harsh. However, when something goes wrong with us physically, what does the doctor do when we present with a headache? Basically, she will observe and ask about additional symptoms or indicators. The symptoms/indicators reveal the true condition of the body. It’s the same concept applied to human behavior — looking for indicators. Indicators reveal the true condition of a person’s soul.

Examples of “indicators” (aka: Red Flags) are: lack of remorse, inconsistency, lying, treating service staff badly (if s/he is able to belittle service staff, you too will be treated in the same manner), lack of empathy, feelings of entitlement or irresponsibility.

On the flip side, positive indicators may include: taking action to change & prevent repeat offenses (i.e. agreeing to and implementing a time-out next time the get upset so they do not disrespect you); compassion for others; being kind even when they get bad service or showing responsibility in other life domains, such as finances.

I personally prefer to have people in my world who have set and obtained goals in life. People who have set a goal and make it happen possess an important skill sets. The goal does not have to be elaborate. Even learning to canoe requires you listen to someone else, accept and understand you can learn from others, are inherently motivated, possess time management skills to carve out time to learn, and are willing to take the risk of looking stupid for awhile until you learn to maneuver the canoe. I like humility — it shows a level of maturity in my opinion. image

I said once someone has committed the “Oh shit” offense and hurts me, I push them back a level for observation. So let me explain what I personally use for levels in my life. I love it because at each and every level I still wish the person well. The difference is in the level of closeness or emotional intimacy.

I have a wonderful mental picture I learned from a friend of mine who’s a psychologist… so I give all credit to Dr Rediger on this. (Thank you Sherry). The least intimate level is the “Drive By Friend”. These are people we do not invite into our homes or even our front porch. Nor do we engage with them. Let me repeat this: Nor do we engage with them. We wish them well with a wave as they drive by. We do not interact with them because they are mean, self-serving and will not consider your feelings or needs. Did I say we do not engage with “Drive By Friends”? They are not really friends but people who will cross our paths, and we wish them well and keep it professional. Overlap in our life is not desired.

The “Sidewalk Friend” is someone we chat with in front of our house. We don’t tell them our secrets. We have a casual conversation about food, weather, sports or American Idol. We, as always, wish them well.
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The “Front Porch Friend” is not someone we trust to have in our house, but feel comfortable. We don’t tell our secrets, but may share superficial personal information, such as hobbies or neighborhood news. Some people will remain front porch friends and will not move up to the next level– and that is perfectly fine. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are not worthy individuals, but lack the indicators we desire for a closer friendship/relationship.

“Living Room Friends” are privy to a level of emotional connection. We may share about family events, ask for prayer, discuss our spirituality, invite to join us to see a movie. They are the type of person we would feel comfortable getting our mail for us during vacation.

Now the BFF, the girlfriend you call “Sista”, the man you call when your wife has an affair — these are what I call “Kitchen Table Friends”. These friends are rare. One should be able to count these on one hand. Kitchen Table Friends can be trusted with your secrets and will come over at 3 a.m. on a work night if you call. These people can lovingly go where no other friends can trespass. They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear; and will hand you tissues when you cry into your beer. Your spouse/partner should be a Kitchen Table Friend, and if they are not, you better look into counseling (for yourself or as a couple). If your spousal relationship lacks this intimacy, there is either an issue within yourself or the relationship as a whole and some work needs to be done.

I chose to blog about this tonight after seeing a friend whom I hold in high regard, care about and trust deeply, hurt by the inability of someone else to maintain boundaries. I also was hurt by this person’s mistake, but not to the same depth. We both felt a level of betrayal. Now to be fair to the mutual friend who made a boundary faux pas, it was a situation where he accidentally allowed someone in his Kitchen who should have stayed on the street. So he is learning a new boundary. Yet, the horrible thing about allowing someone into your Kitchen is they can do a lot of damage while there. They will throw your pots and pans on the floor, rip cabinets off the wall and leave you lying under the toppled refrigerator. And, sadly, if your other Kitchen Table friends are there, they will get hit with a pan or two as well.

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Boundaries can be hard to determine. My advice is to go slow when moving up the intimacy chain. It’s perfectly acceptable to hold someone on The Porch while you get to know them. As you hear them talking, what indicators do you see? Do the indicators show they need to 1) Stay on the Porch, 2) Are risky and probably need to be on the side walk for further observation and interaction, 3) Are mean, selfish and should be banned to “Drive-by” status or 4) Are showing good indicators and with time may have a seat in The Living Room for awhile…

But remember, The Kitchen is sacred space. Only a few should be in your “Kitchen”. And guard the kitchen like it’s gold.

In taking time and paying attention, we can keep the trash at the curb and wish them well from afar…. while we sip coffee with our True Friends at The Kitchen Table.

5 comments on “Out of Bounds

  1. Tracy
    August 28, 2013

    Your explanation of the 4 levels makes perfect sense to me! It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in how I think about different relationships with different people in my life! Very few are kitchen table… And that’s ok! I have a small and intimate table:-) Thanks for your honest and genuine writing!

    • MyReflection
      August 28, 2013

      Thank you …
      I think it’s healthy to keep our most intimate, private self cherished and shared with a small circle.
      Thank you again for your kind, encouraging words.

    • Linda-Marie McCormick
      August 30, 2013

      Thought I replied to your thoughtful comment. Oops. Cellular viewing is not ideal when it comes to blogs.
      I do very much appreciate your sharing this was helpful. Nice to know some metaphors/ideas work for others too 🙂
      Have a great weekend.

      • Tracy
        August 30, 2013

        Thanks!! You too! And no worries about the double reply:-) Sometimes my Internet goes off for no reason and I’m never sure if my replies go through!

      • Linda-Marie McCormick
        August 30, 2013

        I hate the multiple replies… It happens when I am using the WordPress application on my iPad. Grrr, thanks for understanding.

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