Boundaries Part 4: How To Stop Being A Bulldozer: The Art of Containment
Con artist, narcissist, selfish, ego maniac, evil, jerk and many other powerful pejoratives, are the terms that we often use to refer to a person's general hurtful, harmful , annoying or frustrating behavior. We tend to refer to these people as toxic because it often feels like their behaviors are harmful to the people around them. And, it’s true that their behaviors are often dangerous to those around them and also to themselves.
Now, it’s important to understand that these people are people too who are trying to make sense of the world just like you, and you’d be surprised to find that at some point in life someone might have thought you or your behaviors were toxic. It is often more helpful to try to understand the pathology of the behavior so that you do not end up feeling as targeted by the person in mind. This article will break down the behavior of a toxic person and how to deal with them. To be clear, understanding them and their behaviors is not a directive to place yourself in situations with them. After all, there is a reason why they are being called toxic. But, if you find yourself in a situation that you must deal with these people, this might help you better engage or disengage from them without sustaining major mental or emotional scars.
Many of these articles have focused on the idea of boundaries from the perspective of one who has had their boundaries violated. But, what about the times when we violate the boundaries of others? So far we have covered the principle of authenticity, being true and honest with yourself and with others. Now, we are venturing into the principle of containment, where we exercise respect for others and allow them to experience their authenticity.
Why do you violate boundaries?
To Get Needs Met
Any behavior we engage in, whether it be positive or negative, happens for a particular purpose. We are either trying to gain something relatively pleasurable, avoid something painful, or both. In working to get others to do what you want them to do, there is likely a need that you are trying to meet, or a pain/discomfort you are trying to avoid. The needs and pains in play here are as diverse as humanity itself, but most likely fall under Maslow's hierarchy of needs:
- Basic Needs - Food, water, shelter, sex, sleep, clothing
- Safety and Security Needs - Physical safety, psychological safety, good health, financial security
- Social Belonging Needs - Friends, family, intimate, relationships
- Esteem Needs - Recognition and respect from others, status, a sense of importance
There are higher levels of need, but the needs of self-actualization and self-transcendence can't be met here, because this method of meeting needs actually hinders self-actualization. There is nothing wrong with meeting needs, but it is unhealthy to cajole others into doing things to meet these needs. What was your environment like growing up? Were you abused? neglected? Did you have to fight to survive? Are you still functioning from a survival basis? This is often what causes us to violate others' boundaries in order to get a place to stay, get money, or keep people in our lives. It was likely done to you by a caregiver growing up, and it is likely the environment of your childhood home.
The most important question here is, what do you want for your life? What do you want your relationships to be like? What kind of friendship and love are you looking for? Picture no longer struggling to survive, having to fight to get your needs met. Picture people giving you what you want and what you need, not because you worked to get it, but they just gave it, unprompted, out of love. How does that feel? A lot of drama coming to an end, with quality relationships in your life.
Really picture it.
These boundary violations - the guilt trips, the ultimatums - do they bring you closer to that dream? Or, do they pull you farther away from it?
Problematic beliefs about obligation
A lot of us grew up in a world of obligation. We were made to do as we were told because someone in authority "said so." We reluctantly dragged ourselves to school day in and day out because we "had to." Maybe we even went to church reluctantly, every weekend, also because we "had to." From day one, we are steeped in a world of obligation.
Growing up, in my culture, if I were to walk into a room full of adults, I would need to greet every one of them individually. I would shake the men's hands, and give every woman a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Was it bad, or a stress on my life? Not really. However, there are often other cultural obligations that we might exploit in order to get others to do our bidding. It can be using cultural positions of authority, such as a parent, teacher, supervisor, homeowner, business owner, etc. to get people to do what makes you feel better or less pain.
Arguably an even stronger hold on others can be religious obligation. There are pictures of this worldwide. For millennia, dictators have exploited religion to carry out genocides. ISIS recruits operatives using religious rhetoric. In the United States, religious fervor is whipped up at times to steer people to one side of a political debate. Religion is powerful, and some people know and exploit this. On a smaller level, it may be a pastor, elder, or other church leader who uses their influence to get people to behave in a way that meets their needs, or prevents some pain.
Regardless of the type of obligation, keep this in mind:
There is no definitive ground so authoritative that it suspends altogether the rights of the individual to their personhood. If this seems to be the case, this belief system is likely misinterpreted or is being exploited to support an agenda.
Once again, what life do you want? A life where you are honored, revered, and loved out of choice and free will? True love? Or, the nagging bitterness of receiving mere tolerance or compulsory deference?
Tyrants are overthrown. Former US President Richard Nixon was taken down by the Watergate scandal because he abused his position. He sought to keep the press in check through threats and bullying. He created so much fear and deference to his position, that those around him eventually preferred risking imprisonment for exposing him rather than continuing to live in fear of his iron fist.
Choose a better life. Choose joy, choose peace. Choose freedom. Just remember, for you, and for everyone else, it is just that;
Related: Boundaries - Know Your Rights
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