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Talking Boundaries #1: My Feelings, My Responsibility

Have you ever said something you have regretted? As the words left your mouth, you desperately wanted to take them back. The stricken look on the face of the person to whom they were spoken confirmed the reason for your regret. Even a profusely-spoken and immediate apology correcting what you intended to express left your listener wounded and wondering which thought you expressed reflected the way you truly feel. Maybe the relationship was eventually mended. Maybe it has never again been quite the same.

In our last article, we talked about our internal listening boundary. Today we are going to be discussing our internal talking boundary. Both of these boundaries are emotional and intellectual; but as we have mentioned, there is a key difference between them. The listening boundary serves as self-protection. The talking boundary serves as self-containment. Both serve to help us engage in a healthy level of intimacy and keep our relationships from becoming toxic.

In some ways, the talking boundary is the direct opposite of the listening boundary. The listening boundary violations we spoke of in the last article (yelling, screaming, name calling, ridiculing, lying, breaking commitments, patronizing, controlling, manipulating, etc.) now become ways we should not act instead of ways we should not allow other people to treat us. Life is a two-way street; and when it comes to boundaries, we need to practice what we preach.

While it may seem obvious that the above ways of communicating are not healthy, the talking boundary also includes less offensive actions like over-sharing, talking endlessly or blaming.

So how do we establish an internal talking boundary and what are its benefits?

The internal talking boundary helps us share appropriately and in a healthy manner. When we share in a healthy manner, we share with an intention to be known—not in an attempt to control or manipulate the other person. This is also true of the listening boundary, where we learn to listen with the intent of simply knowing the other person.

A second element of healthy sharing is accepting responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We don’t want to blame the other person for what only we can control. Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependency, suggests avoiding using the phrase “made me”. This phrase implies our thoughts, feelings and actions are not our responsibility but the responsibility of the other person. Not only does using this phrase prevent us from taking responsibility for ourselves, it puts our listener on the defensive.

In my next article, we will discuss some specific examples of how we can establish boundaries in our lives.

In which ways do you tend to violate talking boundaries? Are there relationships in your life where you could establish a better talking boundary?

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