A boundary is put in place to avoid further pain. I put in place a boundary against you in an attempt to reduce the suffering that you cause me, and to show you which of your (habitual) actions are problematic.
These boundaries are not put into place for the purpose of inflicting harm. On the contrary, they are put into place for the purpose of reducing harm.
The hope, by the boundary-setter, is that one day, these boundaries can be reduced and ultimately dismantled.
Returning to my five-part guide regarding boundaries (this post is intended as a continuation of the topic raised in post 143 and fleshed out further in post 166), the idea is to move, for instance, from a Level Four boundary down to a Level Three and ultimately, to a situation where no boundary is needed.
In the case of Level Five boundaries, however, it is inadvisable to ever proceed as if nothing had ever happened. There will always need to be a significant element of vigilance with respect to people who show a willingness to flirt with married people (or those in religious life), or to compromise the innocence of children. I am not suggesting that these people be shunned forever, but I am saying that you need to be mindful of past violations and keep in place some level of protection for yourself and your loved ones. Forgive and do not hold a grudge or harbour resentment, but do not forget that you need to stay on your toes so that the person has limited ability to reoffend.
Fortunately, Level Five situations are the exceptions.
In the other situations, you should be able to move from one type of boundary to a lesser one and perhaps return to Business as Usual, provided that the offending person has the correct disposition.
(If you sneer at the phrase “correct disposition” then you do not have it.)
“Correct disposition” in this case means that you have a sincere desire to make amends and repair the relationship.
The phrase is a reference to the sentiments in your heart, and not to your actions.
This is really important.
It is far too often the case that people proceed or argue as if the only thing that matters is the words or the actions. They declare, “Well, I have said that I’m sorry.” They expect and they feel entitled to carry on as if nothing had happened.
They treat the word “sorry” as the simplest of keys, opening the door to everything they had ever enjoyed before.
They treat the word “sorry” as a move in a game. They say, “Ha, you see, I have moved. Now it’s your turn. Do what I say.”
They treat the word “sorry” as part of a dance. They expect, now that they’ve done this, that you will do that.
An apology should never be viewed in this simplistic way.
An apology is supposed to express sorrow about committing a wrong to another.
It needn’t be long (in fact, usually short is far better) but it has to be real.
It has to be sincere.
If it isn’t, then please: don’t bother.
If you can’t apologize sincerely, then please: just don’t.
The word “sorry” has a lot in common with another word: “sorrow.”
If you don’t have it, don’t pretend.
If you say, “I am sorry” and you aren’t, then you lie. So don’t.
And please do not apologize for something 20 degrees to the east or the west of what the very issue is. You won’t be fooling anyone when you say, “I am sorry that you feel that way.” You won’t be fooling anyone when you say, “I am sorry that you took my words in such-and-such way.” Those phrases are devious, and worse than nothing.
Do not hide your apology in a million excuses and lines. I could show you some dandies. I could show you some apologies that go on for several paragraphs. Blah blah and blah blah. Each sentence makes it worse. Good luck finding any sorrow in those. You can’t even tell if Missy Apologizer knows what she did. She seems to have forgotten, sometime between “Hello” and “See you soon.”
See me soon?
Yeah, maybe not.
The best apology comes from a heart that knows it has done wrong.
(And hey, right here, I’ll say: if you don’t think you’ve done wrong, DEFEND yourself. Set the record straight if you want; now is the time; here is your chance. If Amanda says to Anthony: “You sat on my cat; our relationship is over” then Anthony should say, “I thought furball was a pillow” if that’s what he thought. Otherwise, the relationship may end. So speak up, if you haven’t done the wrong that I accuse you of. Speak up if you want.)
Well then, my complaint still stands. You haven’t addressed it. The wound gapes open and you’ve crossed to the other side of the street.
Alright. I’ll get myself healed by another. I won’t expect it from you, but just so you know: don’t expect anything from me, anytime soon.
A sincere apology is truly the key. It does unlock doors. It does act as balm.
The recipient of a sincere apology may nevertheless still need some time. Healing doesn’t happen on a schedule. If you’ve wounded someone, be prepared to wait for your new words, your kind words, to work their way in, just like some kind of cure or medicine. Be patient, but don’t be distressed. If you’ve apologized with a true intention to make amends, then you’re on the right path. Now wait. Wait with tenderness and compassion; things will work out.
And here, I continue to explain. The removal of barriers may well entail a gradual lessening and relaxing of rules. Don’t expect a sudden return to the days of All is Swell. Don’t expect a sudden return to the days of You’re a Jerk but I Ain’t Gonna Tell. Don’t expect that there won’t be consequences and monitoring and wariness and guardedness. There may be. Don’t be alarmed. It’s part of the New Deal.
Once burned, twice shy, as they say.
So: proceed with caution. Don’t take sudden liberties. If the relationship is beginning again, be a little bit Careful. Be a little bit Gentle. It’s not a good time to make a joke at the other’s expense. It’s not a good time to go into their space and jab them under the table with your pointy long fingernail.
Really, it’s not.
Be sensitive. Don’t reoffend.
Leave the salt shaker alone. Don’t whip it out and start pourin’ it on those wounds.
Form the intention, ahead of time, to Be Nice.
Form the intention, ahead of time, to Be Kind.
And carry through.
It’s not a game, it’s not a dance, it’s not a One-Upmanship Farce. It’s a second chance. It’s a second try. It’s a session of Let’s See if We Can Make This Thing Work.
It’s a test.
It’s a maybe.
Do your best.
If it goes well, we’ll meet again soon.
If it goes badly, then we’ll meet again later.