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00-popping-the-bubbleAs a massage therapy educator, and retired Massage Therapist I am no stranger to the study of  Boundaries and Assumptions.  The other day, my two little step-daughters reminded me why awareness of our behavior around these concepts is a very important inclusion in our efforts to get along and share life with others.

In a frantic pace of wrapping Christmas presents I ran out of tape and I assumed that since my step-daughter regularly borrows items from our office supply kitchen drawer that she had the tape. I went into her bedroom and opened her night stand to see the tape which I grabbed, used, and failed to return. Not okay, but seemingly harmless.

That evening, she was having a sad conversation with my husband regarding the missing tape. He came to me and asked, “Did you borrow Kate’s tape?” I replied “yeah” in a what’s the big deal tone. He informed me that the tape I borrowed was her special tape, which she bought herself.

The conversation he had with her, which he shared with me, had revealed that she was feeling out of control and disrespected because many of her friends were borrowing her things and not returning them or returning them damaged or dirty and it was really annoying her. The tape incident was the last straw. (Please note; I have Kate’s permission to share the tape story with my blog readers.)

A few days later my husband and I came home to the room we are sharing with Kate at my In-Laws for the holidays to find it had been completely organized and cleaned. My initial reaction to this was one of discomfort and not of appreciation. Why? Because I did not want people messing around with my stuff. I have dirty clothes I don’t want mingled with my clean clothes, and there are Christmas presents hidden.  I was not really upset, I just noticed the feeling of my boundaries being crossed. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to speak to my step-daughters about boundaries and assumptions.

I brought the kids into the bedroom and we had the conversation. Explaining boundaries and assumptions to a 7 and 10 year old is not much different than teaching these important interpersonal concepts to adult students at massage school. We first explored definitions of the terms. I was clear to let them know that this is something you don’t just learn and understand, but that these are lessons that we must practice and we have to pay attention to throughout our lives in order to get along with the different people we interact with. I talked about the tape and the cleaning incidents, specifically using the “sandwich method”:

  1. Bread: “I know you had loving intentions to help me, and I appreciate that”
  2. Meat: “You assumed or guessed that I would like you to fold all of my clothes and put them away for me. In the future I would prefer if you did not do that because that makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. I’d like you to ask me first before doing anything with my things.”
  3. Bread: You did a really good job, and I love you. Do you understand my boundary with my things?” They said “yes”

I explained to them how people come from different cultures, lifestyles and experiences that make them have different boundaries, and that we should not assume (or guess) that because we like something, want something or are comfortable with something that other people feel the same way.

I provided an analogy of a girl growing up in another country. The story was about a girl living in a small house with a large family of 12. The girl slept in a bed with 5 other kids. I asked the girls if they thought this girl might grow up to be more comfortable with less personal space then they are used to due to their different life experiences growing up. They said “yes”. I then asked them to consider the possibility that the girl may grow up to want more personal space then they do, due to feeling crowded as a child. I explained to them that it is not up to us to know just by assuming or guessing. That we would only know if the girl told us.

I explained to them that we have different boundaries with almost every person we meet. I said to them “you see me hug and kiss Daddy but you don’t see me hugging and kissing other men or women. Your mom might kiss your boo boo, but you might not want your dentist to do that.  You might be okay sharing your special doll with your sister, but you may not want to share it with the kid down the street. If someone were to come into your room and read your private journal you probably would not like it” They got it. In fact later that night, Ce Ce discretely came over to me at dinner and whispered “Jilly, can you help me? Kate is popping my space bubble.” It’s easy to love them.

I have always taught my students that if you want to learn, TEACH! Going through this process with my step-daughters has me thinking and reflecting about my personal responsibility to the ongoing work of honoring the boundaries of others and not assuming or projecting my likes and/or dislikes onto others.

We should not project our likes and dislikes onto others and assume everyone is just like us if we want to have a deeper understanding of people.  As a massage therapist for example, you may not want to have your abdomen addressed in a session and that’s fine. What is not okay is for you the therapist to project your preference onto your clients and assume not to address this important region when you work.

Due to my career choices, I have had to get very close to others boundaries. My jobs require that I consistently ride the edge of personal and professional boundaries to be effective. At times I have had to cross a boundary to understand where it is. I have helped many people in different ways explore where their boundaries are, and broaden their believed limitations through the experiences we have shared.

As a massage therapist, my responsibility is to have a positive impact on the quality of my client’s life by providing massage therapy which encourages holistic healing. This is done in a way that (hopefully) meets them where they want to be met, while honoring their boundaries, and exploring those with them with full consent and ease of communication. In addition to a multitude of benefits, massage can help our clients expand into a higher awareness of their relationship to themselves.

Clients have different boundaries. For example, the depth they wish to receive, and what kind of draping is appropriate. We are sharing a professional form of touch intimacy in order to create meaningful and effective bodywork, from a place of respect for the both the giver and the receiver, which honors the ethical and professional standards of the work.

Every client has different boundaries and it is the therapists job to determine where those are, whether the client verbalizes these or not. Sometimes a boundary will be communicated by a change in breathing or a furled brow. This feedback helps us adjust what we are doing in order to better meet the clients needs. A client may ask for extremely deep work which the massage therapist knows for whatever reason is contraindicated, or the client may ask for a session with no drape. In situations like this, a therapist will need to diplomatically communicate their boundaries to the client, educate the client, and hold integrity with the professional boundaries in order to continue in the session.

I am essentially retired from my massage practice and spend most of my time directing, encouraging and advising Students, Mentees, and Instructors. A big part of my job is to hold people accountable to our agreements. As a leader interested in growth for everyone, I also deliberately push people to explore the edge of their comfort zone and to reach beyond it. This is dangerous behavior in the realm of personal dynamics and I have not met this work without occasionally and unintentionally hurting others by making assumptions and crossing boundaries. When this happens I will apologize if I made a mistake, other times I do not apologize because I am keeping my agreement to hold people accountable. I find it perplexing when people tend to think they can break agreements and not be held accountable, or take offense to being held accountable…but this is quite common.

There have been several occasions where it has been years before someone I have mentored with a loving shove of accountability calls or writes me to let me know it WAS the best thing for them to experience and it did help them grow, even though they were not happy with me in the moment. Similar but different, there have been many times I have not understood my own mistakes until years after an event occurred. I needed time to mature as a result of my own life experiences.

One great mentor of mine told me that as a teacher, you should not care if the students like you. You are there to impart knowledge, not win a popularity contest. Every day I wake up and I ask myself the question “who am I and what am I doing again?” In the next moment, I remind myself what I do, who I am, and I am overcome with the blended feeling of humility, courage and anxiety. I take a deep breath and hope to get my ego out of the way, be compassionate, and prove worthy.

Honoring Boundaries, and Managing Assumptions is Mindful Self-Development Interpersonal WORK. It is a practice. More than stuff, money, and power; personal relationships and the harmony, support, and intimacy you can inspire and share in relationships is what will deliver peace and contentment in life. We must always do our best to honor one another while maintaining integrity in our relationships to ourselves.

And then came FACEBOOK…

Somehow the work and practice I’ve done in the realm of honoring boundaries and managing the impulse to assume has not transferred very well for me in the Social Media realm. I strongly suspect I’m not alone. I’m not assuming, but I’ve seen some really bad behavior.

I personally have insulted, attacked, offended, defended, insinuated, implied, and wielded my ego in the most unattractive way in the social media world like no one’s business. I’m passionate, emotional and opinionated. I know this sounds like a winning combo but this way of being can occasionally get one into trouble.

I have often said that we will have a completely new branch of psychotherapy devoted entirely to the psychological/emotional challenges/issues that social media interactions bring up or reveal in ourselves. I am not making as many mistakes now as I did in the beginning as I have learned…but I still screw up when I get triggered.

Here are my new personal mantras when I am interacting with people who I have never met outside of Facebook and the thread is heated, or involves opposing views in industry, religion, lifestyle or politics:

  • You don’t know who the hell you are talking to. Stop typing.
  • You don’t know what this person has accomplished in their lives and anything about their experiences. Stop typing.
  • These people can’t hear your voice inflections or see your facial expressions. Stop typing.
  • Everyone here is coming from different schools of thought. Everyone has value. Stop typing.
  • You would never say this to this person’s face. Stop typing.
  • That is a human being there…not just black words on a white screen with a small thumbnail. Stop typing.
  • This environment is not appropriate for an important debate. Stop typing.
  • Your audience has different religious, spiritual, physical, and mental conditioning. Stop typing.
  • You might be typing something that is going to hurt someone who you care about, or who might someday be important to you. Stop typing.

I am making a New Year’s resolution to reel/real myself in on the Social Media Boards. I will still be interacting, but I hope to demonstrate to those I am interacting with a reverence for all. I hope this blog will inspire others to reflect on the conversations they are choosing to have including the images, videos, ideas, and posts people are sharing on Facebook. Words and images affect others in many different ways and the fallout will impact ones personal and professional image. NOT ASSUMING ANYTHING HERE… I’m not saying give up your controversial stance if that is what you do… I’m  only suggesting a heightened awareness as if we are dealing with real people, which we are.

As for being a practicing massage therapist on Facebook, I highly recommend that you consider having a business page for your clients and privatizing your personal page if you intend to post photos of yourself drunk on tequila, dancing on a bar in Mexico in an ill fitting bikini. yeah…. I saw that post. 😉