Life is complicated - or is it? Normally when we encounter a personal problem or difficult situation, we start to analyse, self-analyse or seek professional help. But there's another way, according to psychologist and author George Dieter: the adoption of what he calls a 'boundary-focused' approach to life.
oundaries define who we are and where we start and finish as people, says Dieter, and problems are often caused by the violation of some personal boundary of which we may not even be aware. Here are some ways to become more boundary-focused in your life.
1 Have a relationship with yourself
The starting point for any sense of happiness or fulfilment is self-acceptance, says Dieter.
But to accept yourself, you must first know yourself. "It's vital to know yourself so as to be able to establish and reinforce your boundaries," says Dieter. This, however, does not imply a bland acceptance that 'I'm ok and everything I do is good', he says, but rather that 'I accept who I am and make the best of who I am with what I've got'.
This also means that not everyone who knows you can simply invade your space uninvited, be it physically or emotionally. You don't owe anyone just because you know them.
2 Establish boundaries
Boundaries define us, and make us different from everything and everybody else.
Although this makes perfect sense, we ignore this fact more often than we realise.
What this requires is an acceptance that you cannot control anything outside your own space. This also means you're not responsible for anything that other people feel - harsh, acknowledges Dieter, but accurate. Nobody can make you feel anything, he says, and you cannot make anyone feel anything.
Boundaries are personal limits or rules - psychological, emotional, physical, even legal - that we have laid down and that define who we are. When we encounter a problem, says Dieter, a boundary has been breached. Establishing respectful boundaries tells you where you stand; maintaining them ensures you won't get 'run over' by other people's rude comments or behaviour.
3 Accept responsibility for your own happiness or feelings
Don't look to other people or material goods to make you happy. If anything could 'make' us happy, who'd be unhappy, he asks? However, most of us have experienced something that 'made' us happy at some stage - otherwise we wouldn't know what 'makes' us happy. Yet, why are we still looking for happiness?
People and things can add or subtract from the degree of happiness or contentment that we experience, but they cannot create it, he emphasises. That power resides solely within each one of us.
4 Get rid of your 'God' complex
Stop taking responsibility for the happiness of others. "This is a typical couples' counselling situation, where one partner says the other doesn't know what to do to make her happy," says Dieter. "She sees her happiness as his responsibility, which it actually is not. It's also beyond his ability to make her happy. That's because happiness must come from herself."
"Others can only contribute a little, or take away from your degree or level of happiness; they cannot create it."
5 Turn off the guilt button
You're are not responsible for the way others feel, no matter what you do or say.
Everyone reacts the way they want to react, says Dieter, adding that once you accept this, you can turn off the 'guilt' button when confronted with statements like 'You made me sad, or angry'. Your answer can simply be (even if you don't say it): 'That's your problem. Don't make your problem my problem, because I can't solve it'.
"This is about stepping back from our knee-jerk expectations of people and recognising where we have control, and where we haven't - and not getting upset about things we don't have any control over," Dieter explains.
6 Sweet expectations become rude awakenings
If you expect something to happen, you lay down the neural pathways to that end. If it happens, it's nothing new, just what you expected. Conversely, if it does not happen, it fails to trigger those pathways and the result is frustration and disappointment. Don't get upset or annoyed about expectations which were not fulfilled - recognise that the fulfilment of your expectations is not something you can control.
7 What you say about me only tells me something about you
What we say about someone merely reflects an opinion, which is based on our own experiences, desires and expectations. One person's opinion expresses their approval or disappointment based on their values and expectations - not yours. So it says nothing about you, but only reveals something about them.
8 Relationships aren't battleships
When we enter a relationship, we know nothing about the person we love. We project our desires and expectations, and presume that they possess what we want them to be. We presume their needs are what we are happy to meet. Realising that this is not the case will push the 'I need you to stop this' button or the 'I want you to want this' button.
Just because we share one interest does not mean we harmonise in every way, or are even suited for each other. When we accept that different interests in a relationship do not equate to rejection, we can disconnect the relevant buttons. Disagreements are sources for learning, not fighting.
9 Don't feel bullied: they can only do what you allow them to do
'He (or she)'s a bully' has almost become an excuse for our lack of backbone, says Dieter, who takes a robust approach to bullies. "I can only 'bully' you, if you let me. Whatever I say only has the effect you give it," he declares.
However, he warns, this does not relate to physical assault, which is a crime. This is about being ignored, laughed at or excluded.
"Accept that you're not seen the way you'd like to be seen. If there's something you can do about it, do it. If you don't want to, move on. Things only matter to the degree you allow them to."
10 Treat advice as a gift, not a trade
When I tell you my problem, it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm asking for advice, Dieter explains.
Even if I do, it doesn't mean that I promise to follow it.
We often feel that we have been taken advantage of, or treated ungratefully, because our valuable advice has been ignored. The fact is that our solution is exactly that, our solution if we had that problem. But OUR solution may not fit the character of the person asking for advice. So treat advice as a gift, freely given, and not as the solution that the person you give it to was seeking.
11 Don't take rejection personally
Boundaries provide a solid protection from having our buttons pushed, says Dieter. "This is probably no more evident than in situations when we feel rejected. The risk is that we internalise it."
However, he says, being 'rejected' as a lover, job seeker or as prime minister is linked to a particular situation. "If someone doesn't perform within the role they are engaged in - which includes personal relationships - then there is no point in continuing.
"We have to let go. A bad prime minister is not also a bad person. Nor is a unsuitable partner a bad person per se."
12 Friends are there to be enjoyed, not to always agree with you
Great disappointment is often associated with friends who do not agree with us. If you remember why you made friends in the first place, it's because of the person's characteristics. And these are still present, even if, or particularly when, they don't agree with you.
13 Curiosity beats judgment
Criticism is hurtful. We often feel hurt, even if we don't like the person who criticises us. But think about it, Dieter suggests - if we don't like someone, why can they hurt us?
Another way to treat hurtful comments is to adopt a 'curious' attitude, he suggests. 'I wonder why you said that, or why you feel that way?' leaves such comments where they belong - 'out there'.
Also, you may get information that's helpful in understanding the other person - and why you are perceived in a way that you may not have been aware of.
14 Stress is a physiological event, caused by psychological factors
Stress is a physiological response to an overwhelming demand on your resources, mental or physical, Dieter says.
Assess the individual demands being made on you, he advises, then draw a boundary around each one, so that you can deal with them one by one.
Instead of feeling unable to cope, you realise that each issue has a solution. The straw that breaks the camel's back is not too much to bear because of its nature - but because of its position, warns Dieter.
15 Respect the right to be 'stupid'
A boundary-focus has two additional requirements: respect for boundaries; and that your freedom of expression stops at the tip of my nose.
The respect referred to here is not that I appreciate, condone or value what you say - on the contrary, it is my respect for your right to be stupid. "This is 'my' perception and 'you' will probably disagree with it," he explains. "However, I want my right to be stupid respected as well!"
* George Dieter is the author of I Power The Freedom to Be Me. Published by Exisle Publishing