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Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Boundaries

There is no doubt about it, I have always struggled with boundary issues.  In many ways, I feel like a small child when it comes to trying to figure out what is or what isn’t appropriate.  This applies to nearly all types of boundaries you can imagine, including physical boundaries. 

The issue begins (though is not exclusively related to) the fact that my mother was a very hands-off mom.  She didn’t cuddle, she didn’t coddle, and we definitely didn’t ask her to kiss our booboos.  I am a cuddler.  I crave, indeed, demand physical touch in some form and my mother was loathe to give it.  If, at a very tender age, I tried to sit on her lap or hold her hand or touch her arm, she would pull away or else push me away.  When my brother and sister were little, she was an infamous “bottle propper” which is to say, she didn’t hold and cuddle her babies while she fed them, but rather propped up their bottles so that she would not have to hold them.  It seemed abnormal to me, even as a child, but my mom always insisted that I was “leech” like and that the issue was mine.

So, as a child, not getting the physical (or really emotional) connection that I craved left me sort of stunted as an adult - not quite sure how to handle situations, not quite comfortable acting on my own impulses, not quite sure if my own impulses were appropriate or not.  Add to the fact that Americans in general are extremely conservative with their personal space and it leaves me in a tight spot.  On a deep level that I can’t explain, I want to touch people, and no, not in a creepy Michael Jackson way.  Still, I want to connect with people in physical, emotional and mental ways and I can’t always discern what is OK, what is comfortable, what is right and what is just… too much?  I am inclined to touch people on the hands or shoulders when I talk to them.  Hugging people seems natural.  Asking people personal and “deep” questions about their life is practically a hobby.  It is, at least in part, due to my deep and passionate love for all people, but there are huge problems that arise in being the way that I am.

First, most people don’t seem to like to be touched.  Maybe the phobia or discomfort isn’t as bad as it was with my mother, but I think most people have their comfort zone, mentally, physically and emotionally and that zone seems pretty tight.  Sure, I have my own comfort zone, so I do understand, but my comfort zone seems much broader than that of other people.  I have a hard time learning other people’s “rules” and what they are comfy with.  I’ve given up trying to learn society’s rules, I just figure “stay away from everyone because that’s safest” and thus I live the life of a hermit.  Sad but true.

It is not OK, for example, to pat the forearm of a cashier and tell him or her to smile and have a nice day.  It is not OK to hug one’s doctor in thanks for listening so attentively.  It is not OK to kiss the cheek of a friend (for reasons I can’t quite grasp).  Kisses must be reserved exclusively for lovers and generally then only in private.  I think… MAYBE it’s OK to kiss your children, but maybe that is taboo, too.  It is not generally OK to breastfeed in public (at least by many people’s standards) - it is too intimate, it is too “private.”  There is too much touch involved, I suppose.  It is not OK to tell people how you REALLY are.  You are supposed to say “fine” and leave it at that, even if it is a lie.  Even if it is boring.  Even if you are doing much better than fine, because showing any exuberance for doing well is frightening and lends the idea that you are somehow… mmm… pushy?  Too happy? 

I can’t figure all these rules out.  They don’t come second nature to me.  These are a few I have figured out through trial and error, but they seem unnatural to me.  Some I break, anyway.  I still hug people I barely know, but now I will try to remember to ask for permission first.  At least then I am offering the _respect_ that they deserve but without cheating my own instincts.  I refrain from touching people, but usually that leaves me fidgety in conversations or else I have to clasp my hands close to me, making it seem like I am uncomfortable and uptight (which I AM because I’m not able to express myself in a way that seems natural to me.)

Other than just making others uncomfortable in general, there are other issues with my confusion in how to discern and deal with boundaries.  Gestures normally reserved (in our culture?) for those relationships that are of a more intimate nature (hugging, kissing, holding hands) gives the completely wrong idea about me.  Because I take an interest in finding out how people REALLY are, they often assume that I’m into their business.  Or maybe they get the impression that the relationship is more intimate than it really is.  Because I touch someone’s arm or kiss someone’s cheek, it is assumed that I am “coming on” to that person. 

I wish I wasn’t such a social retard.

While I understand _respect_ and I understand the basic concept of boundaries and borders and “appropriate” and “inappropriate” it is scary for me because truly I don’t always know when I’m crossing lines.  I don’t always know that by offering someone help I’m actually offending them.  It doesn’t occur to me that by popping in and asking, “Hey can I join you?” I may be butting in and forcing others to accept my presence when they were perhaps not interested in having me there (at least at that moment?). 

Right now, I’m flailing.  I know I have friends - good friends - who realize who I am and how I am and what my actual intentions are.  I have other friends who are very understanding and willing to make allowances even though they aren’t quite sure what to make of me.  It’s hard because I’m feeling like my own emotional shell has been violently cracked open and my messy “feelings” are just spilling everywhere invading other people’s boundaries and space.  There’s no intentional harm, but for some reason, it seems like I end up making things strange and awkward for everyone I am around lately.  Maybe I am just strange and awkward and it’s all, heh, get this, you’ll love it… in my head.

*::cough cough hack::*

Lookit that.  A hairball.

Maybe I should wait for a week until (hopefully) things settle and just hide away from the world in the meantime so I don’t freak people out.  I’m tired of freaking people out.

Maybe I should try to sleep.  This emotional hairball stuff is just too much at this time of the morning.

Posted by Liberty on 10/06 at 02:25 AM
Posted under: See-Through

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Krush  at  10/06/05 07:17 AM

When (and I do mean that) we meet in person, feel free to hug, because if you don’t I will! I don’t understand a lot of the boundaries either, but try to guage a person before “crossing” them myself. Nice to know I’m not the only one with this issue.

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breeno  at  10/06/05 09:10 AM

I certainly don’t understand em either.  I tend to (conservatively) assemble a ‘trust factor’ I can then ascribe to a person before I’ll let them in on my stuff.

I think most of our ‘walls’ are erected outta good ole fashioned naked fear.  Inside them we’re safe and risk free.  Of course rot, decay and neglect cohabitate there as well.
We all live in these places, just most of us avoid the stuff that really matters.  I for one enjoy your honesty.

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Fox  at  10/07/05 06:50 PM

I’m all for a terror regime of mandatory hugging.  One (straight) guy in the campus scifi/fantasy/horror/anime/freaksgeeksandgoths club hugs EVERYONE he knows…male or female.  We’re all used to it, but it freaks strangers out. 

I’m not really against kisses…so much as I’m just not used to the thing.  If someone comes toward me like that, I automatically think “hug” and it ends up getting akward.  Which is pretty much my whole thing with touch.  I’m a hermit, it’s not that I don’t like it, but I’m not used to it.  And then all the other stuff comes in and I don’t know how or if to respond.

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Anon  at  10/10/05 11:51 AM

It’s unfortunate that socialy we as human beings are bent up inside ourselves. We don’t allow one another the basic /need/ of touch anywhere near often enough. It can be a socially bad time or moment, a bad personal moment, fear, self loathing or many other things or combination of things. I won’t say that knowing when to touch is an easy thing..cause it almost never is. But those that dare to touch will more often be touched in return. I think it’s time to break out of our boxes…and I for one say hug and kiss your children, Liberty. Hug and kiss your hubby in public. Hold hands with friends and even give the offer to your mother. You yourself should be proud of your nurturing side even when it itself needs nurturing..and never allow others to make you feel bad about it.

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Bekki  at  10/10/05 10:02 PM

Hey, just wanted to say hi.

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