A Matter of Compromise * Defining Healthy Personal Boundaries


A Matter of Compromise

I’ve been thinking a lot about my most recent draining vacation and the notion of compromise. There’s an interesting dichotomy here.  Some give and take is necessary and even beneficial. Yet, with other such experiences, we just feel stretched or drained. In other words, compromise can either strengthen relationships (which in turn can provide new possibilities) or it can break down our self-esteem causing us to isolate.

The real question then is what defines that magic boundary line between these two extremes? When do we stop seeing (feeling) that compromise is valued and valuable? When does it cease to inspire and start becoming stressful?

Defining Healthy Personal Boundaries

I think it all comes down to healthy boundaries. That’s definitely something I’m still trying to figure out. When does something help us grow and explore ourselves and when does the experience cause us to hide who we truly are? Growth versus shrivelling.

I think at some time or another we’ve all been in a situation where we knew we didn’t fit. Perhaps it was a job were we had to pretend to be someone else. A place where it seemed that we had to constantly censoring ourselves. A situation that stressed us out, kept us up at night, and drained all the life out of us.

Even at the time, we probably had an inkling that something wasn’t right. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t seem to set things right. Unfortunately, that reality made us all the more intent in our desire to “make it work”.

Despite our best efforts, we eventually walked away (or got fired). Essentially, the universe forced our hand. This left us free to explore other options and other possibilities, hopefully ones that suited us and our needs in better ways.

Growth and Change

I think that personal boundaries are in essence the same type of thing. We’re in this relationship (with others or even ourself) and we have these unwritten dynamics. We basically know how conversations will progress, the rules of what is acceptable, appropriate reactions, etc.

But what if those boundaries no longer fit? What if they pinch and hold us so tight that growth, change, or disagreement is not acceptable? Or conversely, what if these current boundaries are so loose that we don’t even know where the other person ends and we start?

At that point, like the bad job, we start to feel stretched and just plain stressed out. What we don’t often recognize is that this is when we consciously or unconsciously start to re-evaluate our compromises. We start to feel that maybe our concessions are no longer valued, they are expected with nothing in return (not even respect).

In some cases, we might even realize that our compromises with these individuals may be seen as signs of weakness, inferiority, or as evidence that we are throwaway people. When this happens, we essentially give these people permission to treat us badly. More so than that, we even apologize for “not being enough” in their eyes.

With this in mind, on my so called holiday, I do remember wondering when it would all be enough. How bad did it have to get before I said enough was enough? How sick did I have to get? How tired? How overwhelmed? Were the compromises I was making really worth what I was doing to myself in the process?