Me & Not Me

I want to share with you one of my favorite exercises that helps people set boundaries.  It’s called “Me & Not Me”.

One of the key obstacles to setting boundaries is a difficulty in separating oneself from others.  Now, that might sound silly.  Of course you know who you are, and that you are a separate person from your partner or your friends.  But there are all sorts of sneaky ways in which that distinction become blurry.

One way is by taking responsibility for other people’s feelings, thoughts, or experience.  Do you feel like your partner’s happiness is your responsibility?  When you host an event are you so overly anxious about everyone else having a good time, that you in fact don’t have a fun time?  When you share your honest and respectful opinion with others, and they clearly are displeased, do you feel obligated to “fix it”?

If so, then the distinction between self and other isn’t all that clear.

Or maybe you have a hard time figuring out what you actually prefer.  When you’re among your friends are you acting like a chameleon, trying to fit in to whatever they want to do, and agreeing with whatever “the group” thinks or feels?  When you try to figure out what you really want, do you find yourself weighing what others think and feel about various options?

If so, then the distinction between self and other isn’t all that clear.

Maybe none of the above is true for you, but perhaps you are someone who simply leaps into action as soon as you hear that someone close to you is having trouble with something.  When a close friend or family member tells you about a problem they’re having at work do you immediately start giving advice, and perhaps even doing your own research to find solutions?  When you see a system that isn’t working at your job or an organization you volunteer at, do you immediately start trying to fix it, even if it doesn’t directly affect you?  Do you find yourself burnt out because you’ve been doing too much to help others and not enough to take care of yourself?

That may be because the distinction between yourself and others has become blurred.

So if now you think that there’s an area in your life where the distinction between self and other is blurry, then let’s dive in together into an exercise that will help make that distinction more clear.

First, bring to mind a specific person and/or circumstance where that distinction between self and other is blurry.  Do whatever you need to do to bring that “alive” for you in this moment.  Maybe there’s a word or phrase that really triggers your taking on too much responsibility. Or maybe you just need to play a specific memory in your head like a video.  Do whatever you need to do to bring that moment into this moment.

Now, I want you to close your eyes.  Take a few deep breathes and notice your body.  Notice that you take up space, and that that space is limited.  Go ahead and draw a circle around yourself, either mentally or just with your finger.  This is your personal bubble, some need more personal space, others need less, but whatever amount of personal bubble space you need is exactly right.  As you breathe let yourself take up the space of that circle.  Say to yourself “this is me.”

Now, picture this other person and/or circumstance outside of that circle.  As you picture them on the outside of the circle, raise your hands, palms facing them, and say “that is not me.”

Turn your palms towards yourself, bring your arms and hands in so that you are almost touching your chest and say “this is me.”

Repeat that process three or four times.  Turn your palms away from you and extend your arms, “not me.”  Turn your palms towards you, and bring your arms in, “this is me.”

After repeating that process check in with yourself.  Is the distinction between yourself and others more clear?  Do you feel less responsible for other people’s experience, thoughts, and feelings?  Is it more clear to you what your preferences are versus what their preferences are?

This is the foundation of developing strong and healthy boundaries.



September 12, 2016Permalink
Free Practice Group

Twice a month I lead a free Compassionate Communication Practice Group. Open to those new and advanced students. We meet on the First and Third Monday of the month at 6 pm. We gather at 640 Hawthorn Lane in classroom 8. Classrooms are behind the church and to the left, next to the parking lot. Practice Group sessions usually run for 2 hours.

The next one will be on July 6th at 6 pm.