When I see you and ask "How are you?" your answer may depend on where I sit in your concentric boundary circles.
Do you say "I'm fine, thank you! And you?"
Or do you say "I'm irritated today because I'm feeling so constrained." And perhaps if things are going well, "I'm feeling energized because I have the freedom to choose where I physically work."
Or might you say "This is the worst year of my life - I'm falling apart and I have no where to turn. I think I'm going to lose it."
Conversely, if things were doing swimmingly, would you say "I just bought a humongous cabin on the Shore and I can't wait to redecorate the whole thing. The sky is the limit to what I might do!"
These are all potential honest and truthful answers to the simple question "How are you?"
And yet, when boundary muscles are not exercised, it is easy to get mixed up about which answer goes to whom, or we give the same answer to everyone.
Here are three concentric circles you can practice on a regular basis to build boundary muscles.
Circle #1 is the biggest one and I call it the "Acquaintance Circle" - it includes casual friendship, people you pass during your morning run, the colleague you haven't been in close touch with who connects with you on LinkedIn, or perhaps someone you have just met.
When these people ask the perfunctory "How are you?" you can say "I'm fine, thank you! And you?" Honest and truthful.
Circle #2, which is considerably smaller than Circle #1, is the middle circle and it is "Trusted Friend Circle" - it includes friendships that have borne the test of time, people you trust have your back, friendships where you aren't overly concerned about judgment.
When these people ask the genuine "How are you?" you might offer ""I'm irritated today because I'm feeling so constrained." Or "I'm feeling energized because I have the freedom to choose where I physically work." Honest and truthful.
Circle #3 is the smallest, intimate, inside circle and it is the "Let's Be Real Circle" - and it includes only people you deeply trust, people who will do anything for you, people who care deeply about your wellbeing. For most people, that is a relatively small circle and I consider it a family of choice.
When THESE people ask the deeply caring question "How are you?" you can say ""This is the worst year of my life - I'm falling apart and I have no where to turn. I think I'm going to lose it."
Or you can share "I just bought a humongous cabin on the Shore and I can't wait to redecorate the whole thing. The sky is the limit to what I might do!"
You can trust that Circle #3 can hold these truths with integrity and courage. Honest and truthful.
Why does it feel healthy to pre-think boundary circles and keep them clear?
When boundary muscles are exercised, it is easier to keep clear about which answer goes to whom and to realize that different answers are respectful for the giver and receiver. The same answer doesn't work for everyone. Vulnerable, intimate answers go to a small chosen few who have earned the ability to hold them. Broad, general answers don't burden those who aren't ready (or interested) in holding them.
Boundaries play an important role in a whole-hearted life. How I define my boundaries is up to me and only me. It is unfair to expect others to know my boundaries unless I am clear with them myself.
Remembering my 3 concentric boundary circles helps me determine my actions. And actions, aligned with values, supports optimal health.