Boundaries, Kazoos, and Inherent Value

Last week, I made an argument for creating boundaries by way of the movie Gremlins: Avoiding getting the adorable mogwai Gizmo wet meant that Gizmo didn’t have to go through all the hatching pain and that humanity didn’t have to suffer the creation of evil mogwais like Spike.

In other words, thoughtful boundaries = wins all the way around.

So, what keeps us from creating and protecting boundaries? What fuels the gremlin voice within many of us that says that boundaries are problematic, prohibitive, or punishing?

Let’s think for a second about how we talk to dogs. If a dog sits nicely when we ask, we say, “Good dog!” and when that same dog chews on a shoe, we say (or yell), “Bad dog!” Same dog, just different behaviors, and yet we make blanket statements about the dog’s very being, very doghood.

And, friends, we do that to ourselves, too. Granted, we do it less overtly to ourselves but it’s still there. We complete a project under deadline and we (often subconsciously) think, “Good human! I have value! I will treat myself to that shiny new kazoo I’ve been eyeballing!” We get ornery with one of our loved ones and we (often subconsciously) think, “Bad human! I am worthless! I will mentally and emotionally lash myself for the rest of the day for being so bad!”

Same human, different behaviors. You didn’t suddenly become a valuable human when you did “good” things and you didn’t suddenly become a worthless human when you did “bad” things.

So far, so good?

Riddle me this, then: Where does your value come from?

If you said that your value is innate, that it comes packaged with your very existence, then: Good human! Go get yourself that kazoo!

I kid, I kid. Convincing myself and coaching others around our individual, inherent value is one of the hardest things I do. The messaging and training that attaches our actions to our value permeates our lives and society. And so we endeavor to earn what we already have, day after day, decision after decision. We prioritize societal shoulds and others’ wants over our own wants and needs – we ditch boundaries in an attempt to prove our value to others, and to ourselves.

Or, we become convinced that we’re plain old worthless and we give up on ourselves – maybe not to the point that we lose all ambition or attachment to our own well being but maybe enough that we give up on our most audacious dreams and we neglect those things that help us live our biggest, baddest lives… like boundaries.

When we act as if we have inherent, inalienable value, we set in motion a chain reaction of self-care and boundaries that not only demonstrates our value to others (by way of teaching them how we like to be treated) but also strengthens our visceral, emotional belief that we are, in fact, valuable.

Because you are. And I am. And even your co-worker who clips his toenails at his desk? Yeah, him, too.