I had a tantrum the other day. It wasn’t terribly long, but it was a surprisingly intense meltdown. The person at whom I was raging said, afterward, “Oh, so you’re actually human!”
Yes, I’m human, but this behaviour isn’t like me at all! I am generally level and calm around others and no, I don’t make a habit of melting down! So what was different with this person? What had turned me into someone I didn’t recognize?
Mortified, I traced a line backwards from my explosion to the true cause. The trigger in the moment was nothing—a small transgression. But it was the proverbial straw and my temper was the camel’s back, and I had to figure it out.
I turned the interaction over in my mind and realized that this person had simply crossed my boundaries one too many times. And rather than communicating clearly about it from the first transgression, I’d been quietly simmering until one tiny incident made me boil over.
You’ve probably heard me talk about boundaries before, and this is one of the reasons it’s so important to have and articulate them. I had very clear boundaries of appropriate behaviour and interactions in my own mind, but had never actually voiced them. As they say, “A behaviour allowed is a behaviour condoned”—and I had been allowing this person to cross invisible thresholds again and again. I was tacitly condoning behaviour that was hurting me. I’d been annoyed, and frustrated by this person’s actions, and yet had never said a thing, until I said (screamed) it all at once.
We know that if there are no boundaries between two properties, it’s a mess; it’s the same thing in our relationships, whether with coworkers, family or friends. We’re sovereign nations, and we need to ensure the integrity of our borders to protect and support what we value, and also interact respectfully and productively with others.
I am still a bit embarrassed by my tantrum, because I recognize that it was my responsibility to visit the four corners of my property and make sure all my fences were in good repair. I had neglected that duty, and someone else had to bear the consequences (though they did seem to get a kick out of seeing me at less than my “perfect” best). But at the same time, I’m grateful for the wisdom of the meltdown, and for the reminder of why this work of Genuine Conversations is so essential.
I invite you to consider your most recent out-of-character meltdown, and what it might be telling you about your relationship with another. Are there boundaries you need to articulate, either to yourself or to the other person? How are your fences (so vital to relationships), holding up?
And for those who haven’t had a meltdown, can you think of the last time you quietly allowed someone to violate a boundary? Is there a way to articulate that boundary now or in the future, to receive the wisdom of the meltdown before actually having a tantrum?