Don’t Put Me In That Box

Do not put me into that box. That box that you created for me. That box that you dreamed up for me. I don’t want to be in that box. In fact, I don’t want to be in any box. I want to be me. I want to be on your team, but I want to be me on that team. I’d much rather work with people who are themselves, wouldn’t you?

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while. I think I’ve held off because I have so many memories of others trying to cram me into their own custom-shaped box and those memories make me queasy.

I’m not talking about mentors, advice that comes from a genuine and caring place, or even constructive criticism when I’ve been wrong (which has been countless times). I also believe, because of my belief in God, that I should respect and those in authority. But, I do not have to become a shell of myself in order to do this.

I’m talking about people who put other people in an ill-fitting box. Seal it. And, then stand on top of it.

Many years ago, I worked with a woman who did just this. Actually, I really had no idea that I was under this type of “spell” until another co-worker gave me a wake-up call. Only then could I really see the lies, manipulation and jealous behavior like a dark veil was lifted from my eyes.

We all have these experiences, these life lessons that teach us to never be “that” way again or to never make “that mistake again.” That’s how we learn and grow. Based on this experience, I know that I will never again allow someone to try to put me into their version of who I should be.

Dr. Henry Cloud is a psychologist, a speaker and a NY Times bestselling author. I know his work from his Boundaries series: excellent books on setting boundaries in your relationships and from his business-related books. Dr. Cloud talks a lot about what successful people do and don’t do. Successful people stop repeating the same habits and behaviors that cause them to fail, to make mistakes, to keep going down the wrong path. We hate going through trying times (I know I do!), but if we learn from them and if we can change our habits and behaviors that keep us pinned down, then we will become better, more successful and even achieve what we consider greatness for ourselves.

“Lysa* controls the air you breath.”

My co-worker and I were meeting with a client and we decided to do some shopping afterward because we were in the cutest neighborhood! The work-focus of our outing faded away as we looked at eclectic jewelry, flowing pashminas and quilted handbags. I don’t even remember how the topic came up, but she looked me in the eye after we had been talking and after I told her I felt like I couldn’t move forward in my position at work, I was stuck, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference, and I felt like I wasn’t working well with another co-worker. That’s when she told me. , “Julie, Lysa* controls the air you breath.”

*Lysa’s name has been changed.

Think about your breath. We breath in and out. Mostly involuntary and sometimes voluntary. I am a singer. I have great control over my breathing and while singing an entire opera, you have no chance of making it through if your breathing is not on point. Now imagine someone putting a stick to your throat. You go to take a breath and they slowly cut off your air supply. What do you do? The only thing you can do. You must wait until they release the pressure. They have the control. You could try to fight them, but that stick could hurt you, could make things worse for you if you go against it.

What this co-worker (Lysa) was doing to me, or rather what I was allowing, is for her to manipulate and control me at work to the point that I was stripped of my own thoughts, creativity and confidence.

I’m so grateful for the words said to me that day of shopping to wake me up. But they hurt and actually left me breathless for a while. I wanted to run, to quit, to find another job asap. Honestly, I was embarrassed that I had let someone treat me like this and other people noticed that I allowed it! A mentor of mine, during this moment, helped give me the confidence I needed to set boundaries and to break away from this uncomfortable box that wasn’t suited for me. It’s funny. You have two people. Lysa and the Mentor. Both want something out of you. Both can get it. But, only one leaves you feeling uplifted, encouraged and able.

You cannot change other people. Let’s say it together: You. Cannot. Change. Other. People.

They are who they are. They are who their experiences allow them to be. You cannot change your spouse, your child, your parents, your co-workers. Once you realize this and stop trying to cram other people into this box that you envision for them, you’ll learn how to work on yourself and change your own mindset and situation. YOU can only change YOU.

I’m so grateful for this experience and that I had already learned years prior that I cannot change another person. Believe me, I tried that already with my husband! (Ha!)

So, in this instance, I had to work really hard to undo those fuzzy lines that I had misrepresented as boundaries. I had not set my boundaries and I had not made it clear that I am not a puppet. I do not blame Lysa for how she acted because that is her personality. She is the only one who can change how she treats others. I could have quit that job because of one person, but instead, through encouragement and strength and working on myself, I stayed at the job another year. During this year, I excelled. And then? I had the opportunity to move on. Do you know what I remember the most? The time that I had with my mentor and with the other people who truly worked as a team.

Do I want to learn from others? Always. But, do not put me into that box. That box that you created for me. That box that you dreamed up for me. I don’t want to be in that box. In fact, I don’t want to be in any box. I want to be me. I want to be on your team, but I want to be me on that team. I’d much rather work with people who are themselves, wouldn’t you?

It is important to realize, too, my beliefs. I do believe in submitting to authorities. I do believe, because of my Faith, that I should respect and honor those who are in positions in higher authority. But, I also believe in setting clear boundaries through my actions and words that I am not to be lied to, gossiped about, or smashed down. It is not right to do that to any person. Will it happen? Yes. But, going through this experience and others before this that were similar, has taught me to move on. To move forward. You should move forward to. Our Creator loves us and has a grand plan for us. Guess what? He wants you to be who He created you to be. Listen to Him, not Lysa.

I encourage you to evaluate your relationships. Are you trying to cram someone into a box that you created for them? It is okay to mentor, parent, coach, and redirect, but you cannot change someone! If you try, you’ll just be frustrated and the other person will eventually realize that the person they are becoming is someone YOU created, not who God meant for them to be. You can only change you. And, if you are the one being put into a box, I suggest figuring out how to set your boundaries. Don’t let yourself be put in that box another minute. Other people don’t get to tell you who you are, how to be, or what to achieve in life. That’s all you. (And, if you read this post, you can get some insight into how I’m doing this today.)

Books I recommend from Dr. Henry Cloud are linked below. (I’ve listened to and read through the 9 things You Simply Must Do… about five times!)

Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life: A Psychologist Learns from His Patients What Really Works and What Doesn’t

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