It is not endearing to violate others’ boundaries. Yet somehow, American culture has come to a place where violating other people’s boundaries is commonplace, accepted and even encouraged. It’s treated as normal and condoned in public settings as well as in private. It is disguised as exercising free will, instead of the bullying it really is. And as with other bullying the victim is blamed for being hurt, they are ridiculed and demeaned in order to make it clear to all parties that supposedly the perpetrator is only joking. It’s almost always couched in joking terms, as if someone who were actually joking but ended up hurting someone would ever behave that way. Which, they do, but basically just as an extension of this behavior pattern – which is to say they were never joking and only using that as a tool to manipulate the person they just victimized.
Part of violating other people’s boundaries has to do with bullying culture, but part of it also has to do with family dynamics. Plenty of world cultures have very close families that care deeply for each other, be they siblings and immediate family or larger extended families. Plenty of humans feel this closeness and choose to build that closeness through caring for and supporting one another. When reared together the average healthy human feels loyalty to those people closest to them, which entails a desire to protect those people and the relationship with them.
Unfortunately, Americans largely aren’t building healthy relationships with appropriate boundaries, and instead have been emotionally isolated and personally devalued, destroying most American’s ability to build any functional relationships. Most importantly, the family group has been made out in cultural context to be restrictive, prohibitive etc. and as such is avoided. That’s wrapped up in the focus on individualism that divides a person from the group, and that gap is reinforced through lack of trust. This comes from cultural pressure to be independent despite the very real need for social support to function as a healthy human. That dichotomy is emotionally damaging to the individual, and sows the seeds of instability in the community.
Americans have been taught a narrative of competition so complete that it is applied to their own family members as well as the rest of the world. However, American culture demeans work and sacrifice – despite the dogma that’s touted. Americans may proclaim that hard work is the road to success, but they hate having to accomplish anything personally. Americans would much rather force someone or something else to accommodate them so that they may achieve success without extending personal effort. Because, above the satisfaction of accomplishment, achievement is seen as an end to be gotten through any means, and manipulative means are seen as intelligent competitive strategy.
Seeing hard work as a burden they would rather avoid, Americans use tactics to basically force others into emotional commitment in friendships and dating. They use tools to make the person feel vulnerable and inadequate, but then reinforce that this is part of their culture of intimacy. Partly because they all feel insecure and inadequate themselves, they ensure others feel the same way as some sort of bonding or shared experience. But it’s also a handy way to manipulate the person into feeling desperate enough to seek support and/or compromise their own values to be included in the group, or more accurately, to avoid exclusion. When people feel inferior, they try to impress others or otherwise gain their approval, especially when faced with the fear of rejection.
The hard work I’ve been alluding to is emotional work. It is work to come to others and build intimacy, which is inherently from a place of vulnerability. Americans are terrified of that, both because it’s associated with weakness, which is demeaned in the culture, but also because it strikes at their fears of survival, since they’re isolated and can’t seek support when they need it. This all results in a lot of relationships built on social currencies like obligation and status, that are injected with pressure and explode in messy, emotional outbursts as people are only willing to admit their own emotional needs or boundaries when they’ve been pushed well beyond their limits, or when they’ve engaged in self destructive behavior enough to bring themselves to a place of being able to allow closeness at all (e.g. drinking too much alcohol, engaging in sexual or intimate behaviors, etc.).
It’s scary to try to trust someone or let them get close to us (which gives them a level of power over us). When we feel secure in a broad social network, an individual relationship does not garner nearly the same power that it does when we essentially have no network to fall back on (except more people we don’t fully trust or feel accepted by). As much as it is scary to open up to others, it’s scary to stand our ground with them as well. Despite our fears, we can’t have the healthy relationships we all desperately need without risking being hurt by them too much. That’s why it’s so critical that we know how to create and maintain appropriate emotional boundaries with others – to be able to let them in our hearts without letting them destroying us.
Building healthy, functional relationships takes a lifetime of compromise, sacrifice, effort, goodwill, forgiveness, flexibility, vulnerability, trust, respect, responsibility, focus, acceptance, support, encouragement, communication, adjustment, accommodation, collaboration, ingenuity and, hopefully love.