01 Aug Staying in My Lane
Last week I wrote about the phrase “a new normal” and how it has unceremoniously (and without invitation) dumped itself into my life. This week I want to continue my “phraseology” theme by considering what it means to “stay in my own lane.”
We all know what this means when operating an automobile, of course. There are well-marked and delineated lanes of traffic in which we are to drive. On the highway there are multiple lanes all flowing in the same direction in which it is safe to travel. Before changing from one lane to another, we are taught to check that there is an appropriate opening, then signal our intention to surrounding drivers before moving over. Drivers in the D.C. metro area routinely ignore this very sound advice.
On a two-lane road, staying in one’s lane very quickly becomes a matter of life-and-death. Head-on collisions result when a driver leaves his/her assigned lane and strays into the other side of the roadway.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if our emotional lives came with lane markings that are as clear as those on the Capital Beltway? Or if a warning would sound when we begin to stray into areas that don’t belong to us, like the beeping my car makes to alert me that I am getting too close to other traffic?
Straying into others’ emotional lanes can look like giving advice when none is asked for; offering solutions or “fixes” when all someone wants to do is talk, vent, and unload; fixating on other people’s problems to the degree that we worry incessantly or lose sleep; thinking I know best how someone else should live and what they should do or not do; inserting myself into another person’s coping mechanisms.
In the South, we call this emotional lane violation “being in someone’s business.” Professionals may use the word “enmeshment.” Either way it boils down to having poor emotional boundaries, to failing to respect the autonomy of another person.
I’ve come to realize that often we fail to “stay in our own lane” because it is easier to give advice to others than to actually live our advice in our own lives. If I’m focused on someone else’s problems or poor decision-making, I don’t have to deal with my own problems or decision-making. I can avoid facing my own fears or self-centeredness, inconsistencies or prejudices. Fixing other people beats fixing myself any old day.
It takes wisdom and maturity to remain lovingly connected to people while simultaneously developing the capacity for emotional detachment from what is theirs—and theirs alone—to do. The key is to do not one or the other, connection or detachment, but both at the same time. When connection and detachment are in balance, I am able to express love, concern, support, and encouragement without straying into judgment and advice. And, let’s face it, I have plenty of work to do in my own lane. I really do need to stay out of yours.
Yours for the Kingdom,