This time of year offers a natural opportunity to change our ways and improve our lives and selves. Physical boundary setting has never been more clearly delineated and accepted as in the current global climate yet social and emotional boundaries remain relatively ambiguous and oftentimes porous.
Understanding boundaries and how to gently enforce them while maintaining vulnerability and sincerity is a distinct challenge. There are few safe places to do so because costs are high when you make a social blunder amongst strangers and even friends. If your walls are too flimsy you’re left feeling violated, betrayed or exploited without necessarily being able to put your finger on what part of the interaction was uncomfortable. If your defenses are too rigid you find yourself alone behind them because no one can make it through unscathed.
The online letter tile game Words With Friends provides a uniquely ironic way to learn how to be vulnerable yet safe, open yet guarded, and sincere yet having walls. The site is populated with lots of legitimate players but is also a favourite for scam artists because it allows chats between users. It is easy to block or ignore the users but why not take advantage of the opportunity to refine your skill at saying no while honing your vocabulary!
There are tells in every interaction, ways of knowing if someone is grooming you, testing your defenses, or sounding out your vulnerability. People who share easily are often easy targets. Sadly, sharing is a core need and our instinct to do so does make us susceptible to predators. In general social settings we don’t know who may look to take our resources against our wishes but the deliberate strategies used on WWF are identical to the recipes used by all who seek to meet their needs through exploitation. Recognizing the patterns allows you to identify prospective toxic situations and navigate them to find satisfaction and safety.
Not all strategies and manipulations are conscious and not all exploitation is intentional. But the patterns and techniques are the same. Where you differentiate is by determining what you stand to gain from engaging in the script verses exiting the game. If someone is going to take advantage of you, but you are comfortable with the transaction because you feel you are getting sufficient needs met, then are they really exploiting you? Exploitation is in the mind of the victim and what a third party perceives as unfair, the parties involved may find a satisfactory exchange.
On WWF, engaging with scammers pays you in coins and experience levels. But you can also learn how to maintain personal boundaries in the chat, while experiencing the strategies used to build artificial intimacy, tests for openness to exploitation, and recipes for future faking. You will learn how to say no to direct violations but can practice doing so without judgement or shaming of the other party.
There are two sides to boundaries and understanding how to maintain them both is a critical skill. On the one side, letting people in is necessary for mental health and social well-being. Most people are good at that. On the other, feeling safe while not causing pain to others is important yet many respond to intrusions with judgement, shaming, and harsh enforcement.
On WWF, it is safe to assume anyone who initiates a chat is a fraud artist. But if you accept them for what they are knowing you are in complete control of the situation and your exposure, you can learn a lot about human nature and how to graciously assert boundaries while not putting any sincere, authentic relationships at risk. If you practice courtesy, compassion and kindness on someone whose objective is to defraud you, you learn to control your revulsion and rein in your judgemental language. Treat the interaction like a game of operation where your objective is to maintain your safety while studying their actions to determine your emotional weaknesses.
It’s like hiring a hacker to hack a computer to test the defenses. And while you are deliberately distracting the fraudster, you are also protecting others by keeping them busy with you!
Consider this a challenge. Try to engage without judgement, enforce boundaries without shaming, and interact with no expectations, only boundaries. Learn about yourself as you carry on a conversation that you know is completely artificial and contrived. Walk into it with your eyes wide open.
And then turn those eyes to your authentic life and recognize where those same patterns exist.