When we develop ourselves as leaders, there are two critical dimensions: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal development is focused on the outer game of skills, knowledge, and those things that can be imparted. Vertical development is your inner game, your meaning-making system, your identity, the ways you experience reality and create security for yourself. This is not something that can be rushed, and is the focus of research on stages of adult development. Identifying boundaries and staying in integrity with yourself happen because of vertical development.
In order for a person to move from the reactive to creative stage of development (if it happens at all; only about 20% of adults are estimated to move to this stage or beyond) requires a willingness to risk others’ disapproval of you in order to be and act more in alignment with your deepest values and desires. It’s that stage in life when you define your character “inside out” versus “outside in” when you’re in the reactive, or as Kegan and Lahey say, the Socialized-Self stage. It’s one reason boundaries are more difficult to establish when you’re younger; partially because you need experience to figure out what works for you, and partially because you have to be willing to risk others’ opinions to act with integrity to yourself.
A key point in her video is learning to manage your judgments by believing that people are doing the best they can, versus trying to take advantage of you, being lazy, or some other judgment. Interestingly, it’s not so you can be more gracious, but rather sane and happy because ultimately it’s you that first benefits from fretting about someone’s perceived lack of manners, insight, values, etc. That becomes much easier, I believe, if you’re first able to know yourself via personal values and have a desire to experience life in a way that aligns with your values, and secondly that you understand your fears and how they can manifest as judgement about others.
Brené distinguishes compassion from empathy this way: compassion stems from a belief that we are all connected by something rooted in goodness and love (some people call that God, but that doesn’t work for everyone…so consider substituting the universe or other concept for shared connection). Empathy is a skill that brings compassion alive by helping people feel they are loved, that they are seen, witnessed…that you “get” them. It’s feeling along with someone, not taking on their feelings as your own…which, of course, requires boundaries.