Boundaries:
Whose Tea Cup Is This, Anyway?

I’m known around work as the “tea cup lady.” I discuss in my workshops the issue of creating your own happiness and the unhappiness created in poor boundaries by using the metaphor of tea cups. Here’s how it goes:

• There are three tea cups.

• You have a tea cup that you alone are responsible for 'stirring'. This is called Your Tea Cup. It is a full-time, lifetime job to stir your own tea cup.

• Other people have their own tea cup that they are responsible for stirring (not that we don't try to stick our spoon in there sometimes!). This is called Their Tea Cup.

• Reality (or God) owns the third tea cup. No one has the ability to stir this tea cup.

When we are stirring our own tea cup, we are happy. We have things to do that are important and feel productive and even empowering.



When we attempt to stir another's tea cup (by advising, arguing, judging, or demanding) we feel disconnected, stressed, angry, and even afraid.

God or Reality's Tea Cup includes things like acts of nature, traffic jams, recessions, and disease. None of us can decide to stir this cup or stop stirring this cup. It’s the third cup and is far away from our own for a reason. To attempt to stir this tea cup never works (not that this stops us) and makes us feel very alone and small and even powerless.

More Facts About the Tea Cups:

• Since stirring my tea cup is a full time job, when I stir yours, I have no one to stir my own.

• Even if I am related to you or love you, I cannot stir your tea cup. I can try to persuade you to stir your cup and I can even throw a tantrum or threaten you to stir your cup, but I am kidding myself (and making myself miserable) to believe that I am stirring your cup.

• God’s tea cup is Reality’s cup. My resistance to what is happening in this cup is a great source of unhappiness. If I get angry or depressed or lash out or try to avoid this tea cup (through behaviors like addiction or denial), then there is a great chance that I will crack or even break my tea cup.

• I cannot stir my own teacup while attempting to stir someone else's. I must accept that. Once I do, I am at peace.

Some examples of stirring another’s tea cup:

My brother should stop drinking.
My coworkers should be nicer.
I hate that it is raining.
People can’t drive. I can’t stand this traffic.



Some examples of being in your own tea cup:

I am taking time this weekend to do the things I enjoy.
I apologized when I hurt her feelings.
I decided not to go.
I created a budget I plan to follow.
I am working-out today.
I am in traffic. I’ll clean out my purse to pass the time.


Pay attention today (if you want--it's not MY tea cup) to stir your own tea cup and only your tea cup. Resist the temptation to share this metaphor with someone else under the title of “For Their Own Good.” Just focus on your own good, and let their tea cup be their business.

“To think I know what’s best for anyone else is to be out of my business (tea cup). Even in the name of love, it is pure arrogance, and the result is tension, anxiety, and fear. Do I know what’s right for me? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve problems for you.”

~Byron Katie






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