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The interpreter and Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries – Part 2


In our quest for healthy boundaries, I would like to explore expectation boundaries in more detail. As I said before the choices we make may be cultural, religious or simple societal conditioning but where does it all start? And why do these sometimes interfere and/or impact interpreting?


Expectation boundaries

If we anticipate things to be done a certain way (or just right), or according to our beliefs, then we have expectations. If, based on the things we believe, we criticise others for their actions, words, or mistakes, then we have prejudgements about them. No matter how often this happens, the fact that it happens is reason to believe we may just react in the same way with someone we are interpreting for because it is engineered in our character. These morals are learned from childhood and can come from parents, peers and/or educators.  


Our personality defines how we think and behave but our character is defined by the pattern of our thoughts and actions. If we think of personality as our mask (that many put on in front of others), then our character is the raw objective ‘I’, our inner self. 


An important point to remember is that we also have expectations of ourselves. When we back away from a disagreement because we do not like confrontation, we have feelings and emotions that rebel against those who wronged us and against ourselves for not standing up for ourselves. We expected them to behave with more respect and we expected our response to have been different. 


When we join the fight in favour of the unjust or the poor, we are taking sides. When we take the side of a sister or brother, we are supporting them. These are natural patterns we all follow at different stages in our daily lives. If we are not aware of them, we will use the same patterns and behaviours in our professional lives.


Add to our expectations the expectations of others upon us and we definitively must see the need to have boundaries. 


So, let’s look at the ‘why’ we do little extras for people. We may just give extra time to our sister when she needs a supportive shoulder, or we may just go out of the way to go and buy a present for a loved one, we think of ourselves as generous and kind because it’s good karma, we like to help people because that makes them happy. Whatever reasons we have, sometimes we do it because we also want something in return – I will work an extra hour each day this week, with the expectation that my boss will agree to give me next Monday off. Or I will work hard for three months so I can take a full week off and go to Spain. Or I will babysit my sister’s dog so that she can do the same for me when I need it.


When we have established expectations, we anticipate others to do it at a certain point. We also expect others from our same culture to behave in a similar fashion to us. There is evidence in honour-based violence cases of some interpreters adding information in their language to intimidate the person ‘to do the right thing’ and not leave their husband.


But then there comes a time when we think that we need to be more selective with our generosity as people are not responding to our generosity the way we expect. When we stop our quest to help, we may start to realise the faults in others. They are not respecting us, or they are just plain rude. They are taking advantage of us, of our kind heart. One good example is when interpreters feel they have worked for an agency for so long and gave so much time and respect to the jobs they accepted and then one day when they need to cancel a job for a real emergency, they are rewarded with a cancellation fine. 


Or we may never see anything wrong and continue offering the best of ourselves selflessly. 


Whether we move forward with expectations or resentments following disappointment, we are creating new paths for our behaviours. When we are faced with similar situations at work, these trigger memories might [or not] interfere with our impartiality. 


If we are expected at home to be the breadwinner, or the housekeeper, or the good person, or the person who always solves problems, our roles outside the home may become blurred and we may behave in similar ways. When we are expected to give more than we have, when we do not feel appreciated with time we become frustrated.  


Creating expectation boundaries makes us aware that there is a gap between our personal experiences and the experiences of others. Meaning we should not react to them as an extension of our own.


Creating expectation boundaries may mean saying no to jobs that conflict with important aspects of our lives, like religious events or family engagements.


It could also include working on our introductions to ensure everyone knows what our role is so that they do not expect things of us outside that role.


In the same way we are learning to have high standards at work we should start having them for ourselves and the ones around us. This will make us have more consistent behaviours and avoid discrimination.


Working on our personal development in the same way we work on our professional development is important because as human beings we continuously need to adapt our behaviours to new circumstances. 


A lot is common sense and awareness of ourselves, of how we act and react. We all have patterns of behaviour, the more we know about ourselves the better interpreters we become.


By Helena El Masri





Next: Part 3 – Intellectual boundaries