Now, when you pictured that scene with me and my sister, was there someone else in your mind? Is there someone who pushes you to the very brink of your patience and likes to test your "boundaries?" I think we all know someone who ,as an adult, has pushed you much closer to your breaking point than you would like to admit. It's that person who makes sarcastic remarks that are clearly hurtful but then they get upset with you when you are hurt. It's that person who borrows money all of the time and you have never seen a red cent of it in return. It is the same person who calls you in the middle of the night with their problems and gets huffy when you mention that you were sleeping. You know that person...the one who asks very personal questions and then judges you based on their ideas and values never once caring to find out if your ideas and values even matched. Any of this sound familiar?
It sure did to me a few years ago. I used to be very bad at setting and keeping boundaries in my life. Let's start with an operational definition of the word "Boundaries."
A person who has "healthy" boundaries will be able to:
- Say no when they want/need to without fear of losing relationship with others.
- Take no's from people when they want/need something and not detach or avoid that person.
- Be emotionally attached to another person without losing themselves.
These are just basic tenets of having healthy boundaries but ones you can check off for yourself and see if you struggle with any of them. Some people have no problem hearing no but they can't say it while others having a horrible time hearing no but can say no to everyone that asks anything of them. The third tenet for me is the most crucial to having healthy boundaries. You see so many people in relationships completely lost as to who they are because there boundaries are what you might call "wiggly."
If you know anyone like this (or you are this person) perhaps the next couple of posts are going to be applicable to your life. Since boundaries is such a broad topic I have decided to write several posts on it. This can span relationships with in laws, husbands/wives, problem family members, adult children who are dealing with parents who just won't let go, friends who walk on you but you can't seem to count on them, etc...
Here is the exciting part about my boundaries series...at the end of it there will be a GIVEAWAY!!!!
There is a great book on boundaries out there by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend called (appropriately) "Boundaries" and the giveaway will be the workbook that goes with this book! It could stand alone but probably works best with the text. I should note before you actually enter this giveaway it is written by Christian Therapists so if you are not of the Christian persuation it might not be as applicable. Boundaries are good for everyone though...not just Christians. Christians just seem to have a little more trouble with them in my opinion.
Please take time to go to Cloud & Townsend's Web-Site and enjoy all they have to offer you there. A lot of what I have learned about healthy boundaries has been from experiences and them!
Now, onto some boundary discussion. I think I will start with Boundaries with Family as that seems to be the more difficult topic for most people.
How many of you have a parent/in law who has no idea where they end and you begin? Do you seem to have NO energy upon leaving time with some family members? Cloud and Townsend describe this as "catching something" from your family members. It could be a harsh, negative, depressed, argumentive, critical, perfectionistic, or some other attitude that you seem to "pick up" from your family. Are you married, yet you care more about what your parents think of you than your spouse? Are you relying on your parents for financial support in a heavy way even though you are an adult? (There are some instances of this that are necessary..we are not talking about these) Do you often dislike the people that your parents/siblings/in laws dislike or at least feel like you should? If any of this is resonating with you, you could have problems with boundaries with your family.
Now that you know that...what do you do with it?
This is not advice coming from Cloud & Townsend but from Erica and um, Erica so hold tight. This is my approach to helping people develop boundaries.
- Pick a relatively non-threatening area to start with.
This is usually an area that you are not scared to make a boundary about. I will give an example so that this is easily followed.
Becky goes to her in laws every sunday to have dinner. She enjoys most of it except when her mother in law casually mentions (every sunday) that she does not see her precious son enough and then seems to almost glare at her as if she is responsible. She really hates this because clearly she is there every single week for dinner and to add to that, she is after all married and it's not as if she doesn't have a family of her own and her own side of the family to visit and enjoy. She has wanted to say something for months just to stop these "casual mentionings" but it seems so difficult to approach.
- Find a way to express yourself in a responsible, appropriate way and decide to be ok with whatever happens from doing this.
It's Sunday again and Becky is getting ready to go to her in laws home for dinner. She has already decided that if her mother in law mentions not seeing her son enough she will respond this time. She gets there and sure enough about an hour into the visit, her mother "casually" mentions "I just never see you son and I miss you when you are not around" (insert glare at Becky) Becky smiles and calmly says "We miss you when we don't see you too but things are really busy in our lives. That is why we make an effort to be here every sunday. We love you and care about time with you."
- Think of how awesome you are for actually trying boundaries out by standing up for yourself like adults do.
Now, I should note that this is easier written than actually done if this feels threatening to you. That is why I encourage you to try it on something that is much less threatening for you. As you do this and see positive results and feel stable, you gain momentum and can tackle some of the more threatening ones in your sphere of influence. If you start with threatening situations, you are likely to act out of anger and anxiety and cause rifts in your relationships that are more sticky to work around. Remember though, if the person reacts badly to the truth and good boundaries...that is NOT about you! Although difficult, you should feel satisfied knowing that you took care of yourself and your relationship with this person grows less resentful and more happy and healthy.
If you have a situation that is especially hard for you, I encourage you to write me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org or on facebook if you are my friend and I would be happy to help you develop a plan of attack!
Now Remember if you are reading, become a follower of the blog and you will qualify for the "Boundaries" workbook that I am giving away at the end of the boundaries series and all other giveaways on the blog. I will always have something around the bend. Stay tuned for the next post on "Boundaries and Friends"
For your enjoyment, here is a clip from the movie "Monster In Law" that clearly demonstrates some boundaries issues in family. If you haven't seen it, I totally recommend it for a laugh!