This may seem like a strange topic for someone who is passionate about learning to make and cultivate important Connections, but the cold hard truth is that all of our important connections with other people should also have boundaries. If you are someone who loves to do things for others, even when you don’t expect anything in return, you know that there are times when you get weary and resentful and feel that too many people “want a piece of you.” People in the caregiving fields are especially vulnerable: priests, physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists, nurses and social workers come to mind. Also at risk for falling into this trap are those caring for the disabled or the elderly or anyone with a chronic illness. None of us, however, is immune.
I confess that I am one of those people who has a hard time saying NO. I get involved in lots of worthwhile things, but from time to time, the perfect storm of circumstances arises and I find myself exhausted, mentally and physically. Then I become irritable and emotionally labile, and my poor husband bears the brunt of putting up with me until I get some rest and some perspective. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why don’t we recognize our own boundaries and respect them?
Family relationships are particularly fraught with boundary invasion. Parents put their children on guilt trips when they act like their happiness is dependent on a particular action or set of behaviors by our children (“Why didn’t you come see me?” “Why didn’t you call me?” “Why won’t you come for Thanksgiving?”). One spouse controls the other through guilt rather than through love.
I’m reading an amazing book by Henry Cloud called Changes that Heal (click on book image below), and it is offering lots of insight into the ways that people drift into unhealthy relationships and fail to recognize or honor boundaries–their own and the boundaries of others. This can include thinking you should take responsibility for someone else’s happiness instead of letting them take responsibility for their own. We can’t make someone else happy, so why do we keep trying? Cloud offers scriptural support for emotional maturity that embraces taking responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness and cultivating a clear sense of our own boundaries and honoring them. That includes stopping the ridiculous habit of thinking we can be all things to all people or that we can single-handedly save the world…or, God forbid, that some organization or event or project could not possibly manage without our participation. Oh, Guilty, Guilty Guilty!
Now imagine a life in which we get to know ourselves and cultivate a relationship with a higher power, so that our communion with whatever power that might be (Cloud and I call it God) guides us in the choices we make for the use of our time, our energy, and our money. There are millions of worthy things out there calling to us, but we are not supposed to do them all.
So when you get to the crux of the matter, it’s all about Balance: the balance between Grace (unconditional love and acceptance) and Truth, what is real…the way things really are. Henry Cloud reminds us that Truth without Grace is judgment, but Grace without Truth can lead to an “I can do anything, since I’ll be forgiven” mentality. “Real intimacy always comes in the company of Truth.” Cloud suggests that when we graft Grace to Truth, we get Growth.
From a psychological standpoint, our identity develops around our uniqueness and our separateness from others. When we connect with others in a healthy way, it should not involve losing our own identity and individuality. Real relationship with someone else is not possible without a strong sense of self. “Boundaries, in short, define us,” Cloud says. “In the same way that a physical boundary defines where a property line begins and ends, a psychological and spiritual boundary defines who we are and who we are not. ”
So we must own ourselves, our feelings, and our unique personhood. We are responsible for cultivating and discerning our own gifts and talents. We are responsible for our own happiness. We are responsible for how we spend our time, our energy, and our resources. If we give from a place of love and understanding, that is healthy and generous. If we give from a sense of obligation or compulsion, we place ourselves under the Tyranny of Shoulds, and the potential for damage is huge, since it makes us feel out of control, so we resent those persons or things whom we think control us. “It’s the opposite of freedom and the opposite of love.”
In your own life, where have you allowed others to violate your boundaries? Where have you been insensitive to the boundaries of others?
Explore this topic with me further when I am interviewed by Sarah Anma, Relationship Mentor from The Art of Relationship website on her monthly World Relationship Summit on Tuesday, March 22 at 5pm Pacific time/8pm Eastern time. Our topic will be, “How do you draw the line between giving and giving too much?” Join us or listen to the recording later. Through her website and her professional work, Sarah provides a proven step-by-step system for optimum relationships.