Giving is good…until it’s too much. Let’s talk about setting boundaries.
This is updated from an earlier post, but the message is even more important than ever for those striving to live the Heartspoken life. It’s important to remember that while generosity and giving of ourselves is essential, if we don’t set healthy boundaries, we deplete ourselves unnecessarily.
Even giving needs boundaries
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 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 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 to see me?” “Why didn’t you call me?”). One spouse might control the other through guilt rather than through love.
Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud
I recommend an amazing book by Henry Cloud called Changes that Heal. It offers insight into the ways people drift into unhealthy relationships and fail to recognize or honor boundaries–their own and those 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 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 that power (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. We need help making healthy choices.
The balance between Truth and Grace
When you get to the crux of the matter, Henry Cloud suggests it’s all about Balance: the balance between Grace (unconditional love and acceptance) and Truth, what is real…the way things really are. He 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. A 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. 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.”
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brené Brown.
“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.” ~ Anna Taylor
“Pay attention when people react with anger and hostility to your boundaries. You have found the edge where their respect for you ends.” ~ Sweatpants & Coffee
“The first thing you need to learn is that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem.” ~ Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in Boundaries
Are you setting healthy boundaries?
In your own life, where have you allowed others to violate your boundaries? Where might you have been insensitive to the boundaries of others?
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