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Boundaries: Keeping Yourself Healthy While Loving Others
Fences are Necessary
Living with Boundaries
Learning Healthy Limits
I attended a Boundaries support group upon the invitation of a friend. This particular group was women only, which is exactly what I needed. When I showed up. I was already skeptical, since I don't like being in large groups of women who complain about everything that is wrong with their lives or spouses.
I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere of the group, whose focus was on finding solutions for ourselves. It was quite informative, defining the need for and best practices in maintaining boundaries without losing yourself in a relationship. I recognized my tendency to take responsibility for things that I can't change, such as other people's habits and responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
We heard that good boundaries, keep you healthy and bad boundaries which are too rigid or strict to allow others into your world. I learned that boundary makers like me need a lot of practice in keeping strong when stronger people threaten them.
I am by nature a very fearful person at times, and most of my boundary issues stem from allowing people to get away with actions that others never would. I learned that I need to be firm rather than lax in keeping my boundaries when overpowering people demonstrate that they are not going to respect them.
I have have often walked away with nothing after a conflict because giving up my cause was easier than dealing with a person who already demonstrated abusive behavior. Needless to say, but Type A personalities have often run and ruined my world.
To tell the truth, I haven't really cared much about what I have lost through the years to bullies, I leave justice in the hands of the God I know and trust, and that provides me with peace. I am just not a material girl, I have always valued people over things.
I don't like confrontation, so boundaries are actually necessary to my survival. If my boundaries are in place, I can feel safe to some degree. Others may choose not to honor the boundaries I establish, but when this occurs, I don't have to ignore that. Boundaries are made to keep my sanity in tact and to exclude others who are not healthy from my daily experience, perhaps permanently. There are some people who are boundary invaders. They are usually narcissistic or sociopathic. Rarely challenged, they continue stomping across boundaries of every kind until someone brave puts a stop to it.
One of the assignments was to think about what we learned and find ways to execute the truths in our daily living. I might add, that this is not as easy as I thought it would be. I took a few of them to focus on and practice just for the next week, and I quickly realized how difficult it was to stand firm. My biggest obstacle was in my own home.
I am convinced that practice makes progress, so I tried not to be too discouraged by the lack of solid results. My husband was resistant, as our established pattern served him well over the past 12 years. My friends have no idea I am doing this, but I did practice distancing myself when it was appropriate. Just like my childhood experience, I could see how often I allowed him to superimpose himself over me. I pushed back redefining who I am and what I believe, and the fireworks began.
I back pedaled slightly in practicing my boundaries in some of these instances, but the difference today is that I recognized it more quickly. I didn't jump to try to be part of the group that I realized has little interest in including me. I continued to talking to the person I was conversing with when they approached me after a meeting not allowing them to interrupt us. When one of them left me a phone message afterwards, even though I felt a twinge of curiosity about where they had gone (I didn't ask), I called back and pretended everything was fine. What I should have done instead was express to them the truth about how often I had been hurt by their neglect in my time of need. I didn't have the courage at the time, but I surrendered my need to be a part of their clique, and by having a boundary, I could distance myself from pettiness.
As a compliant child, I always let others give feedback without filtering and realizing what was happening. I often found myself defending the fact that I am not the same person as I was before, I believe that today, I am making changes whether others are able to see them or not. When someone doesn't like that and becomes abusive about my stance. I recognize that as belittling to control rather than constructive criticism. I know the difference between the two.
These were painful experiences at the time, but I allowed myself to be uncomfortable and did it anyway. I realized that when people come up against my boundaries, I get to define who I am and live with it or cave in to the pressure exerted whether imagined or real. God knows my heart. Mean people cause me to want to run, and sometimes that flight is protective and healthy until I can re-negotiate my boundaries to stay healthy.
I also don't have to be perfect in the process, it is next to impossible to do this perfectly every time. I can see things realistically afterwards and make the necessary adjustments, which may include forgiveness and reinforcing what I have already declared for to facilitate respect.
It was a lesson to me that choosing people who are conducive to developing healthy relationships with is essential to grow. I need work in finding those that are more mutual, and I learned from the process that in some ways, some that I have don't really support me.
Here is a list of seven takeaways from the 1st class:
1. I have numerous choices in my life beyond just surviving (existing). To me, that includes the right to make decisions of what I can live with and what I can't, and to say so. I do not have to be silent about what is good and bad for me in my environment, relationships and friendships.
2. I have a right to follow my own values and standards (they are vital to who I am). This of course, will usually bump up against some people, who may try to convince me to follow practices that violate my conscience. I must stand for what I believe at any cost or I will not respect myself. This is what I call a non-negotiable boundary for me.
3. I have the right to terminate conversations with people who put me down and try to humiliate me for expressing what I believe or who I am. This means I have to work at not defending myself from the comments of small people who have a need to ridicule in order to dominate. This too, is not negotiable, although I engage far too often to please people.
4. I have a right to determine and honor my own priorities. This is a difficult one for me at times, but I have found when I do this, I am healthier and have more to offer when I am in the company of others. When I don't do this, I resent the exchange, and usually feel that I missed out on something valuable for me overall well-being. I have to work on doing this more.
5. I have a right to be angry at someone I love when they do something to me that is wrong. I hate this one, but it is necessary to maintain when things are not as they could be. Last summer I found myself in a situation where it became necessary to practice this for a few months, and it was so uncomfortable I thought my heart would break. Finally it came full circle, but it was a difficult time for me. I like people to like me.
6. I can allow myself to be healthier than those around me. I don't have to indulge in unhealthy patterns of eating or drinking or inappropriate conversations just because those around me who are partaking offer them. I can also choose to be mature when others are not, and stay strong when others are falling apart. I do not have be an emotional mirror of others pain, and become depressed over their issues, but I can empathize while offering solutions if they ask for them.
7. I have the right to grieve over actual or threatened losses. This includes friendships, marriage, security, safety and life itself. If I am sick or hurting, I can say so and if others are uncomfortable, they can choose to be elsewhere. I can be real about pain I feel whether emotional, physical or spiritual.
I am determined to make progress in this endeavor towards emotional freedom. I was patterned this way as a child, but I am an adult now, and I can take responsibility for me. It may have taken me a long time and a lot of hard knocks to get here, but I am on my way.
In addition to all these facts, I am not a quitter. Stay tuned for more insights, and it's quite possible something might rub off on you. If not, my adventures might give you a good laugh!
If you want to read more on this subject, I highly recommend the book "Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I know them personally, and they have a very practical and balanced approach to this subject.