Thursday, October 11, 2012

Establishing & Holding Boundaries

Besides my human inclination towards all things easy (aka conflict averse), I believe the lion's share of difficulties in my life have been the result of poorly pitched boundaries - - or the lack thereof, whether they be for my own life, or in the way I relate to others.   Boundary lines matter.

In the past few weeks - between home, Europe and home again - I have had several conversations with people who are struggling with a relationship.  Kids.  Bosses.  Church buddies.  Friends.  Spouses. Neighbors.  The bus driver.  There's a better than 75% chance that most trouble can be traced directly to a boundary, whether that's due to not having one, or to having one constructed of gossamer. 

For the sake of this post, I'm looking at the footings & pickets that comprise the boundaries in my own life.  Some I've constructed well.  They hold firm.  Others - a bit more rickety - sometimes give way to heavy winds.  Those heavy winds might come with the force of dissent, a challenge, a judgement, a slight or rejection, a controlling manipulation (or outright aggression).   

Why is it so hard to set healthy boundaries?  I say "healthy" because some use a boundary to avoid any form of conflict altogether, crumble when challenged, or look for an easy out.  Those aren't really boundaries at all, but avoidance strategies.  They don't typically build relationships, respect or understanding but, unfortunately, more often result in the exact opposite.

I believe one reason it's so hard to set & maintain boundaries is because we wrongly conclude we need to be harsh, or mean in order to establish them.  Another reason I believe it's hard is because we also wrongly conclude that Christians cannot/should not ever say "halt!" 

Whatever the reason ... to change the way we relate to boundaries - our own or those set by others -  requires no little courage.  The minute one is established, watch the bus driver, teen, spouse or self shove extra hard for a prolonged period in order to return to what's typical/comfortable. 

I think I know why ranchers & farmers in both Scotland & Ireland use rocks & mortar as fence lines.  Even after hundreds of years they still stand.  It helps to have a good plumb line too.

"Who despises the day of small things?
Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line
in the hand of Zerubbabel. "
(These seven are the eyes of the LORD,
which range throughout the earth.)"
~ Zechariah 4:10

If boundary-settting troubles you like it does me, you might profit from this great material by Drs. Cloud & & Townsend, "The Simple Scoop on Boundaries".

Also, here's a fairly comprehensive list of what poor (gossamer) boundaries look like:

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries
Carol Ann Worthing, PhD
  • The family of origin is allowed to negatively affect your new family
  • You play second fiddle to someone or something else; you feel like you get the ‘leftovers’
  • An adult who doesn’t stand on their own financially
  • An adult who is a perpetual child
  • Triangulation instead of one-to-one communication
  • A child is overly responsible for his/her parents
  • An individual is overly responsible for another person
  • Working too much overtime
  • Taking work-related stress home
  • Expecting too much of work
  • Conflicts with authority or the law
  • Trying to change or control other people
  • Misplaced priorities
  • Minimizing stress caused by others
  • Inability to delay gratification
  • Inability to follow-through
  • Goal-setting that is not value-driven
  • Isolating from friends, family, or the world
  • Non-stop talk; dominating a conversation
  • Not owning one’s own behavior or consequences
  • Unrealistic or grandiose expectations of ourselves or others
  • Excessive fear, anger, anxiety, passivity, or over-involvement
  • Making decisions for people who should be making their own decisions
  • Frequent phone calling, tracking another, phoning another at unwanted times of the day or night
  • Out-of-control eating, drinking, spending, use of time; drug use; or inappropriate sexual activity


Ray Barnes said...

There is a good and well-established old saying which goes "Good fences make good neighbours".
I think it is very true, in both the literal and the figurative sense.

NanaNor's said...

Hi, Powerful post Kathleen; in fact my hubby is having to deal with a sibling that is out of control and it is so hard. I like Ray's saying too...both literally and figuratively.
Glad you are back home; I loved living vicariously through you with all your great photos.
Hugs, Noreen

Janette's Sage/Simply Your Decor said...

Oh this has been an on going conversation between a friend of mine and I as she realized the hurt in her own life because of the lack of was hard to walk through it with her, but it again showed me my own lack of boundaries, or my need for a plumb line. My Dad was a surveyor...I know that term well.

Thanks for the easily the fences are run over or not built!

myletterstoemily said...

fences make good neighbors, and we still
need to occasionally "just say 'no!'"

Denise said...

Appreciate this post.

Debbie Petras said...

I've learned that there are times when I just have to say no. I've been tested by well intentioned people but won't go there.

So glad you are safely back home. I loved your photos.


Diana Ferguson said...

What a great post! Sure made me think.

Saleslady371 said...

This is such a great post with a wonderful teaching. I agree that boundaries are ever so necessary and liberating. I love your last line about the rock fences, and the scripture and list of unhealthy boundaries. I'm going to tweet this.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Ummmm . . . yes, I guess I have some work to do. Better stir up a batch of cement. Time to do some brick work!

Thank you for including the list at the bottom. I see myself and others in this list.


Just a little something from Judy said...

I grew up with boundaries and am so thankful that I was taught their effectiveness. So often though, I find myself wondering where exactly to put my own boundaries now. Sometimes, like you stated, one just has to learn to state and stand on certain boundaries. I am learning that there is peace in boundary living.3