24 Feb Boundaries with Family
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” – Henry Cloud
Have you ever bought a car that you have never really noticed much before only to feel like you see it everywhere after you’ve bought it?
When I saw a white Grand Am several years ago on the used car lot I thought it was a nice sporty looking car and I didn’t remember having ever seen it before on the road. But once we bought it and drove it off the lot I saw white Grand Ams everywhere or so it seemed.
In reality, I was just “tuned in” to them.
I sort of feel that way about boundaries. Now that I have a grasp on the need for and the problems that arise from a lack of boundaries, I feel like I’m hyper-sensitive to the tell-tale signs of the issues surrounding them in my own life and the lives of others.
As I sit in an airport overhearing bits and pieces of conversations, or hear friends chatting with each other at the table next to me in Starbucks I recognize a theme:
Frustration arises in family relationships when clear boundaries are not in place.
We’ve talked for the past few weeks about the necessity of boundaries to avoid being spread thin and about the need for boundaries in friendships, but I don’t think we have actually defined what a boundary is yet.
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits (source).
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? In a perfect world, it would be, but we all know life is far from perfect because people are not perfect.
It’s also uncommon for families to set aside time to develop boundaries. Unhealthy patterns and habits are developed over years. Typically, boundaries are set once there’s a painful recognition of the need for them.
Maybe it happened slowly, a little at a time, or maybe it feels like out of nowhere you’re an open target and feeling out of control in a family relationship. Either way, it’s never too late to begin to establish boundaries. In fact, it is never too soon for that matter!
Contrary to how it may feel as you begin to navigate this sticky subject, over time it will feel better and better once you establish your own limits on what you will and will not allow to affect your life.
So, what do we do when we know that our personal boundaries are being crossed and we need to enforce them?
First, we need to understand where our responsibility starts and ends.
Oftentimes out of genuine love for a family member, we tend to want to step in and help or be leaned upon for help when it’s really not our responsibility. Of course, there are times when we should lend a hand to help someone get on their feet, but if a pattern emerges and we see ourselves stepping in and taking care of things that are not our responsibility, we risk stepping into dangerous territory where boundary lines get blurred.
Before we know it, we’re resenting the very help we offered in the first place. Getting clear about what is and isn’t ours to own is an important distinction to make.
Second, we need to realize setting boundaries does not equal rejecting someone.
If someone’s unhealthy behavior is impinging on your time, space, emotional, or mental health you have the right to draw a line to guard yourself. You can assure your loved one that it is their behavior you’re rejecting, not them as a person. If you communicate your boundary in love and the person chooses to feel rejected, there’s nothing you can do about their response.
It’s their responsibility to decide whether or not they want to change their behavior. You’re only responsible for you.
Third, do things you feel “good” about.
My pastor friend often tells me to do things because I feel “good” about doing them and not because I feel “bad.” I’ve learned to examine my motivation for doing things in relationships, especially those where I have a tendency to set weak boundaries.
If I feel like I’m being manipulated or guilted into doing something or I’m doing it out of the fear of retribution or an outburst of anger, it’s a red flag I may not be making the best decision.
Your decision to set boundaries may be met with resistance, maybe even some anger and lack of understanding, but it’s worth pushing through the discomfort to establish relationships where everyone can feel secure and safe. The best relationships have clearly defined boundaries and limits which are respected and honored.
It’s a misconception that boundaries cause only strife in relationships. It can be the complete opposite. It can be the other person involved learns a life-changing lesson on how to take responsibility for themselves. But, as in all relationships, it takes two willing participants.
Paul says in Romans 12:18
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”
If you have done all you can and there is still some tension and conflict then PRAYER may be your only answer. And it’s a good answer–the best one.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1
There are no boundaries with His love for you. You can walk boldly into His presence and He’s ready and willing to receive you. Make it a priority to pray for the difficult relationships in your life.
With love and hope for healthy relationships,