“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” Tony Gaskins
I had never heard the word boundaries used in reference to relationships until a counselor told me I didn’t have any. She said, “You have no idea where you end and where others begin.”
According to Merriam-Webster, here are the definitions of boundaries as they relate to people:
- A point or limit that indicates where two things become different. (Okay, so this isn’t about people, but it’s a logical reminder about the point where I end and you begin.)
- Unofficial rules about what should not be done.
- Limits that define acceptable behavior.
Most of us think setting boundaries is about saying “no.” And it is. And setting boundaries is also about saying “yes” … to us and to what we need and want.
Boundaries are about saying “yes” to #GettingYourOwnLife.
And saying “yes” to #LovingthePeopleinIt.
Because boundaries, even though they may not seem loving at first glance, are just as much about caring for others as they are about caring for ourselves.
Here’s what Betty (a friend I learned a lot from) told me about boundaries. She said, “If you do what’s best for you, it’s best for everyone.”
Her advice sounded selfish, but it’s not, because what’s best for us is to live our lives according to what God has in mind for us, not what our family and friends have in mind.
Drawing a line is wise.
Drawing a line is a form of self-care and a way to be kind to others.
Drawing a line is the litmus test for dozens of demands made on our time, energy, and finances.
Here’s an example of a boundary Betty helped me set early on, and also an example of how it turned out best for everyone.
Betty and I talked about my family’s tumultuous Sunday afternoon lunches at Mom’s house. She said, “Have you ever thought about not going?”
“We’ve been getting together for years. Mom would be so upset if we stopped,” I said.
“Really? Are you sure about that?”
I was convinced breaking tradition would cause more turmoil, but Betty convinced me to take a break. She said, “Why don’t you give it a try and see what happens?”
I made up some excuse for missing the next couple of Sunday lunches. Mom didn’t seem upset like I dreaded. In fact, she looked relieved. By the third Sunday, she had her own excuse for missing lunch. The rest of the family who Mom cooked for decided to take a break as well. It was best for everyone when our decade-long tradition ended.
Some boundaries aren’t as easily implemented. Actually, that one didn’t seem easy except in retrospect. However, following through helped me see the value in doing what’s best for me (not out of selfishness, but from a place of self-care and other-care). I saw Betty’s perspective on “doing what’s best for you” as it turned out to be best for everyone.
There are easier boundaries to set like declining a request to head up a program at church or saying “no” when asked to donate time or money to a cause we’re not devoted to. I say “easier,” but sometimes these are hard no’s for us people pleasers. There are harder no’s, though, like a friend who left her daughter in jail after several arrests and another friend who dropped off her son at a homeless shelter after he stole from her to sustain his addiction. These boundaries don’t sound best for anyone, but consider the alternative of reinforcing (like the quote says) destructive behavior.
Setting boundaries (doing what’s best for you that ends up being best for everyone) includes all sorts of things like …
- Asking for and expecting respect from family and friends. Setting boundaries may mean ending a conversation with a spouse who is verbally abusive or taking time off from an adult child who continually manipulates to get his/her way. It may mean limiting time with a friend who complains non-stop or who gives non-stop advice.
- Refusing to fund adult children (or anyone else) if giving them money jeopardizes your finances or jeopardizes them taking responsibility. Setting boundaries may mean cutting off an allowance or not paying their rent so you’re able to afford your own bills. I have two widowed friends who struggle financially month-to-month because their sons borrowed large sums of money they can’t repay.
- Checking into childcare for grandchildren and senior care for sick or aging family members if you notice a decline in your own physical or emotional well-being. Setting boundaries may mean seeking assistance for them so you don’t end up having to be taken care of yourself.
- Saying “no” to church, to school and community activities, and to other people’s agendas when their plans don’t coincide with the ones you and God agreed on. Setting boundaries may mean dropping off committees, declining to help with important ministries, and deciding not to show up for every worthy cause.
Do yourself a favor. Free your energy by setting a boundary today.
Setting boundaries restricts destructive behavior (#whileLovingthePeopleinIt) that could divert our time, energy, and money from what we believe we’ve been called to do (#GettingYourOwnLife). It’s a favor to everyone to set them.
Do you have boundaries that need setting?
In This Together,
I appreciate the images, Pixabay.com. Gotta buy you that coffee one of these days.