Setting Healthy Boundaries
“When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt...If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them...”
Henry Cloud & John Townsend (Boundaries)
One of the most constant and difficult parts of being a grown-up is learning what a healthy boundary looks like. This is especially true with our significant others and with our children; the people with whom we have always maintained porous boundaries. I see lots of people, full-grown adults, with full-grown spouses and children, who are oblivious to boundary violations. I, myself, find setting healthy boundaries extremely challenging. I have a tendency to give unasked-for advice, and to make judgments without considering the implications of my words. In some ways, we are schooled to think of this as “being close.” We believe that when we're close to another, we are entitled to certain liberties when it comes to their private thoughts and lives. And we are, but we still need to be mindful of stepping over the line into invading their personal boundaries.
Likewise, other people will invade your boundaries—will ask questions that are too personal or none of their business, will give advice that you don't need or want and haven't asked for, or will assume that they have permission to insert themselves into your life without asking. Sometimes, we allow this to happen because we love them and we feel uncomfortable setting a firm boundary—we don't want to hurt them, or offend them so gravely that they will abort our relationship. Boundary setting is a delicate business. Also, a very necessary business. Healthy boundaries are essential to healthy relationships. The human response to repeated boundary violations is anger, and sooner or later, anger will destroy any relationship.
We begin to set healthy boundaries, by talking with our loved ones, and even people we don't love, but have to work with, without anger or blame. We start by owning our own tendency to invade their privacy. We can apologize when we see that we have done that, whether intentionally, or unintentionally. When we have trust capital built up with someone, we can usually bank on that carrying us through an uncomfortable conversation. With others, kindhearted firmness is critical—and then, we must stick to our guns. Hold the line through the emotional fallout, gently, firmly. Now and then, remind yourself that healthy boundaries are both necessary for you, and helpful to others.
In the Spirit,