Setting Healthier Boundaries

Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

Our ability to protect ourselves is related to the strength of our boundaries.  If we haven’t developed clear emotional boundaries, we are vulnerable to physical or emotional violation.

Healthy, intact, clear boundaries feel good, and are flexible enough that we can choose what to let in and what to keep out.  We can protect ourselves from being dumped on when someone else can’t handle his/her feelings.  We can set limits on the behaviors that are not permissible to us in our relationships.

It’s never too late to build boundaries for yourself.  Here’s how:

  • Examine your relationships with dependents. Look at your interactions with your children, your subordinates at work, your clients or any other people in your care.  Are you looking for friendship from your children, or for your children to nurture you?  Are you participating as a peer in activities with clients or subordinates?  Do you talk about your personal problems with your support staff or your clients?  Such actions muddy boundaries.
  • Examine your relationships with people who give you care, advocacy or supervision. Are you seeking friendship with your supervisor, therapist, clergyperson, attorney or your doctors?   Is your doctor a close friend?  What if she thinks you absolutely must have a radical mastectomy and you want a second opinion?  Get the picture?  Sooner or later the roles will conflict.
  • Examine your relationships with friends and relatives. Sticky situations can come from employing a friend or relative, selling them a service or an item, buying a service or item from a friend or relative, or sharing different confidences with two people who are close to each other (if one of them tells the other something you said) that would hurt the other, what would you do?

In each case where the roles are mixed, decide which role is more valuable to you.  Talk to the person about your discovery, and tell him/her what changes you’d like.  Then negotiate a new relationship that doesn’t have fuzzy boundaries.

For example, you could explain that you realize that it isn’t good to mix your personal life with work.  It could interfere with your effectiveness as an employee or a supervisor.  To prevent that, you’ve decided to only participate in activities that directly relate to your job.  Or if that doesn’t work, you may need to change jobs or departments.

If you’re a parent and you’ve been leaning on your school-aged children, learn to lean on someone else.  In addition, you have the right to set the same limits with a thoughtless child or intrusive parent that you’d set with a friend or stranger.

As you set healthier boundaries, the people around you may begin to relate to you in healthier ways without knowing why.  When we refuse to enable unhealthy practices, we become quite powerful.  Refusing to enable old destructive behaviors can have amazingly quick results.

Boundary violations can be healed right away if the sufferer tells the intruder that a boundary has been violated—and the intruder immediately apologizes or somehow acknowledges and expresses concern about the violation.  Note the two parts to this: The one whose limits have been breeched must make the offense known—and the offender must respect the limit.

“Good fences make good neighbors.”  Robert Frost

Source:  Boundaries by Anne Katherine (Fireside).

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