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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Healthy Boundaries and the Choices You Make

Djibuti, Africa, bordered by Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Gulf of Aden (Indian Ocean)

An article by Cherri Britton about businesses and the manner in which they set up their very logical boundaries (i.e., opening times, type of service, payment, when payment is to be made, etc.), caused me to think about this very important subject in our personal lives.

Much has been written about healthy boundaries by numerous authors (see also my article: Do Your Relationship Boundaries Contribute to Your Well-Being?), and we generally encourage the reader to set these boundaries in hind-sight or retrospect, when the damage of poor boundaries has already been done. Evidently, when you are in the middle of your relationships, that is the way to go about it, at least, it is the way to go about it, if you want to make a lose-lose. or lose-win relationship become a win-win relationship. However, it is a tedious process, that often involves so much more than just setting up the boundaries, and telling the person that is crossing the limits - or whom you have allowed to cross those boundaries for such a long time by not speaking up - that his or her attitude, or behavior, or words, or tone of voice, is not acceptable. It involves, as so many know, work on our sense of self love, on our self esteem, on our needs, on our recognition of the bits and pieces of ourselves that we yearn to fill with the other rather than filling with ourselves (see also my July 2006 Newsletter - I Need You...I Need You Not).

So wouldn't it make more sense to sit down and decide what we feel are the correct and healthy and this is what I want to live with boundaries might be in our lives? And then start applying them to all the new people we know? Wouldn't that, in the midst of all of our unhealthy boundaries help us to get some practice so that we could then more readily apply them to those situations where we have been living with unhealthy boundaries for a longer period of time?

You might, for example, sit down and make a list of boundaries for your friends. No calling after a certain time in the evening. No calling during dinner time. How about no calling, or other conversations to off-load their problems and worries and anger on you for longer than five minutes?
How cruel, you might reply. I'm there for my friends. If they need me, I'm there to listen to them. Hmm. Yes. Maybe. But look at it from out of the box: are you really helping them by allowing them to go on and on about something that is not good in their lives? Wouldn't it be more helpful to lead them to another mode of thought, where they concentrate on either resolving the issue at hand, or getting into another frame of mind that is of more use to them? (See also: Being a Victim or Choosing Freedom or Keeping Your Energy High (2)). So this means that you would also need to do some changing, not just expecting a specific type of boundary upheld by your friends. And if you make a new friend during this process, let's say someone who is going through a difficult divorce process, you might begin to uphold those boundaries right from the beginning, by not going down the road of two hour marathons of listening to their problems. Think about it. You can be a much better friend by not doing that, and at the same time, you get to avoid the drain of listening to this long story of woe...

OK, so that might be one type of boundary you could look at. Then you might look at boundaries with your children. Imagine for a moment that you had none. How would you imagine a great relationship with a son or a daughter to be? Courteous behavior? Free, open communication? Total honesty? How about not having them sleep in your bed from birth to age eight? How about them going to bed whenever bedtime is established? How about eating one meal together per day? Haha, I can hear you chuckling drily. That would really be the day. Ok, look at it like this: if you could start over, what would you change? Why not have an open and honest talk with your children about that? Tell them that your relationship with them is one of the most important relationships in your life, but that currently things aren't so good. So could we both change? Could we both work on having healthier boundaries? This is a long topic, but it can be done. It basically requires that you do work on yourself to the same degree as you expect them to do work on themselves.

And your primary relationship? Let's say for the sake of argument that you have just split from your spouse or partner. You are once again on your own. And sooner or later you meet some new people. Be clear in your mind prior to meeting people where you want your healthy boundaries to be. Make a list. Think of all the things in the past that have not worked. But also be very clear where you have been part of the tango in bringing about those problems of the past. Did you say nothing when you last partner stood you up, or made arrangements without consulting you? And did you then get very resentful after this happened on a number of occasions? Well then don't think that this has to do now with you choosing someone who does not do that kind of thing. It has much more to do with you now saying something when that kind of thing happens with a new person. Perhaps the new person won't like you saying whatever it is you will say. And off they go. Well that is good. If you had not said it, it might have resulted, some time down the road, in another marriage with similarly disastrous results as the other one. But if you do say it, and if the new person takes it in stride, and respects this newly-erected boundary of yours, well then, it just may be possible that the two of you have the chance to set up a new kind of relationship.

Do you understand my point? We frequently do not stand up for our boundaries at the beginning out of fear to antagonize the other. This can be very dangerous, as it may set a precedent. It is our own fears that need to be examined. This is the first step to setting healthy boundaries, and in so doing we will experience inner growth and greater inner freedom. Having and setting healthy boundaries implies having a healthy sense of self love and self respect, and all of this implies also feeling respect and consideration for the other.

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