Emotionally Healthy Habits: Boundaries

health pyramid by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I was at my family’s house for the week helping to take care of my uncle. My normal schedule includes a lot of solitude, very little television, no pets, no children…lots of quiet time for my thoughts and prayer, and always a good night’s sleep. At my family’s house, however, there is a loud 8-year old, three barking dogs, a television running 24-hours a day, and two other adults. It’s chaotic and lacks quiet—completely opposite of my normal routine. One night, after I went out and got dinner, I went into the kitchen to enjoy eating quietly. My dinner wasn’t even open before someone said, “Did you see the latest news report?” I sighed and calmly (but firmly) said, “Can I please just have some quiet time?” I was granted my request, albeit grudgingly, as they left the house. I then retreated upstairs to write and enjoy that quiet time—and the enforcement of necessary boundaries in my life.

I’ve blogged about boundaries before, so I won’t repeat what I’ve said (check it out, though!). However, in light of my recent experience, I do want to note a few positive things that boundaries do for you:

  • Boundaries keep the bad away. You should set boundaries in your life for your own protection, because while they definitely keep out things like bad people and bad circumstances, boundaries also keep out bad attitudes like anger and frustration. What begins in your mind as anger can easily build into other unhealthy emotions and actions, so having healthy, firm boundaries keeps you away from bad habits, bad feelings, and bad interactions with others. I may have waited a bit too long in my experience with my family, because I was already feeling frustrated when I communicated my boundaries. However, I knew I needed to say something, so I did and then I stuck to them by retreating to the bedroom for some solitude. When you are creating boundaries, ask yourself, “What bad things am I keeping out by setting this boundary?”
  • Boundaries allow the good to stay. Boundaries are not just about keeping the bad out. You don’t put a fence up just to keep the wild animals out; you do it to keep the kids inside the yard and out of the street. I wanted to be in a good mood for my family; I am not a nice person when I don’t have alone time or when I don’t have enough sleep and peace. I wanted to set and communicate my boundaries so that I could be in a good mood and be useful to them, instead of tired and cranky. I wanted to have joy and peace when dealing with them so I could show them Jesus. So when you are creating boundaries, it’s also good to ask yourself, “What’s good things will stay in my life if I set this boundary?”
  • Boundaries, when communicated, remove anxiety. Quite honestly, I was stressed about going to stay with my family before I even left my home. I knew that their routine and environment was incredibly different from my own, and that I might not be able to operate in the same fashion that I do when I’m at home. If I had discussed those issues with my family, set the standard, and shared my boundaries, I would have enjoyed myself and accomplished more while there. I realized that once I communicated my boundaries, I felt less anxious about staying there—but it was almost too late, because by then, I was already sleep deprived and bothered by the noise. So now I know that the next time I go to help my family, I will ask myself beforehand, “What stress can be removed from my life by communicating my boundaries from the get-go?”

Ephesians 4:15 says, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Boundaries involve speaking the truth about ourselves in love to others so that we can grow and mature as Christians and become more Christlike. And being Christlike means practicing emotionally healthy habits—and spiritually healthy habits, as we will begin talking about next week!

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