Tag Archives: boundaries

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!

Enforcing Boundaries

DO NOT CROSS by artur84

image courtesty of artur84 / freedigitalphotos.net

Jennie’s mom calls her seven or eight times a day. One time while dining with Jennie’s mom, she made a point to call Jennie just to say, “We just finished dinner, and now we’re going to eat dessert. It went well and they liked my shrimp.” Because Jennie is one of my dearest friends, I knew she was frustrated. (Even I was annoyed by it!) Jennie often vents about how her mother’s life revolves around her and her family and how she wishes her mother had a life outside of her. I listen, knowing what the problem is: Jennie has not set clear, firm boundaries with her mother.

Boundaries are limitations that we place in our lives to help us meet our own needs, maximize our strengths, and minimize our weaknesses. Boundaries can help protect us emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally by regulating any circumstances that would not support our personal growth. For example, Jennie’s mother has not grown emotionally or mentally because Jennie has allowed her mother to depend on her too much. In addition, Jennie has not grown emotionally, either, because she is too afraid of hurting her mother’s feelings by being firm.

Boundaries are a healthy human behavior trait, and the following are some things you can do to have them, set them, and enforce them:

  1. To have boundaries, you must be self-aware. You cannot set limits for yourself if you are unaware of your personal needs, likes, and desires. Before I was self-aware, I would lash out at everyone when I didn’t receive enough “Michelle time”—much to the chagrin of my family and friends. Once I realized that I needed time alone to recharge, I began to plan it into my schedule on vacations, short weekend trips, and busy weeks. This helped me to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses by meeting my need for silence, relaxation, and reflection. Ask yourself the difficult questions: What do I need? What do I like? When ____ happens, how do I feel?
  2. To set boundaries, you must communicate them. Once I figured myself out, I could not expect that my friends and family suddenly just “knew” that I needed alone time—I had to tell them, and I often have to remind them! Please do not expect people to read your mind. Communicate clearly and communicate often—there is no need to defend or debate, but you must say it. Most importantly, communicate your boundaries to others with grace and kindness. You don’t need to explain yourself, justify your boundaries, or defend your choices: but you DO need to communicate them to others.
  3. To enforce boundaries, you must be firm—but flexible. A lot of people have no boundaries or soft boundaries because they do not know how to firmly but lovingly enforce them. Being firm with boundaries takes discipline and practice! You may have to repeat yourself a number of times and have consequences for when your boundaries are violated constantly. However, being firm does not mean being rigid with your boundaries. If your bedtime is set firmly at 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, but a once-in-a-lifetime event is taking place that will run until midnight, you can give yourself permission to say yes! Remain flexible but firm.

You have a right to care for yourself, and you have a right to be healthy! Boundaries are a great path to self-respect and emotional intelligence and health.

What are some boundaries that you have set in your life?