"Let your yes be yes, and your no be no."
~ Matthew 5:37
Have you ever found yourself wanting to say no to a request, but for a variety of reasons, you say yes, only to resent it later?
Do you find yourself agreeing with someone, even if it goes against your own beliefs, in order to keep the peace, fit in, or be liked?
When you take time for yourself, are you stymied by guilt, fear, or feelings of confusion?
Do you spend so little time thinking about your own desires, that if asked, your answers are scattered and unrealistic? Is knowing what you want often contingent on how it fits into the plans of others?
If you find yourself answering "yes" to any or all of these questions, it's likely that you are suffering from boundary-related issues.
Boundaries define us as individuals and we define ourselves in our relationships.
Boundaries allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others. They are the physical, emotional, and mental limits we establish for ourselves that protect us from being manipulated, used, or violated.
The book, Boundaries, written by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend examine what healthy boundaries are, the issues that surround poorly established boundaries, and how they each affect all areas of our lives.
Knowing ourselves and what we want and don't want, is key to having healthy personal boundaries. It also means taking responsibility for our own lives and not the lives of others. "Understanding what is ours to control and what isn't."
People with strong boundaries
know their limits.
- They know what is important to them and keep that knowledge foremost in their minds.
- They are clear about their feelings, never compromising themselves or their values.
- They are free and willing to help others, within the limits they have set for themselves.
- They know what they are in control of and what isn't theirs to control.
- They understand that everyone is responsible for their own lives and they don't interfere when it is none of their business.
- They are able to say no and mean it, without feelings of guilt.
These are a few examples of strong, healthy boundaries.
But, for those who lack healthy boundaries, the people who have them can seem cold and uncaring. But, by setting limits, they are actually able to be present and forthcoming when they are truly needed. The authors state, "Knowing what you are to own and take responsibility for, gives you freedom."
When a person has healthy boundaries, they are free to:
- Be open and honest in relationships, presenting who they really are, what they believe, and what they will accept.
- Offer and give help to others without resentment, because they are making sure that their own needs are met.
- Grow emotionally, while allowing others to do the same.
It is important to understand that being available to someone in a loving, honest way is healthy. Lacking the ability to set limits, thus enabling others to rely upon us, is unhealthy for both parties.
Personal boundaries go hand-in-hand
with personal responsibility.
"People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that if they say no to someone, it will endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent." If a person struggles with boundary issues, they are likely to lack the ability to take personal responsibility for their life, as well.
Taking personal responsibility for all areas of our life is a sign of emotional maturity. We have the wisdom and understanding to realize that our decisions give us rewards, as well as, consequences. Blaming others due to our own failures, frustrations, or lack of control, is unhealthy. Owning our choices, no matter how much it hurts, will aid in setting healthy boundaries and strengthens our resolve.
And, when we take personal responsibility for all areas of our life, we have freedom.
- Freedom to stop being a victim.
- Freedom to stop being angry at ourselves and others.
- Freedom to accept the past and take control of the future.
The setting of boundaries and learning of personal responsibility begins when we are young children. As, Cloud and Townsend state, ..." boundaries aren't inherited. They are built....we need to learn limits from childhood on."
From the time children are born, straight through into adulthood, it is up to the parents to teach, guide, and set limits, boundaries, and responsibilities. In doing so, children learn to respect themselves and in turn, are respectful of the world around them.
I for one, have struggled with personal boundary issues for most of my life. And, as the authors mentioned, boundaries are built.
My parents loved me, gave me a good home, and gave me almost everything I asked for. But when it came to boundaries, accountability, and discipline, they seemed to think it wasn't necessary. Or, maybe after raising my four older brothers, I was a piece of cake, in comparison!
I was around 12 years old when I suggested to my parents that they put me on restriction for coming home late (again) from my friend's house after school. I remember them looking at each other and laughing. I might have found it funny myself if I wasn't so desperate to be held accountable. While everyone else was made to be home on time, do their homework, and keep their rooms clean, I was lectured or told "I should be ashamed," but never given any consequences.
Then, one day, my mom decided that it was time to instill some accountability. As I was leaving to go to my friend's house, she said, "You better be back here by 5:30 or you will be in trouble!"
I was excited!!!
I had one eye on the clock in my friend's bedroom the entire time. All I could think about was being one time and making my mom happy. I vividly remember walking into the house and announcing, "I'm home and I'm 5 minutes early!" My mom was sweeping the kitchen floor. She looked up at me and said, "You didn't have to rush home."
She didn't notice the disappointment on my face or the way my shoulders slumped. I wanted acknowledgment and approval for doing what I thought was expected of me. But, instead, I was dismissed.
So, as I grew into my adolescence, I attempted self-punishment.
Unfortunately, self-punishment becomes self-criticism, dislike, and shame. Without the ability to see that my behavior was bad, I became what was bad.
My parents didn't realize that letting me do as I wanted, without accountability, caused me great internal strife. When I look back, I want to believe that if they had understood, they might have done things differently.
Once, I was launched into the world, I was far more responsible, but since my boundaries were undefined, I let my relationships define me.
- I found it was easier and safer for me to put other people's needs before mine since I wasn't sure what I needed, or if I even deserved to have needs.
- I said yes when I really wanted to say no. If I said no, then I felt guilty and changed my answer.
- I spent a lot of time doing things I didn’t want to and put off what I wanted to do for someone else’s wishes.
- I also kept my true feelings to myself, not wanting to cause a problem or argument. By doing this, I hurt not only myself but others.
- When I finally said no and stuck to it, I was defensive, aggressive, or fed up. I couldn't take the pressure!
- And, of course, guilt, anxiety, and frustration became part of many of my choices.
All the above are classic examples of unhealthy boundaries. And, just like my parents, I believe today that if I had known better, I would have done things differently.
The lack of boundaries and
effects every part of a person's life.
Whether it is dealing with family, work, or friends, unhealthy boundaries, along with the lack of personal responsibility, will create problems in our lives. We will feel taken for granted, taken advantage of, or disregarded, all together. But, none of this needs to happen if we are clear about our boundaries and take responsibility for our actions.
Being able to say yes when we really mean it and learning how to say no without feeling guilty, resentment, or anger, is what healthy boundaries are all about.
Healthy boundaries may be built in childhood, but they can be achieved later in life if we are open to making changes. It takes some honest self-evaluation, along with lots of practice.
I've been working on making these changes for the past few years and I'm pleased to say that I've made some great strides. I've had to look long and hard at my life and the choices I have made. I've also taken two steps forward and three steps back, in order to find my balance. The changes haven't been easy, but I've learned some important lessons and I'm a healthier, happier woman today!
If you feel that you have some unhealthy boundaries that are causing problems in your life, you may find the following lessons helpful.
1. You must know yourself. It is important to spend some time alone, thinking about what you need, want, dream, and believe in. You must know your limits and to be clear about your personal responsibilities. Only then, can you begin to build and set healthy boundaries.
2. Learn to feel your feelings. Instead of dismissing or ignoring your feelings, let them come to the surface and take a good long look. Stop hiding behind a smile, laugh, or old stories. Be honest with yourself, so you can learn to be honest with others.
3. Give yourself permission, to tell the truth. By telling the truth about how you feel regarding a conversation, a question, or a request, you are honoring yourself and your beliefs. Others may not agree and it may make them angry, but they will get over it and respect you more for standing your ground.
4. Say yes because you want to, not because of the running dialogue in your head that causes confusion. Say no for the same reasons, and stick to your answer.
5. Make a date with yourself. Decide where you want to go, what you want to do, and what you will wear. Take the time to learn how to be with yourself and enjoy the time alone. This is a great time to get and keep in touch with the direction of your life.
6. Take personal responsibility for all areas of your life. Look deep within yourself and acknowledge, if only to yourself, your weaknesses and your strengths. Own your failures, as well as, your successes.
And remember, it might be a bit of a shock to the people around you, as you begin to work on yourself and make changes. Don't let that stop you. They will either love it or eventually get used to it.
As you gain personal respect, you will gain the respect of others. And, remember to be gentle with yourself as you work to make positive changes!