of jet lag. Come back next week for stories of Cambodian adventures.
With love and gratitude and a hope for more sleep,
There is a difference between hurt and harm.
Sometimes when we put a boundary in place, or say no to someone, they react negatively. The urge to panic and reverse our decision is real. We may want to avoid conflict or we simply don’t like seeing distress in another.
Saying no can mean someone else is in discomfort and that can make me uncomfortable.
So how do I determine if my boundary is healthy or not?
I recall reading a story about a child with a disease that prevented her from feeling pain. The temptation might be to think, “Wouldn’t that be great! No pain!”
Her parents had to be vigilant in keeping her from danger at every turn because her body had no built in warning system. Feeling no hurt meant great risk for harm.
The same is true in emotional and relational boundaries. When we don’t allow others to own the consequences of their behaviors, thoughts and feelings, their character is in danger of harm. Feeling hurt can be an impetus for change and when we intervene we may be contributing to the creation of adult babies.
So if I haven’t had healthy boundaries, how do I get them?
The first step, as is true in so much of life, is to recognize and admit the problem. The Boundaries authors, Cloud and Townsend, say that the problem is always worse than we think it is. Well that may sound discouraging at first, I like to think of it as God’s way of gently moving us through growth. If we saw the magnitude of our dysfunction all at once we might become too overwhelmed. One step at a time.
I have also found that connecting with like-minded people who desire healthy relationships and well-being is vital. I try to surround myself with people who speak truth in love and who invite me to do the same. You may even want to put a group together to study material specifically designed to help address boundary health.
Most importantly, be honest – with God, with yourself and with others. I began with repeatedly asking myself two tough questions the Boundaries authors suggest:
1.Am I doing something that the other person ought to be doing for themselves? (And I would follow this up with, “And if so, what is my motivation?” Be brutally honest. Are you driven by unmet needs, unresolved grief, fear of the unknown, guilt, abandonment issues?)
2.Can I give this freely, without guilt or obligation? Then pay attention to your thoughts. “Should” is a sign of guilt or obligation. “I can, I will, I choose to” speaks of freedom.
Finally, there are many great resources available. Here’s a link to a quiz that can give insights into boundaries issues – a great place to start.
With love and gratitude,
When you say “no” to a request I’ve made, I may be sad – or even mad – but that doesn’t make you bad.
Understanding healthy boundaries has given me clarity in many ways, but perhaps no other idea has had more impact than this motto. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend teach it in their eight-week video series on the topic.
It’s one thing to become stronger by saying “no” to a friend’s request; it’s another to graciously accept their “no”.
Over the years I have been blessed with numerous opportunities to connect with younger women, particularly those in the early years of parenting. If I had to identify one question they ask most often, it’s “how do we tell our parents that we want to have Christmas on our own this year?”
It seems like a simple answer could suffice. “How about telling them like you just told me?”
Invariably their reaction tells the story. “Are you kidding me? If we say we aren’t coming it will be World War III!” or “Clearly you don’t know my mother-in-law. It isn’t enough that we have Christmas with them, it has to be on the day and at the time of her choosing.” You get the idea.
It seems that some moms have difficulty receiving a daughter’s “no”.
The Boundaries authors say that if I protest against someone else saying “no”, I am really judging their ability to decide for themselves. Put another way, I think that I know what is best for them. But I don’t.
And, when I make the “no say-er” the bad guy, I am often doing so to avoid addressing and owning my disappointment, sadness, or fears. In fact, I find it quite helpful to remember that someone else’s reaction to my “no” is a reflection of their character, and perhaps an indicator of boundary issues in their lives.
Not having my children home for special occasions can be upsetting. However, if they come because they fear my anger or don’t want to disappoint or want to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, they aren’t really fully present. Put another way, they have come out of guilt or obligation, not freedom and love. Ick.
I can’t always have what I want in life. Will I be mature enough to own my feelings, grieve those losses and free everyone I love to choose and live with the consequences of their choices? I sure hope so.
With love and gratitude,
It’s perhaps one of the most difficult complete sentences for many people to use.
Over the years I have walked with over 50 women through an eight-week course on living with healthy boundaries. Each time I learn something new or a concept sinks deeper in creating greater understanding and awareness. I am particularly thankful for the material Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have developed.
Last Sunday I spoke on this topic in church and, once again, my preparations resulted in further clarity. I conveyed this story to the congregation.
Our first-born son sat on the living room floor angry-crying. He was about six months old, surrounded by toys and an attentive mother. He sported a clean diaper, a full stomach and wasn’t sick. Nothing I could think of cheered him up so I sat on the carpet and cried too.
I could not make my son happy.
The depth of this insight shaped my future as I recognized my inability to control my child. I grieved the loss of control and asked God to show me how to proceed. If I can’t make him do things, how do I parent? This motivated my quest for answers and began an earnest journey toward applying healthy boundaries.
As I reflect on that 26-years-ago situation, I am grateful I didn’t find a way to easily placate my baby that day. I now know that his internal angst precipitated each significant developmental stage. He grew exasperated with immobility just before he crawled; he became aggravated with the slow pace of all-fours right before walking; impatience preceded clear speech.
In other words, dissatisfaction with his current state – whatever it was – became the very motivation he needed to push himself toward change. And my distress over lack of power to make him happy also precipitated my work on having healthy boundaries.
So I find myself asking afresh what the areas are in my life that I feel dissatisfied with, and then asking God to show me how He desires to change me. Am I thwarting someone else’s opportunity to grow by alleviating their discomfort when they should be the ones addressing it?
As Cloud and Townsend so aptly put it, we are responsible for our own feelings, actions and behaviors. When we take responsibility for someone else’s, we keep them in an immature state.
More on this topic next week.
With love and gratitude,
Last Saturday our family hiked to Lindeman Lake, enjoying the cool shade of 100-foot Douglas Firs as we gained 1000 feet of elevation over 1.7 kilometers.
We progressed forward and up with each step over roots and between rocks. Occasionally mud squished around our boots and we held onto saplings to keep from skidding. Our pace produced sweat and sometimes limited conversation. I made sure we stopped periodically to enjoy the view.
The exertion paid off.
Lindeman Lake impressed with her glacier-fed waters and corresponding temperature. The pristine lake sits surrounded by steep slopes bearing evidence of winter avalanches and summer rock slides. We hiked to the end of the lake and found a spot to soak in the sun and scenery. Well, some of us did.
The enormous landslides of boulders provided a rugged staircase for the mountain goats at heart. One who ventured up first shouted down that the view definitely exceeded the effort. I couldn’t resist.
The higher I climbed, the more clearly the lake’s depths and contours could be appreciated. Three shades of blue at water’s edge expanded with pockets of navy surrounded by multiple green hues and turquoise bursts. Looking down into the depths and being able to see the floor through the transparent water was breathtaking.
I love reminders from God’s creation that a higher view gives a more comprehensive perspective.
But perhaps the more striking take-away from the day came on our descent. A pool formed where a log had fallen across the path, preventing proper drainage. One son attempted to lift the downed tree but the weight of its saturated trunk and collected debris proved too much. We sloshed through the muddy water, but the picture stuck with me.
If someone had come upon this situation right away and dug even one small hole under the log, that means for runoff into the woods would have spared the trail from mini-lakes and prevented erosion. I found myself pondering the application to my own life.
Am I expressing feelings and thoughts in timely, appropriate ways instead of stuffing or harboring resentments? Do I have healthy, built-in methods to “drain” the intensity of emotion or do I live with internal logjams that threaten to burst or inhibit healthy relating?
In our hiking situation we were only left with wet, muddy feet. But if that tree doesn’t get moved soon serious damage could be done to the trail, keeping future adventurers from enjoying the lake.
Similarly, issues left unattended for a while can be skirted without too much disruption, giving a false sense that all is well. Over time, however, relational damage to self, others and with God grows. I want to be one who keeps short accounts so that relationships flow freely. Do you?
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst