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,
In The Midst