This may seem like a strange post on a blog about loving life (Boundaries? Ick! No fun!), but I’m realizing more and more just how essential boundaries are for experiencing peace and joy in our lives.
In fact, we had an unpleasant lesson on this topic in our home just recently. An impoverished and ‘somewhat homeless’ neighbor we have had a relationship with for years was in our kitchen alone while my husband went to check for empty cans & bottles we could give him. Later that evening, we realized some money was missing from an envelope that we had forgotten was laying on a nearby counter. We did some legwork in hopes that our initial conclusion was wrong, but unfortunately, all the evidence (including a peanut butter smear on the envelope) pointed to this man that we had called friend.
Our boundaries with him are now going to change. That doesn’t mean we no longer care for him or that we hate him or that we want to completely cut him from our lives. It means we are making adjustments in our relationship with him in response to this saddening occurrence.
Boundaries are important in multiple areas of our lives, but I want to focus on what I consider three of the most obvious:
- Relationships – As my mom always said, ‘You teach people how to treat you.’ I’m pretty sure this concept shows up in many psychological-based books on relationships. As much as we want to, we can’t ever change other people; we can encourage and help growth, surely, but we can’t make the actual growth happen. What we can control is ourselves and what we allow in our relationships. This often involves some uncomfortable conversations (like the one we now have to have with our neighbor), but being honest about what you expect from others is a great way to grow those relationships and – hopefully – weed out negative behaviors.
- Work – This one can be tricky. As an employee, you are paid to do certain tasks and, as such, have entered into an agreement of work with your employer. Obviously, none of us want to piss off the person signing our checks. All communication regarding boundaries requires tact, and perhaps this is most evident in our work lives. But if your work load has continuously increased with no compensation, perhaps there is a manager or someone you can go to about such concerns. Or maybe you’ve been picking up more and more slack for a co-worker and you feel they’ve begun to take advantage of that. There’s nothing wrong with finding a good moment to tell them how you feel and explain the limits to how much you are able to help them from now on.
- Time – As you may have already realized, good boundaries are set in place as a form of protection. They are not walls; they are not created to keep people out, but rather to ensure the enclosed space is both defined and respected. I find that time is one of the areas my husband and I have to be most on guard to protect. It’s like we could blink and – poof – four days in a row are filled with plans with little time for rest or each other. So we carefully consider when we make social plans, how much we can volunteer, and how many different activities we can commit to. This takes honesty about our wants and needs, as well as some hard-core prioritizing. But I think protecting our time is well worth it.
What areas of your life might need some better boundary building?