Drawing Lines in the Sand

by Kristin Goodwin

Does this sound familiar… you wake up on a rainy morning and instantly, dread seeps in. You start thinking about your jerk of a boss that will pile a million and one things onto your to-do list today, most of which aren’t even in your job description. Then after work you have plans with a “friend” who spends the whole time talking about herself and her problems, all without once asking how you’re doing (despite the tired look on your face and the fact that your shoes don’t match because you spent the morning taking care of your kids and didn’t leave enough time for yourself). You finally arrive home, only to be met with housework that wasn’t done by any of the other 4 family members living in the same house. Some may read this and say, “Wow, what a complainer. I would hate to be around her too”. However, when I read this all I hear is the need for better boundary setting skills.

Lots of us have difficulty setting AND holding appropriate boundaries. For some of us it’s easiest to have boundaries with our friends, others it’s hardest to have with our families. Many struggle setting boundaries with their supervisors and co-workers.  Let me sum it up by saying, boundary setting is an incredibly challenging thing to do, but not impossible! I outlined a few important guidelines on setting healthy and appropriate boundaries:

1. Allow others (and yourself) the grace of “natural consequences”. If I had received a check in the mail for every time I overspent, I would have never learned how to live within my means. Your 16 year old who always waits until the night before to complete a project isn’t learning anything by you staying up all night to finish the project for him. What he is learning is that he never has to truly experience consequences because mom does it for me. Furthermore, your teaching yourself and everyone around you that your time and wants don’t matter as much as everyone else’s and that’s ok with you (which I’m sure it’s not).

2. Focus on the “I”, not “them”. Whenever I talk with people about boundary setting, inevitably the conversation becomes “I feel selfish for setting the boundary” or “I don’t want this to offend them.” We aren’t drawing these boundaries for them; we’re doing it for us. We worry that our humanly limits will hurt someone else’s feelings when in reality, overstretching ourselves puts those around us in harm’s way because it’s impossible to keep up.

3. Boundaries aren’t for offending people, they’re for protecting you. Healthy and appropriate boundaries don’t hurt, control or attack anyone. They protect you from being taken advantage of, intentional or not. It’s likely really uncomfortable saying no when a friendly co-worker asks you to finish their part of the work project so that they can leave early to spend time with their boyfriend. Your co-worker may seem disappointed. They may even be rude towards you. However, setting this boundary does not cause hurt, nor does it control someone else, it simply protects you.

A really helpful resource for learning when to say yes and how to say no is ‘Boundaries’ by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It breaks down what boundaries are (and aren’t), conflicts that arise when setting boundaries and how to develop healthy boundaries with friends, family, work, yourself and God. If you or someone you care about struggles with boundaries, I highly recommend this read.

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