Sunday, August 3, 2008

Living Within Your Boundaries



When you are mowing your back lawn, where do you stop? At the boundary line. You don?t usually mow your neighbors back lawn as well. People need to learn boundaries in their own lives too. When not to take on other people?s anger, their problems and responsibilities.

In their book, "Boundaries" (When to say yes, when to say no, to take control of your life) - Dr.s Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain how lack of boundaries can affect your life, sometimes pushing you to the point of burnout or breakdown. They state that having clear boundaries is essential to living a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things which are ours and which are not. Everything inside our skin is within our own boundary. Boundaries need to be in effect in the emotional, physical, spiritual and mental areas of our life.

Learning this can bring such freedom to your life. To realize that you are only responsible for everything inside your own skin first, then any young children in your care. And it is okay to have your own treasures in the form of your own feelings, attitudes and behaviors (FAB?s). Nobody should take those away from you, they are yours.

Children from an early age need to be taught boundaries. They need to be able to say no to inappropriate behavior, and to make decisions where they reap the consequences of their choices, both good and bad. Don?t always rescue them from the consequences of their choices. You will be robbing them of a valuable opportunity to learn. And as a parent, you will need to find the fine line between being a good mother and being a slave to your children. Even a baby chick needs to be able to peck its own way out of its shell, or it will not survive.

Looking way down the track, you may find your child has grown up without firm boundaries in place in their life. They may be 20 years of age and still coming to you every week after pay day to ask for money. You find that they are spending their wages on CD?s and alcohol, before the essentials like food and rent. Then they cry poor and come to you for help. If you are constantly dishing out extra money to ?rescue' your son or daughter from their situation, you are keeping them in a state of infancy.

They are not learning to be responsible, and you are now burdened down by their problems as well as your own. Do yourself a favor and let your child reap what they sow. It shouldn?t be long before they learn from reaping the consequences of their bad decisions, and learn to stand on their own two feet, for the benefit of everyone, especially themselves. The earlier you teach reaping and sowing consequences to your children, the more independent and emotionally mature adults they will become. A small amount of emotional pain to a child can actually be a gift to them in the long run.

How do you know you might have a boundary problem as an adult? Well according to Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, there are symptoms and problems associated with taking on others burdens that are not your own. It may be depression, resentment, anger problems, obsessive or compulsive behavior, low energy levels and extreme disorganization - taking on too much, many unfinished projects and finding not enough hours in the day, especially when it comes to spending time with your children.

It may be that you just don't know how to say no to people, or if you do, you immediately feel bad and guilty afterwards. No isn't a bad word when used politely and correctly. It can mean the difference between your health and happiness, and that of your children, and in an extreme case, a nervous breakdown, or just living in a constant state of upheaval, stress, and depression.

If you are a pretty compliant type of person, you may have trouble saying no because you feel that you may hurt someone's feelings, or that they will withdraw their love from you. You may fear punishment or be afraid of abandonment or separateness. You may not want to be seen as selfish. But sometimes you will find that your no can be just what a relationship needs to grow and survive. And if it doesn?t survive the other person hearing and receiving your 'no' you can ask yourself what kind of relationship did you have with that person in the first place.

Was it about you constantly running around after them, doing everything they asked of you?. Or running yourself ragged on endless committees and organizing meetings for every social group that demands your time?

That's not true friendship or a healthy relationship, and you will probably find yourself better off without such people and more in control of yourself and family life.

A good example of this is a true story about a elderly lady in a rest home. She refused to make any friends, and wouldn?t participate in any of the organised outings or group activities. Her constant focus of each day was waiting for her niece to visit. The niece was a very compliant type of person and couldn?t possibly say no to her auntie. Every day she visited, but slowly resentment began to build up in her.

She felt pressured and guilty, if she even thought about saying that she wouldn?t be visiting the next day. Her auntie was keeping her in bondage. After hearing of the whole boundaries concept, the niece began to see how she was being manipulated by fear and guilt. She took a brave stand, and announced to her aunt that she wouldn?t be visiting so often anymore. This wasn?t initially received well, but slowly the aunt came to realize she was serious, and began to look further afield for her entertainment. She joined in with the organized outings and activities, and even began helping the other residents in the home. Not only was the niece released from her bondage, but the aunt was also better off, and so were those around her. After that when the niece did visit, she did so because she wanted to.

If you take a look at your life, think back a bit, and you may be surprised to find many situations where others were controlling you with their anger or guilt, or that you were reaping the problems of other people?s actions, even your children?s behavior. There is nothing like feeling empowered when you realize, that you are only truly responsible for yourself first. If somebody else is angry, you don?t need to take that anger on, and become angry yourself - you are two separate people.

To begin setting boundaries, you will need to start off small with little 'no's, then move onto the larger ones when appropriate.

Learn to be pro-active, setting boundaries and guidelines first, not being re-active, exploding in anger when things don't go your way later. Find out what you need and require from your partner and children, and don't be wishy washy in your yes and nos. It may be that you require more help with the housework or more shared child care.

Dr Cloud and Townsend believe that a good formula to work on, is to begin with identifying any problems that you may have in your life that could be related to poor boundary setting. Is it your problem to begin with, or is it really someones elses problem that you have taken on board physically or emotionally?.

Learn to take hold of your own treasures, your Feelings, Attitudes and Behaviors. They are very important, and no one has the right to violate you by pushing your feelings aside or trying to manipulate your behavior to their benefit.

As with most things, boundary setting is a two way street. As well as learning how to take control of your life by saying 'no' when it's appropriate without feeling guilty, you also need to hear other's people's 'no's and respect their personal boundaries.

Saying yes, when you really mean, "No, I can't possibly fit that into my schedule this week, I'm reaching exhaustion point, can't you find somebody else to help you", brings resentment. Maybe you were asked to look after 3 extra children for a friend for the whole day. You really want to say that you aren't up to it, but instead you say yes and then resentment sets in against the friend and the children as well. It's best to be honest and up front to start with.

The boundaries issues you may need to address in your own personal life, could be to do with lending people money who keep taking advantage of you, working way beyond your call of duty for an unappreciative boss, saying 'no' to somebody who constantly demands your time, or being a slave to your children when they are perfectly capable of the task ahead.

Interview with Gloria Skelton

Gloria is a mother of 4 children, two teenagers aged 18 and 15, and daughters aged 6 and 3. "I found the whole boundaries concept very interesting because I wanted to change from being a doormat to being a door where I could pick and choose."

What Gloria learned from the boundaries concept was in one word - freedom. It gave her freedom to take responsibility for herself and her younger children first, and not to take on her teenagers problems as her own. She realized she was keeping them in a state of infancy by not letting them reap the consequences of their own actions like, when it came to money and how to spend it correctly. "They weren't learning what happens when they made incorrect choices". Gloria was constantly bailing them out of their strife as any loving mother would, but found it was not actually helping them in the long run.

"I found it useful to learn how to set boundaries first, then what would happen if those boundaries were violated, i.e. the breaking of a curfew, swearing, or refusing to clean up their own mess, instead of waiting until I was mad later on when the rules had been broken. And giving reasons for the boundaries too, instead of just nagging. It helps you be more in control and calmer. This is being pro-active first and not re-active later".

"I learned how not to reap the consequences of other people?s bad decisions, and feel much happier with myself."

Interview with Kelly Stone

Kelly is a mother of two daughters, aged 7 and 4. She says, "I was raised very much as a compliant child who thought it my job to keep everybody else happy, and I hardly ever said no to anybody. It can lead to a double life, if you are always trying to be everything to everybody, to keep everyone happy at the same time, when really you are thinking, feeling and acting quite differently in private".

Kelly says it's important to recognize the sign of lack of boundaries in a child. They will begin to tell lies, because they are afraid to say no, or what they are really thinking. They are worried about losing your love and being separated from you. I?ve been teaching my girls to be really honest with me, and tell me how they are feeling, and teach them about personal boundaries as situations come up".

When it came to friends, Kelly found herself sometimes growing apart from friends, because she realized they were manipulating her, and guilting her into being friends with them. "I now choose friends more wisely", she says. "It all comes down to honesty. I don't have to be rude if I say no to someone, just honest, and that will ultimately benefit the relationship if its real and worthwhile. I also learnt to take other people saying no to me and not be offended by that".

"If you live without personal boundaries, you?ll just be miserable and find yourself wanting to withdraw from all relationships. When I look around now, I can see so much of people?s troubles are caused by lack of boundaries. It?s actually really sad?

Copyright Victoria Purdie 2000
Victoria Purdie is a mother of 3 children aged 5, 7 and 9 and is a Free Lance Writer and columnist.
to see more of her work go to:

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