One of the books I have finished reading recently is Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr.John Townsend. Although it’s a Christian book, the concepts it teaches are pretty much universal, and I sure feel how they are making a difference in my life and helping me become a calmer, happier, and more secure person.
Its basic principle is simple: think of your life as your house and yard. You are charged with the maintenance of your house and yard, and nobody else’s. If someone unexpectedly barges in and starts enforcing their own order, they are violating your boundaries. If you try to barge into someone else’s house and start washing the dishes and mowing the lawn because you believe they cannot do it themselves, you are violating their boundaries and also burning yourself out. Even and especially if that someone comes to agree and actually expect you to take care of their stuff.
Having boundaries doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you don’t offer help to those who are struggling. And it also applies to married people – that was a novelty for me. Turns out it’s OK to tell your spouse, “I’m not responsible for your schedule, moods, successes, failures, or disappointments. I’m here to HELP, but we are both mature adults responsible for their own stuff.”
For example, if my husband has a meeting in the morning and asks me to wake him on time, I say OK, I can do that. But once I do, if he chooses to remain in bed or otherwise kill time, I don’t fret saying time and time again, “the meeting! You’ll be late! It’s already 9:00! Get up! Come on! I’ll run upstairs and get your coat to save time!”
I just get on with my own thing. And if he IS late, I refuse to be made responsible for “not reminding enough times” and “not making sure he went to bed on time the night before”. It’s incredibly freeing.
Similarly, I can tell him, “I don’t think you are using your time wisely. Days are precious, and you have a family to provide for. I think you should accept a job, any job that will give the family a steady provision”. But once I have said that, I walk away. I don’t nag. I don’t bang my head against the wall trying to get him to accept a job. I don’t spend hours looking for a job for him. I don’t run around in circles saying, “Will you please open a profile on Upwork? I’ll help you set it up.”
You know what? It’s not that easy. Especially when you KNOW you are probably right and the other side doesn’t listen. But it doesn’t help killing yourself carrying someone else’s burden. So I just go on doing my thing, focusing on my own growth, and accepting that I don’t have control over anybody else’s life.
And, of course, I also refuse to be made responsible when I’m told “I don’t have a good job because you didn’t try hard enough to teach me English” or “you should have tried harder to get me to set up that Upwork account”. No, I shouldn’t have. This is ultimately your life and whatever you make of it. Freedom. Choice.
It plays out even in our relationships with our children. For example, if I tell my daughter, “I think X is a nice girl. Why aren’t you friends?” and my daughter tells me, “We just don’t get along”, I accept this, even though I do happen to think X is an exceptionally good kid and I’d love to see her around. These are my daughter’s friends, not mine, after all!
This book grapples with the following questions:
– Can I set limits and still be a loving person?
– What are legitimate boundaries?
– What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?
– How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money?
– Aren’t boundaries selfish?
– Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?
A must-read for anyone who has ever struggled with setting boundaries in their lives, or even wondered what boundaries actually are.