Thursday, February 26, 2009

Defining Our Boundaries

“The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is starting to know that we have a right to protect and defend ourselves, and we are responsible for how we allow others to treat us.” ~ Robert Burney

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the importance of setting well defined personal boundaries. It all started when one of the employees at a local metaphysical store gave my phone number to a young man – severely distressed and suicidal - who was seeking spiritual counseling.

I immediately became fascinated with the case at hand, and made the mistake of giving out my home number, in case this gentleman hit a particularly low point and needed to talk. In no time at all he began to call my house at all hours of the day and night. Although he knew I had a family to take care of, he continued to call until I set my foot down and told him that if he needed to stop calling after 5:00 pm, or he would need to find someone else to talk to. He had no choice but reluctantly accept my new terms, which resulted in more productive sessions and tangible results once he began to make the most of the minutes he had available to work things through.

Setting up personal boundaries means that sometimes we have to disappoint others in their expectations. Feeling that we are displeasing others can be extremely hard, as we are conditioned to mirror our self-worth in the way we are perceived by external sources. It is relatively easy to start setting boundaries in relationships that don't mean much to us - it is in the relationships that mean the most to us that it is so difficult. A part of us might not feel worthy, feels defective and shameful, and is terrified of setting boundaries for fear everyone will leave.

It is important to communicate our boundaries in a “no blame” fashion. It is equally fundamental to be honest in stating how we feel. If someone asks us to feed their cat and we really don’t want to do it, we should say that we regret not being able to help, without feeling the need to justify our refusal. Lack of creating healthy boundaries often results in a struggle with resentment, as we no longer feel we own our choices

While we should respect others in their decisions, others must respect us in ours. Setting personal boundaries is not a threat, but merely a way of showing the world what we deem acceptable and what we consider over the line. If some choose to overstep that line, it is perfectly acceptable for us to remove ourselves from the relationship, or negotiate other consequences, as we can’t tell others how they should live their lives, but we can choose how we will live ours.

Setting boundaries is our first step on the journey of self-respect. Should we expect others to honor our value when we can’t even do so ourselves?

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