Boundaries are healthy and important, but can the idea of a boundary give us an easy out and prevent us from being brave and stretching ourselves?
Years ago, in a family counselling session, parents were complaining that their 25-year-old son living in their basement wasn’t employed or contributing to the family in any way. The parents wanted me “talk to him to get him motivated.”
These parents eventually learned that this wasn’t a motivation problem. It was a boundary problem. Motivation eventually followed when they set clear boundaries. Reality is a great motivator.
Here are five principles for healthy boundaries:
- Boundaries keep us healthy. Just as the immune system says no to unwanted bacteria and viruses, saying no to unwanted demands on our time keeps us healthy. Caring about others while suppressing our own needs, contributes to illness.
- Boundaries are about self-care. There’s a difference between self-care and self-centeredness. Self-care says that we take care of ourselves so we can be strong and better take care of those we love and serve. Self-centeredness says we take care of ourselves so we can take care of ourselves. Boundaries remind us that we are responsible TO others, not FOR others.
- When we take care of ourselves, we ultimately take care of others. Rescuing people from the natural consequences of their behavior weakens them. Saying no may risk disappointing another, but in the long run it helps them make necessary changes to improve their life.
- Boundaries are not an excuse. Boundaries used as an excuse to take the easy road are not boundaries at all – they are excuses. Boundaries are firm but not rigid. It takes bravery to set clear boundaries, not brutality.
- All life, to be sustainable, requires boundaries. I grew up in an age when you had a phone on your office desk that was wired into the wall. When you were done work you went home. The boundary between work and home was clear. Then we were promised that computers would simplify this. Now in a 24/7 world, establishing boundaries has never been more of a challenge. But without boundaries you have no clear priorities or focus. Everything is important and nothing is important. We all need boundaried time for uninterrupted, focused work or play that requires our full attention to what matters.