People who know me (both personally and professionally) know that one of the things I’m ca-razy about is healthy boundaries! My Top 3 Must-Haves go something like this: 1) Plain M&M’s 2) Healthy boundaries 3) James Taylor playing in the background. Whether laying the groundwork within oneself or creating the parameters of an interpersonal relationship, healthy boundaries are critical part of the process. Healthy boundaries include our expectations for ourselves and others, how we deal with conflict in our most intimate relationships, how we respond to opportunities…and the list goes on! In short, healthy boundaries lay the foundation for how we operate in relationships with ourselves and others.
As crucial as I understand them to be, I know that defining our realistic limits is not always a piece of cake. It requires an assessment and naming of our needs, exploring where we need to take responsibility and where we need to give space for others to do so, and a continual check in with the parts of the process that seem most challenging.
Contributing to the difficulty of healthy boundary implementing are several popular misunderstandings: First, we have this cultural assumption that success requires us to push ourselves to the utmost limit, no matter what the cost. Secondly, there is a misguided notion of love floating around, one that dictates we must give and do everything humanly possible for the people we love 100% of the time. Both of these contribute to the final falsity – which is that if we do not continually push our limits or bend over backwards for others, we are inefficient and uncaring.
The truth of the matter is that when we consistently ignore our realistic capacities, the space and time of others, and the sacredness of our relationships, we are not being either efficient or caring. When we regularly take on all the responsibility at work, we contribute to an environment that places the burden on one person and we help create an unsustainable system. When we always apologize and absorb the blame for a partner who offends others, we keep this person from having to face the pain they cause those around them. When we repeatedly expect our friend to pick up the phone, email right back, or drop everything she’s doing to tend to our anxieties, we are not building the relationship but building the tension within the relationship. And when we fail to healthfully acknowledge and respect our own boundaries, we invite others to do the same.
I’ll leave you with this quote from poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins that gets to the heart of healthy boundaries.
“Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices: ‘There lives the dearest, freshest deep-down things.’”