Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Relationship Boundaries

I had another counseling appointment yesterday, and one of the things I am working on right now is defining and holding my relationship boundaries. These have been too permeable for too long, as I will often contort in ways that are hideously uncomfortable to spare anyone else discomfort. I realized, in one of those beautiful flashes of insight you get while in therapy, that my personal value and ability to be loved in a relationship is tied into what I give to others.

I've been working hard to separate out my writing from who I am, and have traveled enough distance down that road to see how ludicrous it was to ever assume that I am the same as what I produce, but this giving conundrum hit me like a bullet between the eyes. That's why the stakes are so high for me when I'm asked to do something and I choose to say no. I feel anxiety, and experience the physical symptoms of a panic attack. I thought I was slowly going insane, but I realize now that my world view told me I was a "bad person" if I said no, and I feared that I might lose the relationship.

Seeing this clearly was a life changer for me. I wrote up ten points which define my new relationship boundaries, discussed them with my counselor, and came home to make minor changes and post them up by my computer. I will have to look at them every single day, possibly a hundred times in a day, in order to internalize them, taking them from an intellectual insight to the way I live my life from this point forward.

I could easily write about each and every point on the list, but the one that helped the most yesterday was number six: "Giving to others does not make me a good person. Who I am is separate from what I do and what I give. I do not have to work and give in order to be loved. Relationships should not hinge on these conditions, and if they do, I can choose not to be in those relationships." It is one thing to hold this idealogical belief, and another to make it part of the fabric of our soul and live it out on a day by day basis.

I couldn't see this before. I knew that I felt hooked by requests to help; they drew me in and cranked up the guilt until I felt I couldn't possibly say no for any reason, real or imagined, and then after I said yes I would feel resentful. This is not a reasonable way to exist with your friends and family. I doubt the person making the request had any idea of what went on for me after the request was made, and it is important for me to recognize that it is in fact my problem.

People treat us according to how we treat ourselves. If we draw boundary lines and hold them, they won't be crossed by others, because we won't allow them to be violated. I like to help people and want to continue to do so, but patterns are formed when we drop everything and assist others on a regular basis, and we need to reserve the right to say no, and not be punished for that fact. Or more accurately, not accept punishment, because we can't control how others will treat us at any given time.

I'm tired of worrying so much, and thinking ten steps ahead in many of my relationships. Life is simply too short for all of that anxiety. I am responsible for myself, and not for anyone else. I can feel my own pain, and joy, and sorrow, and fear, and no one else's. I have to stop volunteering for extra rocks in my backpack which do not belong to me. If I can internalize the boundaries I wrote out yesterday, and put them into practice each and every day in the most loving way I can, my life will radically change for the better, and I'll be modeling a more successful path for my kids to follow.


  1. Thanks for sharing this! As we have talked about, I struggle in boundaries often as well! Thanks for your honesty and your drive to get past this!

  2. Thanks for sharing too. My counsellor recommended Boundaries to me and it was hugely helpful (though I need to work on implementing some concrete steps like you have). I'm starting to realize the same things you are... and it's freeing to be able to say "no" without guilt.

  3. You are more than welcome. It was therapeutic for me! I think boundaries are a common problem for many people, particularly women, because we have this idea that we should never say no and always give to everyone. Sometimes it just isn't possible and I love the idea that my kids will see healthy boundaries and be further along this road than I am right now, simply by watching me work through this process honestly.

    I highly recommend writing your boundaries out and looking at them every day, and I'm more than happy to share mine with you if that would be a helpful starting point for you to write your own.