What does it mean to set boundaries? Why do you need them?
Boundaries are meant to protect you. The old saying “good fences make good neighbors.” Could be adapted to say, “good boundaries make good relationships.” When we know what belongs to us and what belongs to someone else it makes things less chaotic and stressful. If your neighbor didn’t know where his yard ends and starts cutting down your flowers or letting his dangerous dog run in your yard you would be upset. Or what if you decided you didn’t like your neighbor’s landscaping? Would you go into their yard and start changing it? Or even crazier, what if your neighbor came over and asked you take over responsibility for his yard, to water and mow it because it was just too much for him to handle and he couldn’t afford a lawnmower? That sounds crazy because we expect people to be responsible for their own property and respect other people’s property.
Boundaries are like fences for our life. If you have an addict in your life, you have probably experienced wanting to fix them. Maybe being obsessed and distracted to the point that you neglect your own life. Maybe you give them all your time and energy and even money trying to save them. You don’t know where your life ends and theirs begins. You’re intertwined to the point that your happiness is wrapped up in their health and happiness. This feels right to you because you love them. But it will take a toll on you. It’s not healthy. Your fences are broken.
Boundaries are fences for your life. Are you taking care of things you are not responsible for? Or allowing things into your life that you don’t want there? Are you trying to fix someone else’s life? Setting boundaries means you decide what is your responsibility in life and what is not. What is inside your fence and what is not. You take responsibility for your life and your happiness and let other people be responsible for their own life and happiness. The only thing in life you have control over is you. So, boundaries are to help you take control of you and your life. They are not a way to control other people. They are a way to control yourself and remember what you are responsible for. They divide responsibility into mine and theirs, just like fenced divide properties.
For example, you can decide that you are responsible for paying your rent, but not someone else’s. Your boundary is “I will not pay rent for any home but my own”. You create that boundary. When someone tries to cross that boundary, you remind yourself of the boundary. You can’t make someone stop asking or wanting you to pay their rent, but you have complete control over whether you pay it or not. It may not be easy, but in the long run, your life will improve as you enforce your boundaries and people learn where they are.
Maybe your boundary is I don’t like people being rude and disrespectful to me. You can’t stop people from being rude and disrespectful, but you can decide if you will continue to listen or spend time with them. You can decide that you will remove yourself from rude conversations. That is your boundary. You can say, “I won’t stay on the phone when you talk to me that way.” Or “You can’t be in my house if you talk to me that way.” You have control over your reactions and you enforce your boundaries to protect yourself. You can’t control the other person, but you can control your reactions and actions.
Fences keep things out of our yard, that we don’t want in our yard and they keep us from taking care a yard that is not our own. That is what boundaries do too. It reminds us to take care of ourselves and let other people take care of themselves. Fences seldom move and it’s a big deal to move one. Boundaries are like that too. They work best if they are consistent. It helps reduce chaos and conflict if boundaries are reliable.
When we see someone in crisis, we may want to change our boundaries. If your neighbor broke his leg you might decide to help with his yard. But this a choice you have made to be kind. It is not your responsibility and your boundary hasn’t changed, you just made a choice to cross the fence. You’re not moving the fence and taking over his yard. A crisis, by definition, is a critical point. A crisis is not a continuous state. It’s brief and passes. Helping in a crisis is noble, but if someone claims to be in crisis every day, it’s not really a crisis, it’s a lifestyle.
When we choose to help, it needs to be a choice made freely. You should not be pressured to cross your boundaries. If you are being pressured to help someone, it is not “help”, it is extortion. If you are being forced or pressured to put up with behavior you find unacceptable in your house, you are not helping you are being bullied. Don’t let love blind you to your need to honor your boundaries and protect yourself. Keep your boundaries intact and remember boundaries are personal, no one gets to tell you they are wrong. They are meant to control you and your life and you get to decide how that looks.
Setting boundaries to reduce the chaos and stress in your life is an important part of self-care. If you are exhausted and stressed by the people in your life you may need to set some boundaries to protect yourself. Good boundaries conserve your time, money, energy and mood, which make you a happier kinder person. Good boundaries may strain a relationship at first, but in the long run, they will improve it.