Monday Musings… Boundaries –Social Distancing of a Different Kind
I was quietly feeding my 3-month-old baby, while my toddler danced around my rocking chair to Sharon, Lois and Bram’s familiar Skinamarink A-Dinky Dink, Skinamarinky Do, when I turned around and saw a strange man standing in the middle of my living room! We had just moved from Toronto to this little hamlet of 100 people, so my first instinct screamed home invasion! It turned out, however, to simply be one of the locals, wanting to extend a warm welcome to me and my family. But honestly, at the time, this well-meaning introduction to country living was rather distressing and massively uncomfortable. In my books, a bonafide Skinamarinky-Don’t!
I came to learn quickly that this was a common practice of the townsfolk, to show up uninvited and unannounced. This was largely due to the fact that they were either related to each other, or had lived in the area most of their lives. But I was a stranger in a strange land, who very much appreciated the right to choose who, when, and where I’d meet people. I kept thinking that’s why we have telephones, and doors with doorbells, and fences around our properties. I wanted to be the one to decide whether to keep people out of my life, or to invite them in.
Boundaries are a natural and important part of our daily lives. They allow us to define who we are in relation to the outside world. They let others know what our expectations are in relationships; what is acceptable to us and what is not. And those expectations are based on two things: what we value, and what we need to feel in control and balanced mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
But too often, people end up sacrificing that inner peace and joy, sometimes without even realizing it. They wake up one day, reality creeping into their consciousness, as they begin to question why they’re so resentful, bitter, grumpy, on edge, and over-reactive. Some people don’t even recognize themselves anymore. The lines between who they want to be, who they think they should be, and who they really are, have all become blurred. Their mental home, their head space has been invaded and they’re not sure how that happened, and they don't know what to do.
This is a common dilemma, especially for individuals who have a hard time saying no. When someone asks them to do something, they are quick to take up the charge. Perhaps they get satisfaction out of helping others, at least initially, but over time they end up getting sucked into a black hole, exhausting themselves. They feel they can't back out, after all they have committed themselves and are now depended upon for that other person’s happiness, all the while neglecting their own well-being. There is no boundary. They are a wide-open field that other people feel very free to take advantage off, trample down on, and then leave, with little thought to clean up the mess they made. What’s left is a barren wasteland. People who can’t say no, mean well, they have huge hearts, but they take on too much, get over-involved in other’s lives, and get taken advantage of. Their good friends and family may even see this happening, and maybe have advised them to stop, but that often falls on the deaf ears of the person who can't say no.
But it's not only a dilemma for people pleasers, it can happen to anyone who is faced with a situation of obligation, or who is caught unaware, much like I was with the gentleman in my living room. If I had locked the door, which was my practice in Toronto, there wouldn't have been a problem. So, sometimes your guard is down, or sometimes you just happen to be in a place where others think you are the answer to the problem; you'll be the one who'll be 'voluntold' to take on a task or an issue. You're a nice person after all. You're confident and capable. You're the one others look to for strength, for information, and assistance. They know they can count on you and tell you as much. And before you know it, you too, have committed to something that wasn't on your personal agenda and you're stressed.
But we’re supposed to help others, right? Shouldn’t we show compassion, give our time, our talents, our money, to others who approach us in need? I don’t dispute that the answer is yes, of course we should do those things, but there is a limit to what you can offer. But people expect me to do X? I’ve got obligations I really can’t back out of? You need to understand there you can't be expected to do everything; there is a limit to what you can tolerate without feeling overburdened, overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or resentful. You have to face the truth of when it’s simply too much or when it is not your situation to solve. Knowing your limits is not a measure of selfishness; it’s a marker of health.
Everyday you’ll be bombarded with opportunities, and along with that, decisions of what you’re going to say and do. If you have no boundaries, if you leave that front door open or are that open field, it won’t take long before your mental energy and time are eaten up by other people’s issues and agendas. But if you establish clear boundaries, with locks and fences that protect your mental property, you will flourish and grow, and actually be able to give more of yourself at the appropriate time and situation, and to the right people.
From time immemorial, people have been putting up physical fences to clearly define their property line to mark the territory they are responsible to take care of. This is their parcel of land to tend and protect from intruders. Now, can you do the same for your mental property? Let me show you how.
The first fence post you drive into your mental ground is to be mindful of how you spend your mental energy. What you choose to do, should energize you, invigorate you, enrich your life. But if you find you’re losing sleep from worrying, or if you’re uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or bitter, your emotions are telling you that something needs to change. You’re off balance. So carefully examine who and what you are committing to. Be mindful. Be in tune with your emotions, for they are your signal letting you know if what you're doing is good for your health.
The second post is to recognize the patterns you've got yourself into, and that there is always an opportunity to change them. Too often, people pleasers especially, feel they can’t back out of commitments. This is the expected pattern their ‘friends’ have come to know. The pleaser is so worried that others will be disappointed, or worse yet, the other person has made life decisions counting on the support of the pleaser, that the pleaser now feels trapped and believes they can’t possibly say no. The real issue here is that the pleaser is caring more about the other person’s life than the person themself. You are not responsible for another’s person’s choices or happiness. Break the pattern. Remember there is always a way of escape. Find the exit. And stick to it. Don't stay on the merry-go-round of being everything to everyone. It may be merry for them, but it's certainly not for you! Break the pattern and set yourself free. It is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself AND for them.
The third post, now that you’ve recognized your patterns and have committed to changing them, is to set clear boundaries that you are able to maintain. You may have good intentions, but you need to be able to follow through, or it’s useless. You may as well knock the fence down, because if your boundary is not clear or you don't stick to it, you'll find yourself right back into your old unhealthy ways. Figure out what you need to stay balanced mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Identify the people and situations that are a hindrance to that, and state your limits. Remember fences are all about you choosing who you allow in or out of your property. Same goes for your mental state. There will be people in your life that you’d rather not be around, but perhaps for some reason you need to be, so what is the boundary you can establish that is tolerable. You may commit to seeing that person, for example, once a week for one hour; or once a month for one day; or once a year for a weekend but you stay in a hotel. Whatever you decide it should be clearly defined and reasonable enough that you can stick to it.
The fourth post, now that you’ve woken up to your emotional state, recognized the unhealthy patterns you got yourself into, and now have set some clear limits on what you can tolerate, is to release yourself from fear and guilt. You do not need to fear that you are letting others down, that others will not like or love you anymore; free yourself from the shoulda, woulda couldas. You can only be of use to others when your own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical tanks are replenished daily. Creating boundaries, and knowing your limits, is actually freeing! Think of the fence in your back yard. The kids and dogs can run around free – no fear they will escape the yard and come to harm. If you’re single, you know the joy of reading a book on your deck, no interruptions. Fences allow everyone to relax, recharge, feel safe, and enjoy not having to worry about intrusions.
Boundaries are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. You can still love people in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and underneath the moon, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all on the same day. 😉 Everyone has their limits. That's what you need to Skinamarinky Do!