Setting Boundaries

The world is full of boundaries so we can all live together in a reasonable, orderly manner. Rules you set in your own life are your personal boundaries. 

Having clear boundaries will make you a happier, healthier person. Boundaries provide limits and direction. They become your guiding lights as you go through your day and make decisions.

There are several kinds of boundaries, such as physical, emotional, relational, occupational, and financial. This list is not exhaustive, but it illustrates how all aspects of life can involve boundary-setting.

Let’s say you are going to buy a car. One boundary you want to establish before you get serious about a decision is how much money you are willing to spend to get what you want. 

This is a financial boundary. Whatever amount (or range) you identify will keep you focused. You are more likely to end up pleased with your decision and living within your means at the same time.

Physical boundary examples include what activities you choose, what substances you will or will not put into your body, and who you allow to touch you. 

My grandfather will not climb a ladder anymore, my father no longer smokes cigarettes, my vegetarian daughter will not eat meat of any kind, and I require myself to get a mammogram and pap smear yearly.

Two of the toughest areas to establish and keep strong boundaries are those involving people’s time and relationships.  If you are a “say yes to everyone” kind of person, you are lacking a boundary which could spare you a great deal of stress and overwhelm. 

None of us can be all things to all people, but for some reason we think we need to try. People lose sleep, free time, their health, money, and even their sanity trying to accommodate others and take on more responsibilities than five people could handle. 

When you stretch yourself so thin, you are no good to yourself or anyone else ultimately. You will end up falling short in most areas, feeling worse about yourself instead of good for what you were hoping to accomplish or contribute.

Boundaries with time and in relationships keep us grounded in a positive way. Do you volunteer? How much time per week do you allow for this? How many organizations do you support? 

Be careful, because if word of your generosity gets out, everybody will start calling and wanting this or that. When the offers keep coming, you will want to be prepared to give to what is most meaningful to you and whatever time fits in the context of the rest of your life. Beyond that, say no.

How much time and effort you give to relationships is entirely your decision as well. Every relationship is different and there is no one way to express your dedication to another.

Spend time with people who truly support and affirm you, not those who judge or criticize you. Think about all the people in your circle and ask yourself who you are safe with, who you enjoy, and who you trust the most. 

These are the people you want to intentionally seek, deliberately extend yourself to, and invite into your world regularly. 

Many people feel obligated to stay in regular contact with family, even if they are continuously abusive or neglectful. Some will not let go of friendships or romantic relationships for the same reasons. 

All of our relationships are based on choice. Whether you attend the annual family reunion or not is entirely up to you. Whether you return a phone call or not is entirely up to you. 

In Cheryl Richardson’s book, Stand Up For Your Life, she says, “Having good boundaries in place actually allows you to be more available to others in an intimate way. It can also prevent conflict.” (This book is an excellent discussion about shaping your life exactly as you want it in several ways.)

Bottom line is this:  If your life feels out of balance in any area, look carefully at the standards you have established and think how you may begin to place firmer boundaries around yourself so you can live a more focused, satisfying life.

© - Cindy D. Whitmer (October 23, 2010)