Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Boundaries - Why are they important?

Before I continue writing my thoughts about these issues, I want to add a bit of a disclaimer. I am not officially or clinically educated in the matters that I write about. My education comes from experience, discussion with others, Biblical studies, wise mentors, and lots of praying, thinking and pondering. I welcome discussion, and encourage readers to leave comments if you feel that there is something you want to add, question or correct. I give every effort to not implicate anyone except myself in my posts, with the exception of my daughter, who graciously gives me permission to write about her. It's a trust I honor.

And on that note, why are boundaries so important,anyway? Boundaries make the intricate dance of human relationships possible. They address a very important factor in each one of us - our wills.

When two people with two different sets of desires, wants and needs come together and form a relationship, a certain set of skills is required to enable the couple to move in unison when they need to, and to be freely separate when appropriate. That skill set involves the setting, maintaining, and respecting of each one's personal boundaries.

Without boundaries, every human interaction carries with it the potential for disaster. Chaos ensues as individuals fight to get their own way, each one looking to his own will and desires. Many of us know people who continually expect to get what they want, when they want it, and the idea that others also have needs or desires is a non-issue to them. Whether we are children, teens or adults, when we cannot bend our will to another and respect basic relational boundaries, we become miserable, angry, bitter people.

The fact is that we will never be able to get our own way as often as we want to in this world. We are also unable to develop meaningful, satisfying relationships with others if we are devoted to only ourselves. This combination of constant anger when our wills are frustrated and the lack of healthy relationships to give our lives meaning and joy means that we become truly miserable people. This need not happen.

The need to set and respect boundaries is an issue of control. If my friend and I want to go out to supper together, we may both have different but equally legitimate ideas about which type of food to try. I may want pizza, while my friend may have a taste for Indian food. How do we decide? Unless there's a mall food court near-by, one of us will have to lay down what we want for the sake of the other. We will have to work out a solution that each one is comfortable with. Boundaries will aid in this process, as they provide a basic set of guidelines for negotiating the differences.

So, picture my friend, Sandy, and I sitting in her car in her yard, trying to decide where to go to eat. She's on the Indian team, while I'm rooting for pizza. It may happen that Sandy can tell that her hunger for Indian food is not as strong as my pizza craving, so she will gladly go along with what I want. I may remember that I am planning on making pizza for the family on the week-end, in which case Indian might be a better choice. It may be that I am unable to eat strongly flavored food due to a digestive problem and when I communicate that to Sandy, she agrees that Indian is not a good choice. I may decide that since Sandy is driving, she should be able to choose the restaurant.

There are many ways Sandy and I can work this out. Boundaries work to restrict the negative, manipulative, selfish behaviors that would taint the process, and eventually, our relationship. Boundaries keep our exchange from becoming a power struggle. I should not try to get Sandy to back down by raising my voice, threatening not to go with her if she doesn't choose my way, passively-aggressively sighing and saying, "Well, I don't care, we'll do what you want...again", or agreeing to go to the Indian restaurant but then pouting or not engaging with her in conversation. Even if I do these things, and win the battle, I will lose much more than I gain.

This brings up an important point. People who routinely break the boundaries of others see these differences of desire and opinion as battles to be won. They tend to value the win more than the relationship. Sadly, they often feel the loss of the relationship deeply. Until we are able to admit that it is our intense, self-centred desire to have our own way that is causing us so much pain, we remain stuck in a relational pattern that leaves us perpetually angry, frustrated and lonely. The thrill of the win in no way compensates for the loss of relationship.

More tomorrow....

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