By Christie Hunter: View Christie's Profile
The Need For Healthy Boundaries
As you consider setting a boundary in your life, you need to first have a reason or an understanding of why a boundary would be beneficial. To do this, we must understand how one relationship affects us and all other relationships in our life. As we invest in someone or something, such as a friend, a volunteer position, or our job, the energy and the time we spend takes from the resources that we have available.
Our Relationship Map
Take a few minutes to map out your relationships. Draw a circle for yourself. If you are married or have children, draw circles that intersect yours. These represent the fundamental and most important relationships in your life. Now, around your central circles, draw a circle for every person in your life that you have invested emtional energy in. For each friend, relative, student, mentor, family member, etc, in your life that you invest emotional energy into, draw a circle. Once you are done, draw lines from every circle and connect them to yourself. Now, put a percentage of your energy that you routinely invest into each person, and write that number in each circle. For example, if 25% of all your energy goes into your children, write "25" in the circle for children. If 50% of your energy goes into your spouse, put "50" in that circle. Fill in all the circles with the percentage of your energy you invest into each one. We will refer back to this map in a bit.
Myth: We Can Give More Than 100%
How many times have you heard people say something similar to "give it 110%," or maybe even "give it 200%!" This is a myth that we must dispel, because believing in it will lead you to a state of exhaustion and burnout.
You have a limit! All people are finite human beings with limits. Each of us has only 100% to give each day, each week, in our life. While we may like to think “I can give 110%”, just as a glass of water has a limit that it can be filled to, so do we as people have limits in what we can offer to others. Our 100% is unique to us and will be different from person to person based on our physical abilities, our emotional resources, and our cognitive understandings. If we are able to understand these limits, we will be a huge step ahead in developing a healthy environment and establishing healthy boundaries for our life and family.
Now here is a question for you: when you drew your map, did you total more than 100? If so, you should re-analyze your totals, because you can not give more than 100%. Secondly, how much did you reserve for yourself? Did you put everything into everyone else, and reserve nothing for yourself? How can we give to people, in a healthy way, when we sacrifice everything? For example, some parents believe in the idea of "100% self sacrifice". They would put 100 into the circle with their children. For people that do this, how much is left over for their spouse? Their family? Their friends? Themselves? The answer is zero. As you can see, this is clearly an unhealthy way to parent. Unless we leave some resources for ourselves, we have nothing to model, we are left drained, and exhausted.
One Bad Apple Affects Them All
Imagine that you have allocated, in a healthy way, all of your energy to your relationships so that everyone is healthy and growing. Imagine one little circle, say an in-law, is currently getting 5% of your total. Now imagine this in-law, who is getting 5%, starts demanding more. "More, more, more!" they demand as they insert and assert themselves into your marriage, and life. Feeling guilty, you allow this in-law to get more and more from you....the 5 percent grows to 10, then grows to 20 percent. My question to you is: if you start giving one relationship more of your resources, where are those resources coming from? Remember, 100% is our maximum limit, so unless you have deliberately reserved some of your energy, the only place it can come from is another relationship. As one relationship demands more from us, we have to take away from other relationships, and in the end everyone can suffer. In order to give that in-law 20% of us, we have to reduce what we give to our spouse, children, friends, and family- we have to take from them in order to accomodate the deamnding in-law. So in the end, all of your relationships can suffer simply from one bad apple whom you have not set boundaries with.
Respecting Our Limits
Another aspect to consider in recognizing we have limits is to look at the long term implications of trying to give more than 100%. When we extend ourselves and try to meet the needs and demands of those around us, we start to develop a sense of fatigue. As our body lets us know it is tired and we ignore it we move towards a chronic state of fatigue, burnout. This feeling of burnout, where we are not able to finish a task, always feeling tired, sense of living in a fog, or of running in circles and not moving forward in life leaves us with a lessened sense of enjoyment, fulfillment, and accomplishment in our life. These feelings can lead to sadness and depression.
Even at this stage we can recognize and begin to make changes by placing limits people that utilize our emotional resources. However, if we choose to continue to push through this sense of exhaustion, refusing to say "no" to people and instead just keep giving and giving, other relationships in our lives will suffer, and we face the possibility of further complications to our health. Stress and anxiety from the attempts to fulfill the needs and demands of others leaves us in a chronic state of burnout. Common ailments from stress and anxiety include abdominal issues, headaches, and lowered immune response to name a few. In order to best manage stress and the demands on our life, we need to look at setting healthy boundaries.
Additionally, by setting healthy boundaries we also have an opportunity to have a better relationship with those around us. When we have healthy limits on what we can offer to others, or how much of our emotional resources and time we can give, we create a healthy environment where we feel energized and motivated by the friendship. This establishes an important balance in our relationships where there is a give and take of who we are and what we want to share and invest in each other.
The Danger of Over-Giving
If we are chronically over giving to someone, or filling an excessive amount of their needs, always saying "yes" rather than saying "no", we actually thwart and hurt the relationship, hindering the person from growing and developing on their own. Whether it is one person in our life, or if it is our own need to “be needed” and help out, by recognizing these aspects, we are able to identify where a healthy boundary will grow the relationship rather than limit it.
So, as you consider setting boundaries and wonder “why bother”, consider your own personal health and the health of the relationships in your life as significant reasons to place parameters, to define, or to better identify your role in the world around you.
Next Week, we will delve into the task to creating boundaries. Now that we know what they are, and why we need them, we may ask the question "How do I set them?" We will explore the answer to this in the next article.