By Christie Hunter: View Christie's Profile
Implementing boundaries in your life and relationships begins with a conscious choice towards healthy and hopeful change. The decision to have different priorities and a new focus for your personal resources requires that you are prepared for both how you will feel about the change as well as how others may react to the adjustments. These reactions and responses are what are known as resistances. We experience these resistances to change when we feel anxious that the new limits will result in not having a need met that is significant in our life. Understanding what these resistances are, both within ourselves, the internal resistances, as well as the reactions from those around us, the external resistances help to prepare us to maintain the boundaries and move towards healthy relationships.
When you consider pulling back, or limiting what you have to offer, the emotions you feel regarding this decision may cause you to question whether this is the right choice. These feelings are the internal resistances to change. Overcoming them is the first step to ensuring you are able to successfully implement the boundaries that will lead to healthy relationships. You may experience a feeling of guilt since you are not offering as much time to a friend as you have in the past. Or you may be limiting the information you share with a relative due to confidentiality not being respected. Regardless of the reason for the boundary, we are often faced with a sense of internal uncertainty as we move forward with change as we do not know and cannot control how the other person will respond.
It is important that we work through the issues that cause us to feel this anxiety. If we are uncomfortable with change or don’t like the unknown, changing patterns of behaving and relating to others can create a sense of fear. We cannot control how the other person will react to our new limits and this uncertainty may create a sense of immobility in us moving forward. Recognizing these feeling allows you to prepare for them as you are making change. Being prepared allows us to be better able to handle these feelings if they become a factor in maintaining the healthy boundaries we are setting.
Deciding to implement boundaries does not require acknowledgment or agreement from the other person. As a result of this, when we begin to make changes, the friend or family member may react or respond to our new limits in a way other than complete acceptance. These reactions are external resistances to the limits we are placing on the relationship. Some common reactions we may be faced with are anger as we no longer may spend as much time with the other person, or we may been seen as unfair and unloving if we no longer continue to invest emotionally at the same level. It is important to be aware that all change is met with some type of response.
In the most extreme situations, an individual who does not agree with the changes you make can attempt to match your healthy boundary with a protective reaction of their own. This can include complete withdrawal from you and from the relationship in an attempt to control the direction of change. Unfortunately, we have no control over the other person’s response or their agreement to the changes in the relationship. Again, being prepared for the individual’s reaction helps us to respond to this in a planned and rational way rather than to react and have one of our internal resistances triggered.
Maintaining boundaries is an ongoing process. It is a part of making healthy changes in your relationships that requires ongoing effort and awareness. Keeping your focus on the reason for the changes, on the limits of your resources and what you can invest in others without reaching a point of burnout, helps to move you through the periods where internal or external resistances make the maintenance of boundaries difficult and challenging.
Next time we will look at some special situations where those we are setting healthy boundaries with try to work around them and find ways to keep things the way they were.