My Line in the Sand
Boundaries--when I say that word, what do you think of? It could be so many things. To a surveyor it could have to do with the perimeter of the land he is surveying. For an athlete, it could mean the area that marks the extent of the field or court. To me, this word most often has a very different meaning. My meaning is similar to that of Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend's, derived from the contents in their book Boundaries. Boundaries has become one of my favorite books, applicable to all parts of life, and a part of almost every client session I provide. I feel like these authors are sitting next to me most days. In their book, Townsend and Cloud are referring to emotional boundaries, in which there is a delineation between what I am responsible for, what I own, and what another person is responsible for, or owns. For many people this is a new concept and honestly you may be sitting there feeling very confused. So let me break it down in a practical sense...
Say you have a five-year-old child who whines incessantly. I bet no one can relate to that, right?! (not!) So, anyway, you tell your five-year-old child that the next time she whines, she will be in time out. Sure enough, she whines again and so you put her in time out. The clever child proceeds to roll out an academy-award-winning guilt trip in which she tries to accuse you of not making the consequences clear enough. Being the strong parent that you are (yes, you can be!), you remind the child that she was responsible for the choice she made (to continue whining) and therefore incurs the consequence. If you were to fall prey to her guilt trip, you would be taking on undue responsibility for her actions and letting her cross the boundaries you had set in place. As the parent, your responsibility was to place the boundary/standard of behavior, and the child’s responsibility was to stop whining and obey, otherwise there was a natural consequence.
It works with adults too—like when you tell someone that their actions hurt your feelings and the person also performs an academy-award-winning guilt trip on you (see a theme with guilt here?). You could feel badly you “hurt” their feelings by sharing that they hurt you, but the wise you would realize that you do not need to be responsible for how they feel simply because you set a boundary. You set a line in the sand that said, “Those actions are not okay. Please change.” Because in any relationship, if there is fear to be authentic, there can be no freedom. That is according to Townsend, Cloud, and Jesus in the Bible when Christ said that “perfect love casts out fear.” And when there is fear, you can be sure that anxiety and depression are not far behind. In addition, those who struggle with codependency have boundary issues too, though that is a post for another day:)
So let today be the start of a new day. When you find yourself feeling unnecessary guilt, when you feel you have to make up for others’ shortcomings or constantly pick up their slack and start to feel frustrated, when your child has you convinced you are the worst parent in the world for not getting the newest gaming system, remember to stake out new boundaries. Give them back their responsibilities and only own what is yours. I have seen time and time again: as my clients—and myself—grasp these concepts, they are happier, more energetic, and amazingly emboldened to love more freely. It’s time to stake your boundary in the sand.