I’ve been reading the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It is such a good book that I am just devouring it.
I had some time last night in the garden all by myself, weeding, just me and my thoughts. The kids were in bed. Husband was inside. The dogs were outside with me, but being quiet. I had some time to just sit and think and process and integrate everything I have been reading. It was a really good time.
I realized, though, that I have some serious boundary issues. I say yes to everything. If anyone has an idea or a need, I’m game. Even if initially I think, “no, I’d rather not” or “that’s probably not a good idea”, ultimately, I have an extremely hard time saying no or backing out. It’s only once I’ve completely overwhelmed myself that I am finally able to cut through the clutter and not without a LOT of thinking and consideration and, generally, talking to someone else to help me to finally make the decision.
What I have learned from this book is that, in Boundary terms, I am what they call a compliant. I comply with everyone’s wishes and desires, regardless of my own thoughts and feelings. And often, I don’t really even know what my own thoughts and feelings on a subject are. If you’ve ever seen Runaway Bride, I don’t know what kind of eggs I like. I like everybody else’s eggs.
So as this epiphany struck me last night, I realized that I need to take a couple steps.
- I need to back out of a not-yet-started commitment.
- I need to decline a particular leadership position in a group I’m in.
- I need to do more reading to understand more about how I ended up like this and what I can do to try to establish, maintain, and defend my boundaries.
Last night, I declined the leadership position and offered myself up for a different one that I believe would suit me better. The hard thing about setting and enforcing a boundary as a compliant is the intense anxiety one feels waiting for the response. And man, it is intense. Physically, my stomach was in knots, my throat was aching, and I was nearly in tears. Just from the anxiety.
In my head, I knew that it wasn’t a big deal. No one was going to get angry or be disappointed, and heck, they’d probably even let me stay in the group. The logic was there, but it had absolutely no bearing on my emotional state. I had to force myself to actually hit send on the message. I sat there, contemplating, waiting, watching, hearing that tiny voice say ‘Is it really such a big deal? You could do it and not bother everyone else. After all, you already said you’d do it. What an inconvenience for everyone to have to now fill this spot.’
As I listened to my inner voice bully me, I knew I had to do it. I had to take control of this boundary. After all, Jesus promises LIFE. He wants us to do things that are life-giving, not life-sucking. To give and serve cheerfully as we have set our minds to do, not because we feel we must. Not because we feel obligated. Not because we feel bullied by our inner selves.
So I did it. And you know what? Everyone was completely supportive. Exactly as my logical mind said. Nothing like my anxiety said.
But that’s not the end of the story. That is usually where the story ends, isn’t it? Happily ever after.
It’s not true. Today, I am still suffering emotionally. I am owly. I have a short temper. I am on edge. I still feel the intense weight of that decision. I can’t help but feel like I’ve let all these people down. I still feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach. That little voice is asking me if everyone was just being nice. It’s asking when their true feelings will come out, how long it will take for them to push me out. I’m tempted to rescind my decline. Like REALLY tempted.
You see, boundaries aren’t easy to set. They aren’t easy to even identify sometimes. But they are important. Boundaries are what keep us healthy as individuals. We MUST have them.
The next section I need to re-read (I re-read the compliant section last night) is how boundaries are formed. I remember the authors said that our ability or inability to set our own and respect the boundaries of others are formed very early in life. How we were parented. How we were responded to by them. How we were disciplined. When we were disciplined. All the things that happened in a time that we won’t have actual memories of do a lot to shape our sense of ourselves and our ability to relate to ourselves and others.
I don’t remember any more than that from my first read-through, but it sure informs my own parenting. My own kids are in a time of their lives that they likely won’t have any actual memories of, but these are the years that will form their sense of self, their ability to create boundaries, their ability to interact with the world.
It has taken me 30 years to realize this. I once saw a pastor for counseling and I think he was the one who gave me this book, 12 or 13 years ago. It has sat on my shelf, unread, all that time. Unfortunately, I simply wasn’t ready emotionally at that time to grow in the way I needed to. How much heartache would have been saved! I can’t change the past, though. I can, however, begin to understand how my past has shaped my present and informs my future.
I have a feeling I have a lot of anxious conversations and owly days ahead. I have a lot of self-discovery to do, a lot of growing. Lord help me survive this because I cannot do it on my own. I want to be mature and free and feel good about my boundaries, but I’m not there yet. Oh, do I have a long way to go. I will need God by my side every step of the way and fortunately for me, this is precisely his area. For when I am weak, he is strong.