Reclaim Your Life by Creating Healthy Boundaries

Create Healthy BoundariesDo you feel less joy these days?  Does it feel like everyone else owns a piece of you and there is nothing left?  Do you dream to have 15 minutes of uninterrupted time so you can reconnect with yourself?  Is your life a harried record of accomplishments and yet never-ending to-do lists? Would your personal profile be listed in the dictionary under the word “busyness”?  You may sadly chuckle and infer these questions are tongue-in-cheek, but the reality is that an answer of “yes” to any of these questions is a sobering reminder of how stressed and anxiety-ridden many are as they run, not walk, on the treadmill of American life.  Unfortunately, the solution is not as easy as advertised by the late 1980’s commercial “Calgon, take me away!” in which a woman, surrounded by a chaotic home, says these four words and is then transported to a relaxing bath in a quiet room.  If only the solution could be solved so simply by the purchase of a few bath products and an evening soaking in the tub.

What’s the solution?

The solution is within your power to implement.  Personal boundaries!  They are the critical component in designing the life you want.  “Boundaries provide the structure to your character that will make everything else work” (Cloud, 2008).  Boundaries affect how we relate to others, how we feel emotionally, and how we perform at work.  When you understand the impact of boundaries and choose to define them for your life, you will reconnect with your identity, find more joy, and create a healthier and more satisfying life.  The necessity of personal boundaries has emerged as a counter force to the crisis that has developed from an increasingly structureless society that values the integration of work-life, despite the rhetoric that we need to have more of a work-life balance.  American culture and work have eroded the time and space boundaries we need to focus on the priorities we value most.

How did we get here?

So how did we get to this place of exhaustion and dissatisfaction?  Work structure has changed from the typical 9 to 5 hours of operation to one in which we are to be available 24-7, where working in the evenings is just an extension of the normal work day.  Work has penetrated our home space by either design or creep.  Bortolot (2015) states that the home office is now one of the most important residential amenities.  Even if one can physically separate his work environment within the home, he may not be able to mentally escape work.  How many of you have tried to relax in the evening, only to feel the nag of work penetrating your thoughts?  Do you compromise by opening up your laptop while watching your favorite TV sitcom?  Although society praises the multi-tasker, they are usually pulled in so many directions, they struggle to enjoy anything other than the satisfaction that comes from crossing off more items on their to-do list.  Keim (2012) showed that high multi-taskers performed poorly at filtering irrelevant from relevant information, had diminished ability to mentally organize, and experienced difficulty in switching between tasks.  Keim (2012) concluded if you do two things simultaneously, you will not do any of them at full capacity.

Although our lives have all benefited from technology, the tragedy is that it has also enabled the violation of our time and space boundaries.  Personal cell phones allow access to you at all times.  iPhones and computers give instant access to data and connectivity to work.  Email has expanded our network so strangers can now reach into our personal world.  Although email was initially described as a productivity enhancement, anyone with an email address is now accessible at any time by any one.  Email and voicemail can be blessings, but without personal boundaries, you may feel email is a curse because of the pressure to respond to communication, even if unsolicited.  By definition most people are losing control over their most precious resource—their time.  Money can be earned, won, spent and lost, but time is a finite resource.

TolerateBoundaries help us define who we are and form a structure in our lives that allows us to regain control (Cloud, 2008).  Boundaries protect your time, space, and relationships so that you can positively influence your world. Our society does not naturally provide the support that helps us to create and live out healthy boundaries.   Cloud (2008) asserts that “the irony is that most people are so caught up in trying to control the things they cannot control—other people, circumstances, or outcomes—that in the process they lose control of themselves” (p. 21).  The only thing you can control is yourself, so consider the decision to take control of you.

How do I reclaim my life?

  • Understand what a boundary is and what it does

A boundary is a demarcation of where you end and where someone or something else begins.  Boundaries define ownership and who controls what does and does not go on in that space.  More importantly boundaries define who is responsible for and accountable to protect that space.

  • Understand what boundaries provide and how they serve your needs

Boundaries provide the structure that helps to define our character and personality, because they describe who we are, what we want, and how we feel and think.  Clear boundaries provide security and benefit self and others, because they are not ambiguous, are predictable, and signal what we will and will not tolerate. They help to contain chaos, because one who is clear on boundaries will step in to make sure chaos is effectively dealt with.

  • Define what you feel, think, and desire

Boundaries differentiate us from others and teach us how we are unique individuals in feelings, attitudes, behaviors, limits, thoughts, and choices.  What are the things that you value most in life?  How would you ideally want to live your life?  What do you want to make a priority?  What are your vision, mission, and goals?

  • Identify the holes in your boundaries

Rebuilding boundaries is about reclaiming your power.  Power drains have numerous sources as described by Cloud (2008): need for security, need for approval, need to be perfect, need to have others see you as ideal, need to overidentify with other people’s problems, need to rescue, fear of being alone, fear of conflict, need for harmony, fear of differing opinions, fear of anger, fear of feeling inferior, fear of someone’s power, inability to say no, inability to hear no or accept limits, inability to tolerate failure of others, hero worship, lack of internal structure, and dependency to name a few.  You should identify the holes in your boundaries and address them.

  • Communicate who you are to others

Set limits consistent with your vision, mission, values, and goals and communicate them to others.  You empower others by allowing them to decide and live with the consequences defined by your boundaries.  By default, you will no longer try to control others’ decisions and actions, because you can live with the outcome of whatever decision they make. Communicating and living within your boundaries is a form of respecting others and also provides a healthy model for them to emulate.

  • Act on your boundaries

Live each day in accordance with your boundaries.  When you are in control of your boundaries, you become a more integrated person, gain greater respect for yourself, and become more respectful of other people’s boundaries.  Boundaries allow you to influence others’ behaviors toward you, which by default makes you feel whole and more in control.

What is the cost of boundaries?

Having boundaries comes comes with a personal cost.  In order to have full control, you need to have the freedom to control those aspects of your life where you have boundaries. You can only leverage them if you are not dependent on any single person or entity for survival, because the one to whom you are dependent may decide to invoke their boundaries and put you in an untenable position.  As you work on defining your personal boundaries and areas of weakness, you should also take inventory of your life to understand where you have weak capital.  Has poor financial stewardship put you in a position that you could not weather a job lose for several months should you decide to invoke your boundaries?  Would a work dismissal cause you undue hardship?  If so, you may need to save for an emergency fund to build that capital.  What about the young adult, still living rent-free with his parents, who does not like his imposed curfew?  He is not free to come and go as he pleases as a fully functioning adult, because he may be asked to pack up his belongings and move out.  His first step should be to build his financial capital so he can either re-negotiate rent for more freedom or secure other living arrangements.  Before invoking boundaries, you must end any dependency and be able to live with the boundaries that any other individual may choose to impose on you.

CAUTION:  Establishing boundaries for the first time may come with some emotionally charged responses from others in your life.  You may likely find that those people who have boundaries respect you more, and those people who do not live with boundaries will resort to behaviors that will test the strength of yours.  Think of the parent who has told his toddler no.  Toddlers use the word no to try to establish their boundaries.  When they do not get their way, they step up with more emotional persuasion.  Next may come yelling, screaming, and possibly throwing things to get their way.  They may fall on the floor in a full-blown tantrum.  They may say, “I hate you,” as a means of hurting you into giving in.  When you are firm on your boundaries for long enough, a toddler will eventually wear themselves out and move on.   You may have to repeat this cycle a few times; however, when a toddler knows his parent is firm on a boundary, compliance prevails in the long run.  This same principle also holds true for family, friends, or work relationships.

References

Bortolot, L. (2015). Four trends in home office design. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248061

Cloud, H. (2008). The one-life solution: Reclaim your personal life while achieving greater professional success. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Keim, B. (2012).  Is multitasking bad for us? Nova Science. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/is-multitasking-bad.html


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a life, premarital/marriage, and business coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership.  She coaches others in how to develop and execute life plans, develop successful businesses, and build better relationships by identifying and living their personal values, enhancing skills and competencies, and being held accountable for executing their defined goals.

To Judge or Not to Judge?

cropped-shinecrossings_mainlogo.pngWho likes to judge or be the judge?  How often do you find yourself judging?  To whatever frequency you just admitted, I bet if you thoughtfully played back those daily rituals in your mind, you would surprise yourself in how much more judging you do than first thought.  You probably judge the taste of your cup of java (“ah, so good” or “ugh, that’s bitter”), your reflection back in the morning mirror (“yikes, look at those bags and dark circles under my eyes”), and those other drivers on the road (“pay attention, what an idiot”).  What are some of your thoughts when you arrive at work?  How about the casual assessment of your colleague’s work (“that sucks, he should have been fired a long time ago”), the choice of your coworker’s attire (“what was she thinking”), and how about the leadership of your boss (“I could do better with half a brain”).   Some of these judgments may be extreme, but you have to admit not uncommon.  As humans we are so quick to judge without much thought, as if our judgment is fed from our five senses fueling our emotions which override our thinking brain, and in some cases, just barely stops at the tip of our tongues.  How did it hear, look, taste, smell and feel?  Did our ability to make quick judgment stem from our humanistic need for survival—the ability to make a quick threat assessment and spring into action to protect ourselves and ensure our safety.  God made humans with this beautiful part of the brain called the “pre-frontal cortex” which gives us some incredible abilities that surpass all other living creatures on earth.  Our pre-frontal cortex gifts us with the ability not to act on impulse or innate reflexes but to use reason and logic in assessing our living situations.  So why don’t we seem use it more?  Why is it so easy for us to pass judgment with hardly giving it a second thought?  Could it be that we have not been burned badly enough by our quick conclusions to exert more cortex capacity?  Humans can be conditioned!

So what does it feel like to be judged?  When I ask this question, I am sure you can immediately conjure up a few examples that bring a twinge of pain even today after many years.  Are you having a bit of an emotional rise?  Unpleasant at best, maybe a bit angry at worst.   As you dwell on some of these painful memories, some thoughts you may have are “but I just didn’t have a choice,” “I was young, stupid and didn’t get any slack,” and “if only they could walk in my shoes they would understand why I did what I did.”  You may be right.  If I walked in your shoes at that moment, I may have done exactly what you did and have more compassion for you today.   You were judged, convicted and sentenced!  Welcome to prison!  You may not be incarcerated, but you are still a prisoner in your own mind.  You cannot erase that memory or pain of how you were judged.  Perhaps you feel you served your sentence by making amends, but why does it feel like the punishment is still life imprisonment?   Being on the receiving end of judgment can be painful and leave scars for a lifetime.  So if we can agree that being judged is unpleasant at best, why do we continue to give out what we hate to receive?

Let me clarify one point that typically comes into the discussion on judgment.  Many people use discernment and judgment interchangeably, especially in the Christian world.  Aren’t those the same?  Not exactly.  Discernment assesses value and typically leads to action whereas judgment just labels.  Discernment is wisdom and understanding whereas judgment is an assessment of right or wrong, good versus bad.  You can have discernment that a situation is unsafe, then take appropriate action to ensure your safety.  Judgment would describe a situation as unsafe but not necessarily imply action.  As humans we need discernment, but judgment does not serve ourselves or others as well.  Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Not true!  Hurtful, judgmental words cut deeper than any knife could, and many of those internal wounds may never heal.  How many kids on the playground may have shouted those words in return to judgmental statements such as “You can’t hit the ball.  I don’t want you on my team,” or  “You’re wearing flood pants, did you borrow them from your baby brother?” Yes, I was a victim then.  I now know that those cruel words left the mouth of babes because their immature pre-frontal cortex, yet you know, as  a teacher supervising that playground, you might have thought those same words.  Of course, you kept your mouth shut. If everyone understood the eternal, faithful love that God has for us, no one would be able to hurt us with words or actions, because we would understand that our identity and self-worth only reside in our loving God.  Unfortunately, we do not live in this perfect world; therefore, work, possessions and human relationships have a heavy influence on people’s sense of self-worth and ability to feel loved and valued.

I will stipulate that judgment and subsequent consequences are completely appropriate and necessary in our law system.  However, I will be honest that my heart breaks for those who have made mistakes, served their prison sentence, but have walls to climb in order to integrate back into community despite their deep desire to contribute to society.  In the best of circumstances, think about those adults who have been convicted of a minor “F”elony, never harmed another individual, and only served probation.  I have one of those friends who was convicted of drug possession, sentenced to probation for his first offense, but has to wear the “F” on his shirt like a scarlet letter.  With his felony status he cannot live in any apartment complex, has few job opportunities, and is constantly judged unworthy.  He is trying to do better but the system and community are both intentionally and unintentionally working against him.  Sometimes the difference between a felony is only one person getting caught and the other not.   We are all human, have weakness and possible addictions.  Maybe he had too much dependence on marijuana which got him into trouble. Addiction is addiction and can manifest itself differently with each individual.  Hoarding, alcohol, food, spending money, exercise and pornography can all become addictions if the behavior is taken to extreme, yet we typically judge people who have these additions differently.  Why?  Because those addictions happen to be legal, whereas in most states marijuana is still illegal.

Can we not have more compassion for those who are trying to help themselves in the moment?  Can we stop labeling people as good or bad and start labeling people as hurt and in need or healthy and blessed?  My heart hurts for those who are suffering under the heavy weight of judgment.  I cannot change the world, but I can call it out with the hope that people will have greater pause and hopefully more awareness of their judgment.  Instead of judging, why not lend a helping hand, or extend a kind word or gesture.  Lift a human brother or sister up with words of affirmation versus tearing them down.  But you may say, “I don’t say anything.  I keep my thoughts to myself.  My thoughts can’t hurt anyone.”  I would disagree; those negative thoughts are carried in your body language and manifest themselves in choices of behavior towards others whether you are conscious of it or not.

And for those of you who made it to this point and thought, “Isn’t she judging?”  My reply is, “Yes I am! I admit it. I’m judging with a purpose.”   Am I suggesting that as humans we will suspend all judgment?  Of course not, we all fall short of perfection.  As sinners we can only challenge ourselves to do better!  We should take the plank out of our own eye, before trying to remove the speck out of our brother’s, as our own sin blinds us to the truth of the situation.  My hope is you will be more thoughtful every time you catch yourself judging.   Might this be one of those times where you make a different assessment or choice and change a life with words of encouragement or actions of a loving hand up?  I pray that you do!  I leave you with this final thought:  Your judgment may say more about you than it does about the person you judge!