Are you utilizing boundaries in every aspect of your life? Boundaries are important in each and every relationship, whether it’s with your children, parents, siblings, colleagues, neighbors, significant other, friends…everyone.
Sometimes folks hear the word “boundaries” and think “confrontation”, but that’s not accurate. Boundaries aren’t so much about confronting someone. It’s not about arguing or getting in someone’s face. Boundaries are actually about love.
When you love yourself enough to demand healthy relationships in your life, you’re using boundaries. And when you care enough about the relationship and the other person, you use boundaries to ensure a healthy relationship. If someone is abusing your relationship in any way and if you don’t speak up about it, you’re enabling that bad behavior. If nobody tells them their words or actions aren’t right, the silence almost speaks approval for what they’re doing.
So then, how do you enforce boundaries with family who keeps pushing them? First, let me tell you that not everyone is familiar with boundaries and some people are just repelled by them. This is especially true for narcissists, those who play victim, and people who don’t like to be told “no”. I’m not being harsh. It’s reality and when you read each of those descriptors, somebody you know probably came to mind.
You have to use your boundaries and like I said, it’s about love, so you don’t handle this harshly. But you do handle it firmly. You should set boundaries on how you’re treated, talked to, how your time and resources and generosity are appreciated, and so on…Consider the situation first: is your sister constantly late meeting you for lunch because she’s lazy? Or is it because she has four toddlers at home and you just can’t plan for what might make you late with four toddlers? If it’s the former, definitely speak up “Listen, sis, I love meeting you for lunch, but my time is valuable too. Going forward, I can wait 15 minutes, but then I’ll have to scoot.” If it’s the latter and you feel you can give her grace until her life is less crazy, give her grace.
Using boundaries with family is extra delicate and difficult…because it’s family. You probably would like to keep them in your life, and even if they’re frustrating people and maybe you’d rather not see them much, you will still probably feel bad if you didn’t see them anymore, because they’re family.
If they use abusive language towards you (or your kids or spouse or parents, let’s include those closest to you in here), you get to speak up right then. This is not acceptable and you can say so, “Excuse me, Bill, but that’s not appropriate and you should apologize to ____”. If “Bill” doesn’t apologize, don’t hang out with Bill. Distance yourself from Bill even at family gatherings. You can be in the same room and not have exchanges with Bill. Walk away. If Bill tries to pursue you, kindly but firmly say something like, “Bill, you’ve been very rude to my family with no remorse, and I just don’t feel comfortable being around you. I’m sure you understand.” Bill is on notice. You’ve kept your dignity by not yelling or exchanging barbs, but you’ve made your point.
You have a right not to be treated rudely, not to be mistreated, not to be insulted, and not to be taken advantage of. So it’s okay to speak up, with kindness and class, and say it’s not okay and I’m not going to allow it going forward. I repeat the “kindness and class” part because if you’re rude and nasty, you lose your ground. Part of using boundaries is teaching the other person about boundaries.
Again, if you even speak up (in love) one time, some people may walk. They may be so angry that you “dared” to stand up to them or tell them they’re wrong, that they may go all kinds of blocking on you. It happens. It’s happened to my family and it’s happened to many folks I know. It’s sad, it’s unhealthy on their part, but you can’t force someone to understand or appreciate boundaries. The people who respond in this way, have no boundaries in their own lives. And that’s very sad and very unhealthy. And we should pray for them.
I’ve written about boundaries on my own blog several times so feel free to go over there and learn about using boundaries at the holidays and in several other instances. I also recommend the popular book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Don’t be afraid to use your boundaries. It’s essential to your health and the health of your relationships. Be strong. You can do this!