Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dr. Peevie on Healthy Boundaries

Everywhere I go, I see/hear/read about people having trouble with boundaries. It seems that for many people personal boundaries end up trampled in the dirt under the feet of other people's expectations. A lot of times setting a personal boundary means saying "no." And almost always, not setting appropriate personal boundaries brings unnecessary feelings of responsibility, stress, and guilt.

Feelings of responsibility, stress, and guilt are important in all relationships; and when they come from appropriate situations, they help us remember to treat people with kindness and respect--just the way we want to be treated.

But when those feelings arise from inappropriate situations, or a lack of appropriate and healthy boundaries, they are not helpful. They hurt our relationships, and they hurt our own emotional and mental health.

Before I go any further in our boundaries workshop, let me first acknowledge that I am just as emotionally unhealthy as the next person, and frequently moreso. I'm often depressed, moody, and hot-tempered. I am sometimes a martyr, and sometimes I'm just plain selfish and lazy. There's a whole bunch more, but I'm starting to feel bad about myself now, so I'll leave it at that. You get my point.

But boundaries, for some reason, I get. Maybe it's because my best friend is a therapist.

I was reading a blog written by a mom who was uncomfortable telling her child not to do something that other nearby parents were letting their kids do--because she didn't want the other parents to think she was judging them.

Call me rude or insensitive, but I would have no problem at all saying, "M. Peevie, do not climb that tree,' even if the other parents within earshot were letting their kids climb it. So the other parent thinks I'm too strict? Don't care. So the other parent thinks I'm judging her? Unfortunate, but not my problem. (I might actually be judging her, but not out loud.)

I am especially particular about boundaries in the parenting arena. I do not want other people parenting my children unless I or Mr. Peevie have turned over direct or implied responsibility. For example, if we're at your house, and you see my toddler approaching your irreplaceable collection of Lladro sculptures, I totally understand that you might want to step in front of her and redirect her. (Of course, an even better option might be to ask me to redirect her--but sometimes a situation calls for urgent action!)

But if I'm at the grocery store with my hand on the back of my child who is standing up in the cart, I do not appreciate the pimply grocery clerk telling my child to sit down because he might get hurt. I will be responsible for protecting him, thank you very much, person-who-is-making-minimum-wage-and-is-not-even-close-to-getting-laid-let-alone-becoming-a-parent. If you absolutely must insist that the child be seated in the cart, then please direct your instructions to me, but NOT to my child.

Here's another example: My friend Josephine helped her SIL plan and execute her wedding, and she was telling us about all the stress she had felt during the process. A lot of the stress was caused by the bride not being willing or able to make decisions, and as the wedding approached, major items on the plan-your-perfect-wedding checklist remained unchecked. Like the music at the reception, for example. And the flowers.

I felt bad for my friend because she had experienced such a stressful time. But at the same time, I did not really understand why she felt so much stress about a wedding that was not her own. Her SIL was making choices (or NOT making choices) that would have an impact on her own wedding, and the outcome was not only out of Josephine's control, but also not her responsibility. I understood that she wanted to help her SIL--but I could not understand desiring to help someone so much that their own negligence would cause me to feel stress.

So I said this to Josephine, and asked her why she felt so much stress. She said, "Because I care about my SIL, and I wanted her to have a really great wedding." OK--I get that. But again, isn't it possible to care for someone and want the best for them, but also to step back and let them bear the responsibility for their own choices?

In other words, under those circumstances, aren't you making a choice to feel stress about something that is out of your control? And why would you make that choice? Why would you choose to add unnecessary stress to your life?

One place where I'm not as good at setting boundaries as I'd like to be is with my parents. For some reason, I often let them suck me into arguments about theology or politics, and those discussions sometimes leave me feeling beat up. A person should be able to express opinions without being emotionally filleted--but in my family, if you step outside of certain lines, you better be wearing body armor.

I know I'm simplifying things a bit too much. But let's have a conversation about boundaries. Are you good at setting them? Have you set boundaries that people don't seem to get, or constantly try to erode? Do you worry too much about other people's feelings, at the expense of your own mental health?

1 comment:

jeanie said...

No, Yes, Yes and yes.