Living With Boundaries: A Snake's Tale


Are you living in an appropriate environment with healthy boundaries?

My daughter has a California King Snake named Jake. For almost 10 years, Jake has healthily and quietly reposed in a large aquarium, dining on a thawed, previously frozen mouse weekly.  Jake likes to leave the aquarium to explore the outer world, but we've learned that he needs appropriate boundaries outside his aquarium.

One evening years ago, my husband held Jake's tail while sitting in his Lazy Boy recliner and talking to family members. None of us noticed as Jake's long body slithered inside the chair, wrapped around its inner metal workings, and became stuck. We worked hard to dislodge Jake without harm, but nothing worked. That is, until my husband brought out the WD-40, sprayed the stuck spot and gently pulled Jake out of the Lazy Boy.  After a few days, the constricted indentation around Jake's body released and he was as good as new. What did we learn? While appropriate boundaries encourage safety for Jake the snake, inappropriate boundaries can lead to a tight squeeze.

Many of us understand the importance of boundaries for pets. Fences and leashes keep other dogs from getting in our dog's space. An indoor bunny condo keeps our rabbit safe while it protects our home from unsupervised nibbling teeth. Clearly, appropriate boundaries promote healthy relationships with our pets. The same is true for humans. What are healthy boundaries for humans? Think of a boundary as your personal property line—it clarifies what you are and are not responsible for in life. A boundary indicates how you define yourself, shows the world who you are and who you aren't, sets limits and establishes consequences if others try to control you.

Without healthy boundaries, a mom may be unable to separate her own past from her teen's present experience. A man may act as his son's friend and fail to function as a father. A wife may sacrifice her well-being trying to control the addiction of her spouse. A child may become responsible for regulating his parent's mood. In each of these examples, where is the personal property line of the mom, the father, the wife, the child? Lacking healthy boundaries, maybe each feels a little like Jake the snake, caught in a tight squeeze. Perhaps it's a good time to examine our relational property lines and determine if we have healthy boundaries. The good news is that boundaries can change!

If you feel stuck, maybe it's time to examine your boundaries in relationships. An individual counselor or couples counselor can help you establish healthy boundaries. If you're in Northen Virginia, contact me at I'd like to help. (Don't worry, Jake the snake does not make office visits).

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