“Whatever you are willing to put up with, is exactly what you will have.”-Anonymous
It is never too late to learn about your boundaries. I am coming to believe that it is perhaps one of the aspects of living that most defines our maturity and facility for accomplishing our goals. Boundary issues are common to most of us; in fact, our personal boundaries are the basic, yet often invisible rulebook that guides all of our relationships. Our boundaries define how and what we communicate, what we give and receive, and even, in the most basic sense, provide the parameters for what we expect from others and life itself.
Boundaries reflect how we love ourselves and what we value most deeply. They impact our capacity at work, with authority, with our money and our sexuality. Knowing when we want to say yes, when we want to say no, what feels like self-respect and where our own needs start and end are the foundations that build the sense of boundaries that control our lives. Mine have long been porous, which is a generous way of admitting that my lines between myself and others, in family and even more so at work, have been fuzzy.
An old friend once told me that our boundaries are the truest measure of how we love ourselves. I thought I understood the meaning at the time. Raising four children should have bestowed on me a mastery of setting limits and protecting my personal space over the last two decades. It hasn’t. I am not alone in my struggle for healthy boundaries. Learning to define our boundaries is challenging for many people because they are fluid and change with our sense of ourselves.
In order to not deal with the changing nature of creating a true relationship between our selves and the people we love, people often over commit to rigid boundaries or under commit to any boundaries at all. This explains why many relationships swing between the “doormat and bulldozer” syndromes. On the one hand, we are accommodating to a fault, ever flexible and “nice,” which both makes us the self sacrificing loser in most conflicts and the self righteous victim. On the other hand, the bulldozer is ever conscious of his needs, but frequently unaware of the needs of others. Characterized by a strong sense of entitlement, this rigid boundary style tends to win at conflicts but loses respect and intimacy in their relationships, often without recognizing what they are giving up.
Sadly these extremes characterize many relationships, from intimate partnerships to family bonding and work contracts. Establishing a true center for our personal boundaries is not an education that most of us get growing up; rather we are hardwired with our invisible boundary rulebook instilled in us as our sense of self worth and esteem. It has taken me half my life to realize that I am a better friend, mother and partner to others when I am a friend to myself first. Drawing the line in relationships that are dysfunctional and unhealthy is the only positive response you can generate.