“There is a limit to the amount of misery and disarray you will put up with, for love, just as there is a limit to the amount of mess you can stand around a house. You can’t know the limit beforehand, but you will know when you’ve reached it. ”
— Alice Munro
The thing about boundaries is everyone has them. We all have places where we are defensively maintaining ‘something’, whether that ‘something’ is simple, or very complex. It can be we are safeguarding our time, our resources, our physical or emotional well-being or any number of other things. While we are busy doing this, so is everyone else. We cannot help but bump up against other people’s boundaries, just as surely as they will bump up against ours. It is the nature of relationship that we will, from time to time, have competing needs or interests.
Many times the reasons people give for estrangement come down to issues of navigating boundaries; identifying them, setting them, enforcing them, respecting them.
So how come some relationships and some people seem to navigate this tension better than others? How come sometimes we are able to assess the point of friction between our boundaries and that of another person, and come up with solutions that leave both parties winners; yet other times, there seems to be no place for give or take? These are a really important set of questions in the scheme of family estrangement.
Do you believe you're allowed to have boundaries?
It makes sense that we would spend some time considering our values and beliefs about boundaries. For instance, do you believe that all people are equally as entitled to boundaries? Do you believe some people deserve to have their boundaries respected over other people? This is often a cultural or age related belief. It can also be about power and control. Do some boundaries trump others? Do you believe yours trump other people’s? Do you believe other people should just ‘know’ your boundaries… that you shouldn’t have to explain them or make them explicit?
It's your life, do you know where your boundaries are?
It also makes sense that we think carefully about how we go about identifying our boundaries, setting our boundaries and enforcing them with others. How do we know a boundary needs to be set? How far will we allow ourselves to be pushed before setting a limit? Do we believe that ‘nice’ people don’t set boundaries? Do we have a strong investment in being perceived as “nice”or “giving”or “forgiving”? When is enough enough? Is it sooner …. or later …. or much much later? Are our boundaries overly self protective? Not protective enough? Can we enforce our boundaries respectfully? Do we have any ideas abut how we will respond when our boundaries aren’t respected?
We also need to take a look at how we respond when we bump up against other people’s boundaries. Are we respectful? Do we treat other people’s boundaries the way we would like ours treated? Why or why not? Sometimes we use boundaries as a means to control others. Sometimes others use them as a means to control us. Can you tell the difference between a reasonable boundary and one which is in effect to manipulate or control?
That’s a lot to think about.