Using Boundaries to Create Healthy Relationships
September 29, 2021
Using Boundaries to Create Healthy Relationships
Have you ever had arguments or disputes with your parents? I bet we all have. I remember one significant occurrence with my dad, the man who loved and raised me the best he could. I was in my mid-20s and had just returned from a three-month trip to Ireland. Returning home, I went to see my dad at his office. We were warm and happy to see each other in the beginning, but our visit turned south quickly when my father shared his disappointments with me—disappointments he had been holding in for months. He was upset and said my decision to go to Ireland was foolish and irresponsible because I had no health insurance. The fact that I have epilepsy drove his fearful thoughts. I could spend a lot of time dissecting his fears, which must have been flooding his lizard brain. However, that’s not what this post is about. My dad’s level of fear was so great that his lack of ability to communicate about his emotions became a problem in this scenario. My father’s fear and what appeared to be anger and disappointment in me became very loud.
My Dad and I
I need to pause here for a moment and state for the record that my dad and I had a lot in common. We were both stubborn. We both loved being right. We were both very passionate about life. So, naturally, I responded with a similar level of verve. However, my verve, which may have started out as loud, changed when sometime, somehow, I decided I did not want to continue this argument. I told him that I would not be spoken to in that manner, and I walked out of his office.
Opportunity for Growth
Unbeknownst to me, I had set one of the first boundaries of my life. I probably had never heard of boundaries or setting them at this point in my life. However, I knew that I did not appreciate being spoken to in that manner. Unequipped with good conversation tools at this age, I turned to a behavior that would stop, even just for a time, this onslaught of what felt like verbally unwelcoming and unloving behavior. My body and my being somehow communicated to me that this did not feel good or right.
What I Allow and What I Do Not Allow
It would take me years to realize that this was the beginning of learning how to be in relationship with other people. This learning would continue for the next 30 years, and I still continue to learn every day. What I have come to realize is that we as individuals are constantly teaching others how to be in relationship with us. We do this by letting people know what we will allow and not allow in their interactions with us. This is crucial to understand. We have tremendous power that we don’t realize. It’s not a power over people. However, it is an energy within us that we can turn to when we feel like we are being disrespected or devalued. We can say, “Stop.” We can leave the conversation. We can politely tell someone, “It doesn’t appear that you are able to have this conversation in a civil and respectful way right now; therefore, I am going to disengage now. When you are ready to have this conversation more calmly, I will be here.” The beauty of this last part is that you have communicated to the person who is upset that you are not building a wall or leaving the relationship or canceling them out of your life. You and your heart are still open to being in relationship with them. You just desire a healthier communication than the one that is currently happening.
The Difference Between Boundaries and Walls
There is a world of difference between a healthy boundary that is meant to show yourself compassion and care and a wall that ends a relationship forever. The former states that you believe in the other person and still care for them. A wall says that you do not believe change is possible. To cancel someone means “I no longer see you as worthy of my time.” To cancel someone is to “other” them, which is when people we deem others different or less than.
For the record, my father and I did not speak for many months. To this day, I don’t feel badly about this. I can honestly say that my relationship with my dad after this chapter was very different and felt more loving, meaningful, and fulfilling for both of us. I think we began to create a new relationship or a new normal for the two of us together.
I have a strong desire to share some of the great resources that are helping me understand myself and the world I live in. Amend: The Fight for America is a brilliant limited series on Netflix. It is hosted by Will Smith and looks at the fight for America through the lens of the 14th amendment! This series is very well done and is so helpful to understanding our country and where we are right now!
What the Constitution Means to Me is a groundbreaking play written by Heidi Schreck. Amazon wisely filmed it and made it accessible for all of us. I hope every person in the United States sees this play. As a former teacher, I wish it would be taught in classrooms! It’s that amazing!
I have been reading Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents. Wow! What an amazing book! First, her writing is spectacular and some of the best writing I have ever seen. Additionally, this is a book that everyone should read. It’s that good and that important! Wilkerson examines the undeclared caste system that has shaped America. She has done extensive research and masterfully shares with the reader what she has learned. She compares the caste systems of America to Nazi Germany and India. This is a must-read to better understand yourself and the country many of us call home.