When I have a healthy boundary, I’m open to any outcome — I accept people and events as they are, in the same moment that I’m accepting myself as I am. My well-being simply is not contingent on who they are or what they do.
This doesn’t come naturally to me. To let a person be whatever they uniquely are, with no grumpiness on my part about it, means that I welcome not getting what I want. Getting something I don’t want is also acceptable. To repeat, this definitely does NOT come naturally.
Angela, four years old, likes strawberries, and she also likes her two goldfish. When she started to feed them bits of strawberries, we explained that the fish might get sick or even die if they ate strawberries. She was meeting the reality of boundaries, seeing that what was good for HER might not be good for someone else, even though she loved them. Clearly, not being able to share strawberries with Hippy and Spotty made her lonely.
She felt better, watching them eat fish flakes and blood worms. But, as you may have guessed, she soon decided to eat fish flakes and blood worms. She was still intent on removing the boundary between goldfish and little girls.
The Tale Wagged
Poor boundaries in grown-ups are not as cute. More than once, I’ve welcomed a “bull into my china closet,” only to spend a long time trying to repair the damage. Seldom do we look back on such adventures and say, “The mess they made – trashing my life – really helped them out a lot.” Usually, the “bull” had no real use for our “china” at all! Boundaries offer reasonable protection from the assaults of a sometimes hostile world.
How do you spot a “Boundary Issue?” Sometimes it feels like wanting to give away all your furniture so you can move in with somebody else. “Falling in love” often means throwing boundaries to the wind. More than once, I’ve been swept away by a new locale, a new movie, a new book, quickly manifesting my poor boundaries. (For years, if we were having a good vacation, I’d tell my wife “We’ve got to move here!” Fortunately, she say, “It is nice . . . let’s think about it.”)
Instead of “moving in,” it’s better to visit for a while first! Your home is nice, too — the one, that is, you’ve been building behind your eyes.
Yeah, but how do I put it into practice?
If you feel swept away by a “destination addiction” such as
- a new person,
- an island paradise,
- a new group, or
- a new idea,
don’t believe the buzz so quickly! Take a short break, let it separate from you. Enjoy it all you want, but promise yourself you’ll study it later from a calmer place. It’s possible to suspend the expectations that keep you attached, ruining your boundaries.
You’ll feel lonely at first, but just hang out with that for a little while.