When I was growing up, I was oblivious to such terms as ‘boundaries‘ or ’emotional object constancy’ or ‘individuation’, but clearly, every one of us grows up with some kinds of boundaries in our lives. We may not be aware of it as children, and even into adulthood, we often go along oblivious to the full implications of just what exactly boundaries DO in our lives and how it is they work.

We are familiar with being disciplined as children for certain ‘unacceptable’ behavior, or the ‘unwritten rules’ we become accustomed to in our family of origin, such as ‘what happens in the home STAYS in the home’, or “don’t talk to your father when such and such happens” or being required to gang up against certain family members in something that therapists often refer to as triangulation. And the list goes on. We may even have the understanding as adults that boundaries have everything to do with one word, and that is “NO”. But most of us, even as adults remain oblivious to how some of what I have mentioned has anything to do with boundaries. Or we have a misunderstanding of how boundaries work, and use them incorrectly, infringing our “boundaries” upon others as we lack the fuller understanding of what they truly are, and how in fact they work effectively.

I intend to spend a few weeks discussing the subject of boundaries, because as I have come across quite frequently… few people really understand them. It will be much too difficult to discuss everything there is to know about boundaries in just this one blog.

Now, the reality remains that most of our parents (or in your own parenting) didn’t get this ‘quite right’ in how you use boundaries in a family setting. And that is ok. I am not here to criticize your parenting, or my own parents for that matter. But I do recall, in my early twenties, that I felt like something was ‘missing’ in me, like the basic ‘rules of life’. I didn’t get a memo that I was supposed to get in order to move into my adulthood feeling ‘prepared’. I thought, “well, maybe everyone feels this way”, but still the lingering feeling like certain building blocks were not properly in place. So I began digging. Did I miss out on something that I was supposed to learn in childhood and what was it? What was it that caused me to be drawn to certain types of people, why did I wrestle with feelings of rejection, or a lack of self-worth? On and on the questions go. You may have your own set of questions. Like for instance, “why do I feel I am only loved if I perform well enough?” perhaps even, “who am I performing for, and why?” Why do you feel like you need to hide your feelings, or the parts of yourself you perceive is bad? Where did all of this come from?

I don’t want to get way ahead of myself here. I need to keep this as more of an introduction to get us thinking about the subject. I was delighted when I first heard the term ‘boundaries’ about 10 years ago and immediately went to the self-help section of a local bookstore (this was before I discovered I could order online through amazon.ca!!) and purchased a book on the subject simply entitled “Boundaries”, by Dr.’s Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The further I searched on the subject, the more aware I became. You have no idea how many different books on the subject I now have! But it was not until I discovered another book by the same authors I just mentioned that I began to get the answers to what I felt was my biggest question: “Were there lessons I was supposed to learn as a child that I just did not tune into the memo about? Their insights were profoundly insightful.

They narrowed down what we are supposed to learn in our upbringing into four main categories of need:
1. The need to attach and to bond.
2. The need to separate and individuate.
3. The need to know that our perceived bad parts and good parts are loved.
4. The need for adulthood.

This simple information has proven extremely insightful for me, as I tend to need to see ‘the whole picture’ in order for me to make sense of it.
I will get into those four needs in the next few blogs, but today I will simply mention what the authors start out with when they discuss the subject of boundaries. Grace and Truth.

The authors specically refer to the danger of one without the other. As you can imagine if you only ever receive grace and there is no discipline, you do not learn where you begin and others end, in order to respect the boundaries of others or even your own. You learn a sense of entitlement and irresponsibility for your own actions. You forever find yourself in the position of looking to others to ‘bail you out’ and you never know why you keep getting into the same situations over and over. This is because of a lack of structure. A lack of truth. A lack of discipline. A lack of someone parenting you with the tools to become responsible for your own actions in your adult life. Keep in mind that what I am sharing is not direct quotes from the authors I have mentioned, as it is the end result of years of studying the subject from many varying sources. But I love how the authors of the book Changes that heal (same authors as above) break it down so simply.

In just the same way that ‘grace only’ teaches irresponsibility, ‘truth only’ can be harmful as well. If all you get is limits and judgments based on your family’s ethical code of behavior, and no grace is applied, you reap what is sown. Guilt, anxiety, anger, judgment, criticism and other painful emotions. We could get into a bigger subject here as to who is it that defines truth. For each family or religious background, the answer may be different. I define truth according to the bible, so I will have my own particular brand of understanding the concept of truth. But for now, we will simply look at truth as moral values that your family goes by, not to diminish my own faith, but to suggest that truth is a universal subject, and whether you are of a particular faith or not, in a basic sense, the concept still works. If all you receive is judgment and criticism, you will either have an extremely low sense of worth, or become a judgmental and critical person yourself.

What works the best, is if we combine truth (limits and consequences) and grace (compassion, freedom and unmerited favor) together for a healthy developed sense of self. If we are delivered a healthy set of limits on behavior that is not ok, mixed with compassion and love, a child can grow into a person who is consistent, responsible, compassionate, able to set healthy boundaries, limit evil actions of others, able to confront in love, and basically grow into a very grounded individual over time. And time is key. If Grace and Truth are administered consistently over time, these wonderful attributes result. If there is inconsistency in what we are taught, we develop an inconsistent sense of self.

Sounds great huh? In an ideal world, maybe. But we live in the real world. Real people, real scars, imperfect beings doing the best we can. No family will make it through this process without some at least minor ill-effects. But we are to work that out into our adult years, over time, to fill in the missing gaps in our formative training. No parent will ever get it perfect, so don’t beat yourself over the head. But I will teach how each of us can take responsibility over the coming weeks for the only thing we can really take responsibility for – ourselves.

So there you have it. As summarized as I can be, the building blocks to building healthy boundaries MUST be accompanied by grace and truth working together over time to heal, correct and instruct the boundary injuries we have all incurred through uninformed parenting at best, or dysfunctional parenting due to many numerous contributing factors, which I will likely discuss in some of my future blogs on the subject.

Good luck on your journey towards discovering what a full life looks like, enjoying freedom and responsibility together, and learning to love and receive love as you were created to enjoy it. 

If you would like more information on Boundaries, check out the Boundary Development Program available on my website.  Hope to see you there!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.   

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach

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