December 15, 2015

TrishBits #16: A Bit MORE About Boundaries

You can’t do other people’s boundary work. You can only do your own.

Boundaries 2

Because of the winter holidays, most of us are getting more practice than usual in setting boundaries and resisting the impulse to respond to triggers with the emotional aplomb of a 10-year-old. My last TrishBits filled up my mailbox with questions. So, here’s a sampling of those Q&A’s that might make the upcoming family gathering a bit more relaxing.

Q: My husband is way too hard on our teenage daughter. He can make comments that cut her to her core. I’ve told him to stop and I’ve had many talks with her. It is so painful to watch! Just last night he started in after her. I stood in between them and faced him and set a boundary: I told him to stop! Loudly! But, honestly, I’ve done this so many times before. What else can I do?

A: My dear, you cannot set a boundary for other people. I know that you think that you are setting boundaries, but you are – really – getting enmeshed in other people’s business. That’s why it’s not working.

Boundaries are all about you – not about others. So, what boundary do you wish to set for how you want discussions to proceed in your own home? And – here’s the most important part – What are you willing to do to enforce your own boundary?

Check in with your mind, heart, and gut and decide how you will honor your boundary. Will you simply leave the room when discussions turn ‘mean?’ Will you take your daughter with you? Or, is she old enough to set her own boundary with her dad? Will you insist on couples coaching, or a separation, or an intervention? Again, you must decide what you will do to honor your boundary. Otherwise, ‘just telling him’ is actually adding to the drama in your household.

Q: I set a boundary and I’m just miserable because my whole family is mad at me. I told my in-laws that they could not babysit my kids because of my mother-in-law’s drinking. Now they harp on how hurt they are, my husband thinks I’ve overreacted, and I’m exhausted from the tension. I’m happy my kids are safe but this is just not working.

A: Actually, it is working remarkably well. Look what you’ve done:

You’ve set a boundary that has turned this family system upside down and inside out. You made the decision to set the boundary based on a careful consideration of your rational thinking plus your heartfelt concern plus your intuitive ‘gut’ feeling that your kids were at risk. You intervened within your area of influence – your children’s safety – and you have stood by your decision.

DON’T BACK DOWN. This family system only works in denial, and they’re trying to get you back into their way of thinking. It’s the only way that the system can stabilize, unless they address the problem drinking and its cause.

Your task is to tolerate the tension that emerges when you are not following the family ‘rules.’ And, you may need to set an energetic boundary for yourself when others are not pleased with you. It’s ok for people to be irritated by you. Breathe that in: It’s ok for your husband to be stressed about all this. It’s not ok for him to bully you into retracting your stand, and you may need to work on the boundaries in your marriage.

DO NOT CARRY THE FAMILY SHADOW OF DENIAL by wondering if they are right and you are wrong. Stop trying so hard to make it all better. Just be honest. You did not cause this problem. Gather love and support around you and be strong. You might need a coach….

Q: How do you detach emotionally from people who trigger you without becoming ‘numb?’

A: This is a fascinating question, because – really – peace is not numb. The surest way to be numb is to deny your body compass and to let people trample your boundaries. Detachment is not a lack of love – it is love in its purest form. You can still laugh, grieve, embrace, make passionate love, and feel supported by your extended family without losing yourself. If you are numbing yourself around others, get some coaching around that. It’s more dissociative than transcendent. You may need some support while you practice boundaries.

I wish you merry holidays, lots of laughter, and the willingness to let go of other people’s drama!

One response to “TrishBits #16: A Bit MORE About Boundaries”

  1. […] so I had to let it go.  I could not fix, meddle, or worry enough to keep 4 teens on course.  Instead, I developed some clearer boundaries, based on faith that what happens in our children’s lives is happening FOR them, not TO them.  […]

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