June 28, 2021
Over the years, I certainly have. This is based, in part, on my natural giving nature, as well as my profession. (Yes, there are days when working as a licensed psychologist doesn’t work to my advantage!)
I’m reminded of a season in my early 30s when I found myself a newbie in Los Angeles. I moved there from the South and quickly realized that my Southern ways didn’t align as neatly as I’d hoped in the City of Angels. I arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on the world. My heart space was wide open and ready to serve those in need. Unfortunately, my lack of boundary setting set me up for some pretty upsetting moments.
For example, I recall befriending a homeless woman as I traveled home on the train one day. I’m not sure what it was about her story that touched me, but I found myself going out of my way to find her. Feed her. Listen to endless stories about her past and current hurt. Explore what events led to her homelessness.
After months of regular interactions, I began to consider her a friend. I’d shared some personal things with her and felt as if she’d done the same. It felt nice to connect with someone, even though the relationship was as unconventional as one could be. That is until the day she reminded me I was “only the lady who gave her food,” as well as unloaded a string of expletives directed at me for not showing up on time one day with food.
WHAT? I felt stunned. How in the world had I not seen what the relationship was all about? I felt dumb for being so naive throughout the experience. At the same time, I learned a hard lesson about the importance of boundary setting in relationships.
Here are a few reasons why.
First, boundaries help you preserve emotional energy. We’re wired for connection and certainly benefit from linking with others along life’s journey. However, we must be careful to create healthy spaces to listen and care for others’ needs. In my situation, I became incredibly emotionally invested in a virtual stranger’s life experiences. And as a result, I invested a considerable amount of emotional energy into making sure her needs were met. Unfortunately, this action prevented me from seeing that I ignored my own needs.
Second, boundaries boost your self-esteem. Focusing on what you need in relationships naturally affords time for you to care for yourself. When boundaries become blurred, there’s a tendency to ignore your needs in lieu of the other person. When I think back to my experience in Los Angeles, I see that being new to the city positioned me to question myself and experience insecurity in relation to others. So when this homeless woman presented herself, I abandoned my own priorities. Ever been there?
Third, boundaries promote personal independence. As we’re able to draw a line in the sand and clearly delineate needs and expectations in relationships, we remind ourselves of our ability to function independently. In addition, we help others function independently as well. While it’s OK to seek help from other people, as well as offer support, it’s not OK to expect others to fulfill all of our emotional needs. That’s impossible!
Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
I know boundary setting can be difficult. Trust me, I’ve been there! However, challenge yourself to take steps to assert your boundaries … for you and for others. You’ll be glad you did.
Share what’s worked for you below. As always, I’d love to hear!
Learn more about managing your lifestyle, love, leadership, and loyalties to God, self, and others by clicking here: https://mekelharrisphd.com/.