Working With You is KILLING ME! [Boundaries]

continuing our thoughts from “Working With You is Killing Me”

UNHOOKING is a life-long skill we may never master but can indeed practice.  It begins with boundaries.

Boundaries can cause a visceral reaction. 

When I travel in northern Michigan and see a fence protecting the rolling hills of a farmland I perceive it as scenic and serene.  When I see the barbed wire fence of a maximum security prison I perceive it as security and harsh.  Similar reactions can happen when we talk about relational boundaries.

Boundaries are lines or parameters that define territory and protect its inhabitants.  Whether you personally accept boundaries as suggestions or as permanent markers of demarcation, they exist for the purpose of safety and security in order to maintain peace.  Boundaries are essential to relational well-being. 

Interpersonal Boundaries are the lines or parameters that define and protect the physical, emotional, and psychological territory between individuals.

  • Boundaries are invisible and they are different from person to person.
  • Because they are imperceptible to the human eye and differ from person to person boundaries must be communicated.

So often we wonder why people don’t “get” our boundaries or are put off by them. Their reaction of wonderment or frustration – bordering on anger – could be fueled by our lack of communication about the boundaries we are seeking to put into place. Boundaries must be communicated. They cannot be assumed. We cannot just hope that somehow people who are unaware of how they’ve “crossed our boundary line” would absorb our boundaries by osmosis. In order not to be perceived as aloof or uncaring we must clearly and repeatedly communicate our boundaries. This doesn’t mean that our boundaries will be accepted or even understood.  They just have to be communicated. 

However, before we communicate our boundaries we need some self-reflection. 

Boundaries to Consider and Questions to Ask?

Time Boundaries: Some people schedule their lives by time while others see time as a suggestion. For instance, the meeting at 10 am can begin anytime between 10 am and 10:30 am. The question is, “What is my relationship to time? How do I honor time boundaries?”

Personal Space Boundaries: Some people are more distant while others want a form of communal living. The question is, “How clear am I about my personal space? How can I communicate that to others while honoring their space?”

Keeping Your Word Boundaries: Some people live by the motto “you’re only as good as your word,” while others see verbal commitments as fluid. The question is, “How do I feel about being honest and living up to any commitment I make?”

Personal Information Boundaries: Some people like to “tell all” while others keep personal information closer to “the vest.” The question is, “How much information is really enough to share? Does it determine whom I am with?”

Emotional Expression Boundaries: Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve and vent regularly while others disguise it. The question is, “How important is it for me to be a person who is emotionally more on an even keel?”

Manners/Courtesy Boundaries: Some people view personal greetings as a waste of time while others communicate them regularly. The question is, “What does being cordial mean to me? How do I want to treat others?”

Noise Boundaries: Some people are comfortable with a noisy environment while others feel a bit assaulted by sounds. The question is, “How aware am I of my environment and how I affect others?” (How apropos since a few minutes ago someone came into Uptown Coffeehouse and filled the entire 2,000 square feet with her booming conversation…oblivious to the rest of the patrons!  I contemplated giving her my business card but didn’t want to violate boundaries…Ha!)

Facing your conscious or unconscious boundaries takes honest reflection and is best done under the watchful eye of wisdom by someone you’ve entrusted enough to speak to you the kind truth.  After this type of reflection you may have a clearer idea of your boundaries.  Then, you can begin the all-important task of communicating them.  Might I suggest being vividly practical by asking, “I’ve been thinking about the role of boundaries lately and I need to talk with you about it, are you open?”

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6 Responses to Working With You is KILLING ME! [Boundaries]

  1. Tim Hogan says:

    I appreciate this summary. I think boundaries are the primary work in relationships, and the work is never done. And, very few of us get clear guidance as we grow up about how to create and communicate about clear boundaries. What if we all just took one small step to clarify a difficult boundary today? That would be transformational! Thank you, Mark, for this wonderful summary!

  2. Mike in Milwaukee says:

    Mark, great topic. In fact, some years back, you taught us how this is supposed to work. I even described what you taught us on Pete Wilson’s blog (Nashville pastor or Cross Point Church) http://withoutwax.tv/2010/07/20/backfired/ – my reference was to your answering machine message – related to Pete’s blog discussion of how technology has led us to expect more of ourselves and to try to cram in more.

    I wrote: “Pete, Drawing the line is hard and I am a political junkie so – I hate to admit this – I am at the screen before I am at my Bible.

    I think you have it right in your response to Chris: “Moderation. Pacing.”

    Some years back we served with a pastor who had a rule he kept for his family’s sake – no interruptions from the phone or anything from 5:30pm to 7pm – that was ‘family time.’ He even had his answering machine with a message that said, “if you are calling between 5:30 and 7:00pm, we are intentionally out-of-touch enjoying our family time. Leave a message… etc.”

    I think there may be a pattern there for managing the iMonster! The ability to be so inter-connected and do our work at such high-speed can easily lull us into a sense that THIS is more important than THAT. And when THAT is closeness with God and family, it’s a problem for sure.”

    See Mark? You’ve been teaching about boundaries for quite some time! 🙂

  3. Mark says:

    @ Tim – Intuitively “boundaries” seems like the appropriate topic. And…it’s nice to have a professional psychologist remind us that it is “THE primary work in relationships.” I know from my own experiences when I ignore boundaries I wreck havoc for myself and others and when I keep boundaries health ensues.

  4. Mark says:

    @Mike – Thanks for reminding me of a time when I sought to practice healthy boundaries. It reminds me of the time when I was playing with one of my young daughter’s and the house phone (weird to write) rang. She answered it, “What do you want? I’m playing with my dad. Call back later!” What a lesson!

    I liked the analogy of the “iMonster.”

  5. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  6. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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