Weak boundaries make healthy relationships difficult, if not impossible.
Many who have grown up in a large household can understand the struggle to establish personal boundaries, whether they be physical or emotional.
Besides growing up in a large household, the mere fact I am a female predisposes me to boundary issues.
Women, with their instinctive nurturing nature, often lose themselves in caring for others. They are driven to be helpers, whether it be their children, their parents, their spouse or partner, their coworkers, their friends, their neighbors, their pets ... In addition, due to various external and deeply-embedded internal influences, they sometimes believe they must put everyone else first before they can take care of their own needs.
The problem with this thinking is you can’t nourish others in a healthy way from an empty cup.
It’s an overused analogy, but consider how when you board an airplane, you are instructed to put your own oxygen mask on first, in the event of an emergency, before tending to those with you. If you don’t have your own oxygen mask on, neither you, nor those who depend on you, have a chance of survival.
The inevitable result to this belief women must tend to others before themselves, is they end up with some kind of internal crisis, feeling overworked, unappreciated, burned out and depleted. Maybe there is even a part of them that secretly feels resentful for everything they do that seems to go unnoticed. (Most often, their contributions do not go unnoticed; they go completely unexpressed or inadequately expressed by those who are on the receiving end of her endless giving, which is a whole other issue.)
She is then left to find some kind of meaning and value in herself, apart from being the Nurturer in Chief.
Of course, women are not just made to nurture their families. They have countless other abilities and gifts to give, which are sometimes hidden underneath their family responsibilities.
These abilities and gifts are crying out to be discovered, and used.
It is a liberating day, indeed, when women step back and decide to cultivate their own dreams and aspirations — to grow their own souls — and to discover the endless galaxies that live inside of them.
The paradox is the more a woman develops herself, her creativity and whatever interests she has, the more she has to give to help other souls develop to their greatest potential.
But she must give herself permission to grow her own soul.
And she must fiercely protect her own right to self-actualize, just as much as she fiercely protects those in her care.
On the other hand, and this might be difficult to hear, it is necessary for some women who overly depend (note I said overly) on one or two particular people for emotional support, to find her own strength within.
I can promise you, that internal strength is there.
This journey to self-actualization requires establishing and standing by solid boundaries.
And for those of you, like me, who have confused having boundaries with being “selfish,” let me assure you, having healthy boundaries is perhaps one of the least selfish things you can do.
As I have grown in my journey through anxiety and depression, and considered some of the roots of these illnesses, I have become more and more aware of how weak my boundaries were and are.
This has manifested primarily in the inability to say “no,” to any number of scenarios, out of a sense of obligation, or, more often, a need to please to not “disappoint” others and to be “liked.” It has also manifested in my tendency to step over others’ boundaries (usually family members) by expecting them to shoulder much of my unprocessed grief and frustration, which of course, is not fair.
In living this way — and continually pushing myself beyond my own physical and emotional limits, out of sense of being “nice,” — my body, mind and spirit took control and broke down, so that I would have no other choice but to get medical help.
It might be hard to believe, but this hospitalization and its aftermath was probably one of my life’s greatest blessings.
It has been a long, slow process — with many hours of counseling help with professionals — but I am beginning to learn to honor the spirit inside of me, and to stand up and protect her.
By no means have I “arrived.”
I’m not sure that is possible, as life is an endless series of lessons.
But even in taking small steps to establish boundaries, I feel stronger and more confident in my unique expression as a human being.
And that spirit inside of me — the one whom is my primary responsibility to nurture — is most appreciative.
· SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.