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... setting mindful boundaries in relationships

by Lori Kostenuk

Do you feel defeated or exhausted with any of the relationships in your life? Chances are that this may be a personal boundary issue instead of a relationship issue. We must set mindful boundaries in all our relationships for our physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. The purpose of setting boundaries is to develop a good sense of Self along with a strong sense of safety, security, and space. Boundaries are not isolation or impenetrable walls but rather, they give us wings of freedom to explore and create in a great and meaningful way, thereby giving those closest to us the best version of ourselves.

My brothers were angry with me and made me tend the vineyards, so I have not tended my own vineyard – Solomon 1:6 ESV

We are keepers of our own being… ultimate stewards of our lives, our own vineyards. No one can do this for us. We have each been given time and space to fulfill our soul’s purpose. Are we spending too much time tending to other people's vineyards that we are neglecting our own? Healthy boundaries define what we are and are not responsible for, who we are and who we are not, which empowers us to say yes or no. Boundaries allow me to be in control of my life, to attend to my own vineyard, giving myself the best opportunity to grow and prosper.

The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly – Proverb 20:27

Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life – Proverb 4:23

Imagine lighting a birthday cake in the kitchen, then carrying the cake into the dining room where family or friends are gathered in celebration, while singing the traditional Happy Birthday song. Chances are that, as we are carrying that cake out, we are trying our best to keep those candles from blowing out. We might walk slowly, steadily, or may cup our hand in front of the candles to protect the flame. Similarly, we all are created with a light burning within us that has been placed there at birth. Our job is to keep that candle lit and burning strong. For some of us, that candle might be dim as our human ego dominates, while others might have a strong flame, being aware of that divine light as it supersedes the ego guiding us through this life.

One way to protect the flame is to have clear established boundaries in our relationships. Boundaries allow how much access we allow others to have in our lives, allow the greater Me and not others to be in control of my life, which allows me to attend to my own vineyard, to keep my innermost being alive and well. We allow access to different people in our lives, namely our spouse, kids, parents, other family, co-workers, friends, others, who contribute meaning and richness to our lives. However, it is imperative that we give clear established boundaries, so that we have space to learn, prosper, and create. Of course, we must respect the boundaries that our loved ones put up in their lives, including our children. As we respect their boundaries, they learn to respect the boundaries of others.

Graph 1 – Healthy Boundaries – This graph shows healthy and clear boundaries between Me and others in my life who I choose to give time and energy to. Notice that there is lots of space and time to devote to my personal growth and prosperity. The more aware we are of maintaining our own healthy space, the more we can meaningfully contribute to others.

Graph 2 – Unhealthy Boundaries - Notice how crowded the Me is in this graph. Other people/work are taking up too much space and crowding Me out. The more others encroach over my boundaries, the more control they have over Me.

There are seasons when certain people demand more than normal time and energy from us which is workable with awareness. An example of this would be an elementary teacher getting ready for a school Christmas concert. December would be a hectic month, no doubt…. Or tax time for an Accountant, perhaps, or caring for a sick elderly parent. This is expected; however, it is just seasonal. We can make some adjustments and live with that for a short period. It is when we go from seasonal to seasonal non-stop, and soon we find the Me space almost non-existent. The first step to overcoming this challenge is to first be aware of it, then make some adjustments and pruning to get back to a healthy space.

What are some everyday simple things we can do to free up some space in our lives?

i. Choose to spend time with achievers who build people up, instead of aligning yourself with gossipers and haters. Without knowing it, negative people infringe on our values boundaries which is part of Me. If your work colleagues are the unhealthy type to be around, maybe choose to go for a walk or run at lunch break, which will be a bonus to your Me time.

ii. Most of us have that negative friend or family member who keeps calling you, dropping her problems on your lap, whose calls you ignore four out of five times. You finally answer a call out of guilt. Your life is wonderful compared to hers, so you try to give empathy or advice, yet knowing that nothing will change in her life. She will always be negative. Tip – To end the call quickly yet kindly with power, tell her that you will send good vibes (or a prayer) her way immediately. I had one acquaintance who would call and ask me to come over right now because of the negative space she was in. At first, I would drop what I was doing and go over. Now, in that same situation, I tell her that I will immediately send positive energy or a prayer her way. It works powerfully every time and has an immediate settling effect on her.

iii. Distance yourself from people who want to argue about politics, or who always speak negatively about you, who want to limit you, to hold you back, or seem committed to holding you to the worst version of yourself. Whether it is a family member or not, this negativity is encroaching on your personal Me boundaries, and you can choose whether to enter that space or not. Literally step back and tell them that you will not go into that conversation with them. If someone is yelling or speaking harshly to you, step back and say, “You can choose to speak and yell this way, but I choose to leave the room until you are finished.” No one can manipulate you without your permission. Self awareness is always the first step forward in resetting your boundaries.

Part of mental and spiritual growth is developing a spine so you can stand up to people and situations, protecting that Me candle within. When you set boundaries with people who encroach, there may be hurt feelings. You must trust that it is the right thing for you to do to preserve your own space, as well as the best thing for that person to begin to learn how to process challenges on her own without depending on someone else. If people get upset and defriend you, that just may not be a negative thing.

- Pool of Bethesda

There are needs all around us. There is no way that we can tend to all the needs we see. Let your compassion be your guide. In ancient Israel, Jesus looked out over the Pool of Bethesda and saw potentially dozens of sick, lame, and blind people who were hoping for a miracle. Do you remember how many people he healed there? Just one. Even though many needed help, He had compassion on one person. Choose one or two people who tug at your heart strings, not your guilt strings… that person who brings out the compassion in you. Just because someone has a need, it does not mean that it is your place to meet that specific need. Draw some gentle boundaries for yourself and be true to maintain them.

Sometimes it may be a parent who is demanding our time and energy. We can honor our parents without being controlled by them. Setting boundaries in a gentle way is not being disrespectful. I have met a lot of young adults who have well-meaning parents, but these parents cannot let go of their adult children. They try to run their lives, voice their opinions over decisions they make, put pressure them to spend holidays with them, tell them how to raise their children. These lack of boundaries with the parents begin to cause marital conflict with the adult child and his spouse. Be gentle but firm. You may want to assure the parents that you love them and appreciate all that they have done for you over the years, but it is now your responsibility to make decisions for your new family.

How many of you parents have an adult child who is irresponsible, who has addictions, who cannot hold down a job, who is always broke? Are you allowing this child to affect your time, energy, and money? Have you tried everything to help this child over the years, but nothing seems to ever change? Has your child’s toxic behaviors been controlling your own decisions and behaviors? If so, this is not a child relationship issue but a boundary issue. Reset your boundaries. When you set up healthy boundaries for yourself, it will help and establish your adult child in the long-term. It is so easy for parents of adult children to want to rescue them from their poor choices. Set boundaries where the adult child can still have access to mom and dad, but cannot steal their money, time, and joy from life.

Boundaries are not walls. Any relationship where we feel worn down or defeated is a boundary issue. What we put up with is our choice. Boundaries help us from being controlled by someone else’s bad behavior to becoming empowered to tend to our own vineyard, to keep that flame alive, allowing us to grow and create.

My challenge for you is to create your own Before and After graph. Look at those critical relationships in your life honestly. What does your current graph look like? Establish healthy boundaries and stick to them. Check in a few months later. Are there any positive changes? Good luck with this.

Inspired by Paul Osteen, MD


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Lori Kostenuk - Author

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