The first time I ever heard this word and knew it could be used in another context other than what separates Georgia from Florida, was at age 25 during my first semester at Fresno State. I was working at a resident director at the time for a dorm of 600 students. I was a first year grad student, my mother was struggling with cancer and it was my first time ever managing a staff of 7 students.I had a pretty full plate. My supervisor at the time, Tyler, saw I that I was pretty much done. He pulls me into his office, sits me down and tells me, ” Girl, you have no/poor boundaries.” (He didn’t say the “girl” part, but the current fantasy football Tyler would… maybe.) I stare at him, puzzled and he goes on the internet to pull up this book that talks about being a christian and this crazy notion that we must do everything we are asked and put everyone first. It’s called, (drumroll) “Boundaries.”
I go out the next pay period and purchase it, and after reading the first few pages I fit every single thing this author is describing: “Always puts others first, takes on more that I can handle, feels no one else can do it but me, can’t say “no” because it’s unchristian…” Seeing myself in these first few pages was shocking. Well, I read up to the first five chapters of the book, and after felt that I didn’t need to finish it because I slowly started to get better with setting boundaries with others and saying “no” sometimes.
Or so I thought.
Fast forward to three years later, I need to purchase the book again and actually read ALL OF IT. My boundaries, mainly my ability to set them, is pretty flawed. My fences are cracked, slabs are missing and there are goats in my yard eating my daises. To fix my fence, I duct tape mismatch slabs of plywood to keep things out. Well, goats are persistant, eventually they chew through the duct tape and I’m losing my daises again.
It’s been glaringly obvious in my current work situation that my ability to maintain my boundaries sucks because my coworkers do not have boundaries, either. I end up assisting with more non- related work activities during the day (sometimes at night) than actual work. I feel I can’t say no, because I don’t want to be “that person“, the one who isn’t a team player. When I do get to my actual work, more and more of myself is drained to assist my clients. By the time I get home …I can’t even think. I just sit on my couch and stare at the flowers on my table trying to will myself to take a walk, go for a run or even eat. I seriously have to tell myself to eat…which has never been a problem before. I realize my will to eat, to take care of myself, has been sapped my work and that’s a dangerous situation.
Yet the cycle starts all over again the next day. And the next day. By the weekend, I don’t want to do anything at all.
At first I couldn’t figure why I had such a hard time setting boundaries. After having a colorful conversation with a friend about another boundariless (new word, write it down) situation I placed myself in, I realized that lack of boundaries for me comes from two things:
I have a HUGE issue with guilt. Huge. If you ever want me to do something, just make me feel really guilty and I will do it. I may hate it, it may inconvenience me and burden me greatly, yet I will STILL do it. A lot of this is self-imposed guilt. I’ve stayed in crappy situations because I felt bad about what may happen to the other person if I leave. I’ve had toxic relationships, (still do) because I am afraid of hurting the other person. My dysfunctional mantra is: “If I don’t do it, who will?” Really? Am I really that special? Will that person’s world collapse if I say no? I know it won’t, yet this little voice tells me otherwise and makes me feel awful for not helping. It tells me that I am unchristian for not assisting that person. Jesus can do anything, but I can not. Yet I still try. It’s baffling that I continue to do this.
Sadly I allow the guilt to eat away at me. It’s been a over a year, and I still can’t forgive myself for going off to school when my mother was ill, even though that is what she WANTED ME TO DO. She would threaten to beat me (she could hardly walk, and she still claimed she could “beat my ass”) every time I mentioned dropping out. Yet, I still to this day feel guilty about it. I can’t shake it and I can’t forgive. This leads me to my next area:
A month ago, my good friend from back home messaged me on Facebook asking: ” Do you ever feel selfish?”
I reply: “All the time!”
We then start to discuss self-worth. I realize that I have very little self -worth. I feel selfish and guilty whenever I try to do something for myself. In my mind, I don’t deserve it. I am here to serve others. Screw my needs; I will just have to get by on whatever slivers of time I can pick up. I do not deserve to to set aside time for my needs. But, I do manage to find a strange way to get these needs met.
Those of you that know me well know that I am an introvert. I may not act like it, but I am and I need alone time just to recharge so I can function. I haven’t had much of that lately, so last weekend, I stood up my friends just so I could have an “introvert day.” I was too scared to ask my friends, people who love and care about me, for a day to be by myself. So I avoided church in fear that my friends would ask me to hang out. How screwed up is that?! I avoid God and worshiping him, something I really enjoy to stay away from my friends just because I was too afraid to assert myself. I ended up feeling guilty the whole day about taking a much needed for myself because of the way I went about it and the feeling that I did not deserve it. I am truly a bizarre being.
I’m finding that self-worth and guilt seem to walk by my side throughout my day which weakens my ability to set boundaries and have healthy relationships without feeling drained. Hence the broken fence and chewed up daisies. It cripples my ability to say no, assert myself and take care of my needs. It leaves me wide open to be taken advantage of and it happens often. I can blame no one but myself. I willingly subject myself to this insanity.
The funny thing in all of this, the person I am a pro at setting boundaries with is with God. He can rule over area A of my life, but leave area B alone. He tells me to pray for an hour and read three chapters and I have no problem telling him no. Maybe this is why I struggle so with boundaries…I am setting them with the wrong person.
So all this self-awareness of my flaws is all well and good, but what is the next step? How do I set those boundaries without feeling like a jerk? How do get rid of guilt, truly get rid of it? I know that it will involve dying to myself and giving over control to God(the other funny thing in all this is that I am a control freak who can’t set boundaries) but how do you go about this? It’s this constant inner battle and well, it’s exhausting. I’m on the losing side.