Relationships are a complicated and tricky thing. It’s our human desire to crave closeness with another person— whether that’s a significant other or simply a kindred spirit. Come too close, however, and the relationship can be smothered. Boundaries are what allow a relationship to breathe.
In my own life I’ve struggled with boundaries: where mine are and how not to cross others. I err on the side of codependent. But recently, through many therapy sessions and late night sobs over the phone to mentors and fights which become making up with friends, I’ve been learning how to craft and respect my own boundaries. We all want someone to see our heart and treasure it, but it can be done at a safe and healthy distance. I wish I could offer a comprehensive “how to” on how to define your own boundaries, but unfortunately that’s just not how it works.
Boundaries are discovered through self introspection, through conflict with those you’re close to and through examining what about past relationships worked and what did not. If, like me, you’ve struggled with boundaries, it can be strange to those around you when you suddenly cut parts of yourself off from them. If someone who has had an unhealthy level of access to you suddenly finds themselves restricted, they may resist and even become defensive. Those who truly love you will learn to respect these new lines in the sand even if they don’t always like them. It is those who see your lines in the sand and forcibly erase them and stomp through your life that you must be wary of. It may hurt to let go of someone you love but if they cannot love you enough to respect you and your efforts at health, it may be best to put some distance between you and them.
In my own experience, it can feel counterproductive to want to crave closeness and yet set boundaries between you and this person. But deciding what you can give to others, at what capacity, and when will actually help you to get closer to people in the long run. For me, this has looked like learning to help myself more often than I look to others for help. It is a beautiful thing to live in community with other believers, but at some point we have to learn to be our own best help. It’s also important to remember that you cannot fix everything. You may want to rescue your best friend from their mess, but you can only help to a certain extent. Just as you have to learn to help yourself, so must others. Boundaries are here to help us to remember how much to give of ourselves to any given person. It’s impossible to save the world when you live at the end of a rope.
In sum, I’ve been learning this past year to appreciate how to set up my own boundaries. For me this has been a long, and sometimes painful, process. Not everyone responds well when you suddenly start standing up for yourself. But in the long run it’s so much healthier to know yourself and your limits than to just continue to give of yourself until there’s nothing left.