Before my husband and I got married, I purchased Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I wanted something to prepare us for the joining of two families. I wanted to know what should be expected and what is realistic, and how both of us could handle it in a loving manner. The investment in the book gave me a lot more than that.
The book starts with the story of a wife who is on the phone with her mother, on her way to a guilt trip because her mom wants to see her and she can’t make it happen. She is busy with work, kids, school, the house, family, and her husband. She is overwhelmed and thinks that it is because she isn’t good enough. Like I said, I read the book during our engagement period and did not have all the responsibilities she did, but I did feel like a failure for not doing all that was at my feet.
I also had a huge struggle with guilt. I just did not want to disappoint the people close to me. I was a people-pleaser, but thankfully not to an extreme. I didn’t always know what I wanted, and didn’t understand how to deal with others’ expectations. I thought that being strong meant handling it all successfully, without breaking and without help. I was oh so wrong.
Please know that we are not meant to walk through life alone, and there are many loads that we are not meant to carry at all. Many times we take on responsibilities that belong to others, the only reason being that we believe that someone should do it to avoid total collapse. Other times we fear for someone and attempt to take their burdens upon ourselves rather than let them live out the consequences of their actions. There are also times where we don’t respect our own human limits, like availability, time, and/or resources, and want to be the hero of others to the expense of ourselves to a degree we cannot reasonably handle. None of these behaviors are healthy. You will drown in your attempt to put others first if you do so exclusively, thinking it as a noble cause, and not understanding that if you aren’t full or healthy, you cannot effectively help others.
The main metaphor of the book illustrates this in a different light. The authors compare having healthy boundaries to a fence around a house. The fence not only protects the house from outside intruders, but also ensures that the things that are inside the house stay safe. You see, we need boundaries to avoid letting the concerns of others completely take over our lives, and also so that we can have (humanly possible) control of it.
Give room to the one of the loudest clicks ever to occur in my brain. I finally understood that I was not responsible for others’ emotional management. At times, I might be the person that caused an emotion. That might be because a comment or action by me led them to a personal frustration or I truly wronged them. If I did something bad, I need to apologize and work on mending the relationship. If I was not impolite or hurtful, then that person was reflecting their discomfort on me. I was not the problem. This was so freeing!
At first I took it to an extreme and was not as empathetic as I should have been. I was focusing on my healing above all. As time went by, I realized that even though I was not responsible for people’s emotions, I could be kind and help them or support them through their frustration. I might reach out to talk about it or empathize and say that I was sorry for the way they felt. Yet I was only able to move onto this second level once I myself did not have an open wound and was available to give to others.
The type of relationship you have with yourself will trigger the relationships you have with others. Giving yourself the room you need and the kindness you might already extend (or want to) to others will free you to be available with no strings attached, because you would only give what you know you can give. You let go of things that have no importance or that aren’t truly yours, and you start focusing on the things that do and are. You don’t feel as hurt by people’s actions, because you recognize that both you and they have the power to decide.
To anyone here, I highly suggest you read this book. Having emotional discernment has given me the ability to love and serve better. My approach to people is more genuine and light-hearted at the same time. I continue to discover attitudes in me that aren’t enriching and find it easier (or less hard, actually) to let go of them, and the burdens keep falling off. For all these reasons, I wish that you too, can live a freer life.