What it means to have boundaries with yourself

This one single topic I believe can change your life forever.  Stay with me here, this isn’t an infomercial.  I want to share with you the idea that the boundaries you have with yourself can drastically affect the relationships you have with yourself, with God, with your friends, family, coworkers.  How in the world do you have a boundary with yourself?  What is a boundary anyways?

First we need to define what a boundary is.  It’s much like a house with a yard and a fence.  I often think of my emotional self as a “house” with different “rooms” (parts of myself).  I also have a “porch” where decisions take place: It’s there that I decide what I’m willing to take inside my “house” (my emotional self).  For example, when someone gives me a compliment I literally picture it as someone giving me flowers on my door step.  I choose to bring them inside to admire them for a while. Those flowers (compliments) look good, smell good, and brighten my day in my home but do not determine its worth or valueMy house is the same whether or not there are flowers inside.  Another example would be when some people try to hand me a heaping pile of steaming poo that also looks like a guilt trip.  I can choose to bring it inside into my house where I have to smell it and hold it and cry over the effects of this lingering gift.  Or I can stand on my porch and hand it right back to them and say “currently I am not accepting guilt trips.”  No poo in my house!  But outside my house is my yard with a fence. It separates me from other people, everyone in fact.  I am the only one who lives in my house and it is my job to protect it.  Sometimes I have neighbors on the other side of my fence that I call friends and family who help me from time to time but ultimately this is my responsibility to decide who comes in and out.  If someone crosses that line without being invited there will be consequences.  Now, don’t get me wrong I do let people in.  Those people have my trust and I allow them into my home, some people different rooms than others.  This is the vulnerability glue that holds us together with other humans.  It is part of our ingrained primal instincts to be a part of our herd, our humanness.  Some let others come and go in and out of their house, leaving it in ruins, with little value because they didn’t protect their fence line and then resent them for ruining their house.  Others have let no one in their house in years because someone tried to burn it down once- so they live like hoarders with piles of stuff they haven’t gone through.  So much so, they can’t even walk around, they just stay in one room.  (Are you following, this analogy is getting deep…)

So now we are operating under the assumption that our emotional selves are a house with one owner and it is our job to protect the house, yard and fence.  What happens when someone crosses it uninvited? It really depends on what it is. Maybe the person didn’t see it – they didn’t know it was there and you just need to bring it to their attention- in a kind way.  Like “Hey I saw you texted me last night.  I turn my ringer off at 8:30 so I won’t be answering any texts or phone calls after that.”  Or maybe you need to reinforce it:  “Like I said before, I don’t want your wet bathing suit to be left on the floor.  Please respect our household rules or there will be consequences.” But sometimes people do not respect your boundaries and mow over them- almost challenging you to enforce them: “Next time you choose to come to my house without calling me first you will not be allowed in.”

The main thing that makes a boundary a boundary isn’t the fence – it is what happens if someone crosses it. Otherwise, why would it be there? Consequences to boundaries ideally should be considered at the same time of placing the boundary; Although, sometimes you don’t have time to think about it, because you thought it wouldn’t be crossed. For instance, a guy grabs your butt at a party- do you slap them?  Tell them off?  Call the police and file a report?  The last one is a bit extreme but you get the point.  The consequence should be one that “fits” your conviction to the boundary. If you don’t want your mother-in-law absolutely to not give your children ice cream, and this is extremely important to you, then you may threaten that they may not spend time together unsupervised.  But this may not be an issue for others.

One reason I am in love with PD (personal development) is because I realized I get to grow and learn and become a better version of myself through teaching myself things like boundaries.  A fascination with psychology of humans, I suppose.  Because, like many others, I didn’t grow up in a household where these things were talked about, or even known about.  I am so grateful and honored that I get to be the one to stop these patterns of behavior and instill them in later generations.  I get to alter the course of my own family and help others do the same.  I am by no means perfect and need do overs, permission slips to be human, and have to clean up messy deliveries of information.  But that’s ok because that means that I’m trying and that I care.

Which brings me to my main point- we know how to have boundaries with other people and the consequences but how do we have boundaries with ourselves?  This is something so many people struggle with and it looks like self-control– which is a piece of boundaries anyways. It takes self-control to not blow up on your husband for not putting his dishes in the sink.  Instead of yelling (which is what we want to do because we probably feel unappreciated) is realizing first that it is NORMAL that we want to yell- we are being human.  But we have evolved and realize that he is also human, we assume he did not have ill-willed intention toward you, we give him grace and say “Hey babe, I saw you left your dishes in the sink after dinner.  It would really mean a lot to me if you put them in the dishwasher next time.”  Chances are when your husband, who loves and cares for you, hears that kind request, instead of yelling, he will probably respond with a willingness to help- rather than look for a spiteful defense from the attack of all the yelling.

Grace + Self-control + Kindness = Boundaries with self (aka a term I’m going to coin as Autogenous Boundaries).

What does this look like?

I go through a process in my head.  For an easy example let’s say there’s a warm chocolate chip cookie in the breakroom at work. I’ve been on a diet and lost two pounds and really I don’t want to eat the cookie because I know it will derail the rest of the day.  But my salad is gone from my stomach already and I have 3 hours left of work.  So first I acknowledge my primal human self: “Of course you want to have that cookie! It looks and smells so good and you’re hungry!”  Then I set the Autogenous Boundary: “But the reality is you know what will happen if you eat the cookie, it negates the salad you worked so hard to choke down and will probably come with a autogenous guilt trip which will mean a stop for some fried chicken on the way home.  So if you decide to eat that cookie you will regret it and not lose the weight OR you will have to have that protein shake for dinner (consequences).”  It sounds simple because it is.

Something I was not taught, but now that I am in my thirties, I am fortunate to have learned what types and flavors of abuse there are: physical, emotional, spiritual, verbal, sexual, and there may be more.  I wish everyone was taught not to accept certain behaviors but also how to have Autogenous Boundaries to avoid it themselves.  Behaviors I may have used to but no longer tolerate without exception are:

  • Violations of my body (physical or sexual aggression or threats)
  • Name calling and belittling
  • Violent intimidation, threats, or violent behavior (slamming doors, throwing things, breaking things, punching things)
  • False accusations of my intentions
  • Snarky comments
  • Blaming
  • Guilt trips
  • “Always and never” statements
  • Cursing
  • Voice raising
  • Actual finger pointing
  • Threat of harm to myself or other living things, including suicide

These things stay on the other side of the fence and if they occur all kinds of alarms get set off. Once, I went to buy a clock from someone.  It was not as described and was broken.  I politely declined to buy the piece.  They then started cursing, yelling, and threatening to “beat up” my husband who was not present.  I quickly removed myself from the scene and filed a police report.  While some might say “he called you a mean name get over it,” he threatened the safety of my husband and disrespected my boundary of how I feel I deserve to be treated.  You teach people how to treat you based on what you tolerate- what you allow will continue. That is a necessary piece to drive the whole idea of boundaries- your house has to be worth protection TO YOU, regardless of the value others place on your house.  (Click on What God Says About Me for how to find value in your house).  It is how you (and God) value your house- whether it is a pristine mansion or a shaky shack- it’s up to you to place enough value on it to protect it.  Whatever kind of house you have emotionally it is worth protecting at all costs.  Until you can believe that, you will not have the stamina to protect it.  If you don’t currently identify with that statement: “my (emotional) house is worth protecting at all costs,” you can use progressive language like “I’m figuring out how to value my house,” or “I’m on my way to see what it looks like to value my house in order to protect it.” If you are consistent then eventually you can believe it.

So now we have our valuable house with a yard and fence and we are standing on the porch with a gun. Okay, maybe not a gun, maybe welcoming arms with a discerning alarm system.  These alarm systems are like muscles – the more you use them the better they become.  So don’t beat yourself up if you are “trigger happy” when you first start to protect your fence line.  But trust your gut- if it smells fishy it’s usuallya fish.

All this lead up to say: Autogenous Boundaries are like boundaries with others, except with yourself. Acknowledge the human wants and gut reactions.  Give yourself grace and an allowance to be a human.  Then understand the consequences and don’t allow yourself to fall into patterns of behavior because you didn’t have good boundaries with yourself.  This is how people gain weight, get lazy at work, gain additions, quit brushing their teeth, live their life being swallowed in unnecessary guilt and shame, and tolerate being a people-pleasing doormat.  (How to be a Christian without being a doormat). I have heard myself in an argument say in my head “no self, you’re not going to say that!” Or “If you don’t brush your teeth I’m going to spank you!”-not a real consequence.  But what about a mom who has a child with an addiction: “Of course you want to give him money to get his car out of impound, but we are not going to do that because he has to suffer the consequences of his own actions.”  Or the very rampant problem, infidelity?  Go through the process: “Of course you want to go flirt with the security guard at work. You have been going through a lot in your marriage lately.  It’s human to crave belonging.  BUT there are some SERIOUS consequences to that- so we are not going to do that.  We will instead avoid the temptation and take the stairs.”  (Just to clarify that was a made up scenario). But you get the idea.

If we can give ourselves grace for our human wants, and even primal needs, then we can better set behavioral boundaries with ourselves- whether it’s about our weight, our arguments, our addictions, or our relationships. That understanding will then free us to live our best life- one that we can be proud of.

 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us. power, love, and self-discipline.” -II Timothy 1:7

Photo credit: Lauren Garrison Photography

What God Says About Me…

I’ve been meaning to post something sooner- I have a lot of posts started but haven’t finished yet. In the mean time we’ve experienced two deaths in our family, traveling, a pipe burst, Christmas and all its glory, etc etc. So I dug into my “archives” from early in my journey with God. I am very grateful for my journaling because I can look back and, not only see how far I’ve come, but also remind myself of things I’ve forgotten.

Sometimes I get hung up in finding material for my blog. I’ll spend two hours writing something and then I’ll say to myself: “This isn’t good enough.” Or “This is too basic and common sense.” But I have to remind myself – if I think I’m a 5 or 6 on the knowledge scale then I get to help the 3’s and 4’s, not the 7’s and 8’s.

Just this morning I heard about a study where people who were trying to change their habits were either instructed to say “I can’t” versus “I don’t.” Those who said “I don’t” were far more successful at avoiding the unwanted behavior than those who said “I can’t” because “I don’t” is associated with their identity. It’s who you are. Such a small change but a good reminder. It’s all semantics. How we talk to ourselves can be life giving or take the wind completely out of our sails. I get it. When someone else your entire life has told you unkind things about yourself- these can be hard to dispel. But you didn’t believe those bad things right away- you were convinced after the repetition. To replace the good with the bad it takes repetition. And you won’t always believe it. But don’t forget WHOSE you are. This is why I personally need to read the Bible every day. (I’ve just started the ‘read the Bible in 365’ plan on the Bible app! You can do it with friends too!) I need the constant reminder to love myself and others, to remind me that I am wanted and loved and pursued. I even saved this picture of Jesus laughing to my phone lock screen. I needed to picture Him as my best friend, not the angry judge above me. I’d imagine him reclined in the chair beside me, so intrigued and intently listening to what I say.

Once in my life I only cared what others thought of me. My favorite adjective was the F bomb. The tighter my clothes the better. The dirtier my jokes the funnier. I thought my only value was in my body and my ability to earn money. Any and all transformation is absolutely God’s doing (for His glory) and I am forever grateful for His guidance and freedom from my shackles.

So without further ado I give you my list of things I felt God saying to me as I first started to read, pray, and study the Bible. This is what the Holy Spirit did inside of me those mornings I couldn’t wait to get up at 4:30am to spend time with Him. I hope it touches your soul.

What God says about me

I love you.

I appreciate you.

I am grateful for you.

You are a rare and beautiful treasure.

I forgive you. Even for the things you’re not sorry for.

I’m proud of you. I’m proud to be your dad.

I smile and laugh and clap with unending joy for you.

I created everything for you and want you to enjoy it. You are why I do everything I do.

I want to spend time with you because you are important to me.

You are worth listening to, worthy of sacrifice, worthy of time and love and attention.

I hold you to a high standard.

You’re free from bondage.

I give you grace, undeserved favor. No matter what you do I will always love you and pursue you.

I’m not going to beat you up for what Jesus already got beat up for.

You have a special calling today.

I believe in you and I’m cheering and clapping and jumping for you.

I believe you will succeed.

I’m not going to give up on you.

I relentlessly pursue you.

I’m not going to give you what you think you deserve.

You are my prized possession.

I am patient with you. I am ready when you are.

I will come to you wherever you are.

I have compassion for you.

I get you. I understand what you’re going through. Don’t give up.

Everything you do- do it for me.

I delight in you.

My power that raises the dead to life is in you.

I give you infinite peace.

I am your greatest comfort and hold you in my hand. Close your eyes and surround yourself with my warm arms of grace.

I have bottled every one of your tears because your pain is important to me.

I’ve put you in my parade of victory and triumph.

I never grow tired or weary- you can depend on me. I will make you strong physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Do not be shy or ashamed- you are free from all guilt and regret.

Trust me. I will always be honest.

I’m renewing your spirit and give you endless hope.

Don’t worry, you won’t be on earth for long before I bring you to my home with me. I’m preparing your castle. You’re going to love it.

Everything awesome is from me, my gift to you.

The old you is gone. I’m proud of the you that you’ve become.

No matter what you’re going through in right here. I’ll never leave you.

I’ve made you brand new. You are my bride. Your dress is sparkling white.

Celebrate your weaknesses for without them I could not work inside you. I need you to need me.

Trials are my way of making you strong. You’re tough and I’m preparing you for something amazing. You’ll see.

Please don’t doubt me- I will give you all the knowledge, wisdom, and things you need. Let me be enough for you.

I will never tempt you- I will show you the way out, just ask.

Isaiah 9:6

Isaiah 25:8

2 Corinthians 2:14

Isaiah 40:28-29

2 Corinthians 3:17

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Isaiah 41:10

2 Cor. 5:17

Isaiah 43:2

2 Corinthians 5:21

2 Corinthians 12:9

James 1:2-4

James 1:5-6

James 1:13

(Photo credit: https://thejesusquestion.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/jesus_laughing21.jpg)

“Others” Day

When you think back to the dreams you had as a little girl- the dress, the Prince Charming, the happily ever after- I’m willing to bet it didn’t include being a step-parent. No one grows up dreaming of caring for SOME ONE ELSE’S kids. And yet here we are.

According to stepfamily.org around 50% of women live in a step-family relationship.

The dream of having the “ideal” family of 3 kids, a dog, a career, the perfect doting husband has gripped my heart in shackles of perfectionism (thanks a lot Disney). This ‘dream’ is rare. It’s NOT the norm. When I was divorced and single I had turned down a few men just because they had kids. I didn’t think I was selfless enough to take on that daunting task.

One day my friend told me to try match.com. I thought this was a terrible way to meet people- superficially judging people on their BEST selfie (ewe) and what THEY think of themselves. I was on there for 3 whole days before I couldn’t take it anymore (y’all the dating scene as a 30 year old is ridiculous). In that short window a very sweet, down to earth man messaged me. His tag line said God and family were most important to him- right under the picture of him and his 1-year-old SON (thank God NO selfies). Fast forward- he’s now MY son too.

Through this journey I have had to learn A LOT. And I’ve learned about myself and my own upbringing along the way. I’ve had to deepen my roots to produce good fruit. Learn how to offer myself grace. Grow closer to God to discover how to do my new role. Prune the branches with rotten fruit. Learn how to ask for forgiveness for buying a little boy pink scissors.

It’s funny how God uses your past to prepare you for the future. My husband needed someone who came from a divorced family to help him navigate the waters. He came from the “dream” family and was very naive to the new “norm.”

In the mean time we also starting trying for more children. Our struggles are still ongoing as we haven’t been able to conceive almost 2 years later (whole other heaping bag of self inflicted anguish). BUT it got me thinking- this MAY be my only child and I have to be ok with that. I felt so alone- funny how we think we are alone when we are where we don’t want to be in life. But then I started thinking about my aunt who adopted twins, my friend who was a foster parent, my mom who was also a step parent. The act of raising someone else’s children suddenly wasn’t so foreign. Love, for me, is not a feeling. It’s a daily choice to act in love. To chose every day to hug, kiss, encourage, feed, grow with your children whether they’re yours or not. I’m not looking for gold star but for someone to care for someone else’s tiny human WITHOUT that emotional and biological connection is even more commendable.

My first Mother’s Day was hard. Not what I expected. I felt second fiddle and it sucked. But I also mentally already put myself there. There’s no pretending to be a replacement or the only mom when their biological parent isn’t around- that’s just the nature of the relationship. BUT I get to be an adjunct- the addition – the gap filler -the OTHER mom. Now that is a role I can fill! At our house we say “other” or “biological” mom. No thanks to Disney (again!) the evil step-mother symbol still lingers in my mind. So in our family, the weekend before Mother’s Day we celebrate “Other’s Day.” MY day.

Maybe some day I will take on making it a national holiday. But in the mean time, happy (very belated) Others Day to all those raising their unbiological children!