October 13, 2009

Setting Limits

My favorite show is "The Dog Whisperer." I love Cesar Millan's approach to training dogs, and think his "dog psychology" is really "people psychology" with fur on! I often find myself nodding in agreement, even when I don't own a dog (I am a cat person). Often I find myself saying, "Yes, of course...boundaries...set boundaries...don't let your dog walk all over you!" to the TV set. Funny...now if only I would listen to the Dog Whisperer -- I think I would finally have some peace in my life. Rules, boundaries and limitations -- the three key components of raising and living with dogs -- aka, according to Cesar Millan.

This past weekend, I reread the book, "Boundaries (When to Say YES When to Say NO To Take Control of Your Life)" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I had read this book several years ago and found the suggestion to set boundaries (personal) illuminating. I regret that I started setting boundaries, but then gave up on establishing consequences after awhile (it depends -- if you set boundaries on a person who is resistant to them, well, good luck!) I also read one of their additional books for marriage.

Boundaries is really all the Dog Whisperer is saying. If you set personal boundaries in your life, you will find it much less chaotic and much less stressful. If you set boundaries with your children, you will find it less draining, emotionally, to rear and train them. If you set boundaries with other others, your spouse or a family member, you will find you are less reactive to the picks and pokes, then when you were boundary less. In short, boundaries will help keep your life healthy, happy and less emotionally reactive. It will empower you to see life as full of potential and less likely to make you feel like you are helpless and powerless to change your circumstance or situation.

Rules are good for us. Boundaries help to define the rules. Limitations modify the rules and consequences are the natural result of failure to obey the limitations. It is pretty simple stuff. Not rocket science, and not really difficult to understand. Set a rule; define it with boundaries; apply limitations to it; and then choose a consequence for breaking the rule. Ah, if only it were that simple....

I have been thinking of personal boundaries a lot lately. I am in the midst of some difficult personal issues, some very difficult times, some very emotional moments. Boundaries are my friend. They say to me that it is safe here, it is OK to be vulnerable because you are protected. Boundaries also remind me of rules, those rules that help order my universe. They remind me that there are limitations to the rules, modifiers that work to explain the rule completely, and that ultimately there are consequences for each broken rule. And, when used properly (for health and well-being and not to manipulate or control), they can enable great freedom and growth in any relationship.

My boundaries have been weak, generally speaking. I have allowed "the dog" to walk all over me at times. Sometimes I have been reactive, yelling or screaming, stamping my foot, even kicking things about...none of which actually really works well to change anything or anyone. Other times I have been passive, so passive that I allowed the consequence to go by unnoticed and unmet. I simply chose to ignore the infraction. I chose to do nothing.

My goals now are different. I recognize the need for rules, boundaries and limitations. I understand their value in life and in relationships. They are good for us; they make for very happy neighbors (referencing Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Wall"). My hope is to use boundaries to help clarify my own personal choices, to set appropriate limits on self control, and then to grow in freedom to live out the life God has chosen for me. I am also hoping that in setting boundaries, I will become more comfortable with consequences and will not shy away from them (keeping them back never really helps -- natural consequences are a great learning tool).

Boundaries protect us, they provide necessary "space" to enable us to grow and live and relate to one another in healthy ways. I am tired of being a boundary less person. I am empowered to set limits, to establish rules and to allow consequences to follow. Meet the NEW ME -- I am a Boundary Person today!!

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