Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Boundaries. Say what?

I dusted off my Henri Nouwen book, The Inner Voice of Love, and found an imperative I have yet to read.  It was titled Set Boundaries to Your Love.  Nouwen, you had me at hello.

I remember when I was meeting with Regina, the former associate pastor of the church I've been attending, about two and a half years ago.  I would come to her office every two weeks, sometimes every week, and I would just cry and cry and cry.  I was in such a low place, having recently broken up with my then fiance.  I was so empty and I needed so much, but despite my neediness, I always knew where I stood with Regina.  I knew what to ask of her and what not to ask of her.  I didn't know that I knew these boundaries existed... they just were.

I have this same feeling with my counselor.  When we first began meeting, she was like a stranger.  I was slow to open up and kept so many emotions and thoughts just below the surface.  When I see her today, there is a comfort.  I am able and wanting to tell her more, and she is able to tell me more as well.  Our boundaries have progressed and changed organically.

When I think about my most recent employer, my coworkers, family members, and my boyfriend, there is nothing au naturel about the boundaries that have existed.  I am not assertive.  I stew on things and then act out in immature ways.  My boundary setting consists of avoidance, sabotage, or a combination of both.  No one knows where they stand with me at any given time.  And, I don't know where I stand with others at any given time.  You like me.  You don't like me.  You want my help.  I don't want your help.  You are my friend.  I am your enemy.  I give too much or not enough;  I ask for too much or not enough.  I am not in tune with my own needs and limits, let alone my needs and limits in relation to others' needs and limits.  It makes sense that what I can't do with myself, I can't do with others.

I ask for too much or not enough from all the wrong people.  I look to my boyfriend or acquaintances to fulfill needs and expectations that only my spiritual guides can provide, and I don't seek enough from the spiritual guides who can fulfill these needs.  I am hurting and lost -- what person not of God could possibly help me?  And when it comes to asking and seeking, the boundaries I do have I keep very tight against me.  I don't want to venture out too far, and I don't want to let anyone in, not even these spiritual guides I speak of.

I don't know how to set boundaries without saying "here's the deal" or "read this bulleted list and get back to me".  How does one set boundaries?  Let me rephrase the question:  How does one set mutually-beneficial boundaries in an assertive manner?

This imperative didn't provide me with an answer, only with more questions.  I listened to a Joyce Meyer podcast yesterday.  In it she was talking about meditating on the Word to hear what God wants us to know.  She says meditating involves reading a passage over and over and over again, sitting in silence and repeating the words you just read, combing them through your mind.  Whatever is bringing you trouble -- jealousy, pride, distrust -- find scripture that deals with those things and meditate on it.

Boundaries seem like such a boring thing to meditate on.  But within this notion of boundaries, includes many things:  being in touch with myself and others, essentially emotional and social intelligence; recognizing limits and needs of myself and others; finding ways to self-soothe and be self-sufficient; knowing what expectations are appropriate for certain people.  It sounds a bit less boring when I consider all of these things.  And really, boring or not, setting healthy boundaries is an important step in my journey.

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