Vince Mercuri: Establishing boundaries
Quite often, even before we awake each morning, it begins to happen: The guideposts that define our behaviors and interactions start to present themselves. Alarms, schedules, tasks, timelines, speed limits, job descriptions, appointments, etc. — many typical expectations and dos and don’ts provide the external boundaries for our internal conduct and behaviors.
Many of these day-to-day limits help to define aspects of our lives and preferences. Our interpersonal relationships are more complex and at times abstract.
Having clear boundaries is essential to maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Strong boundaries create healthy relationships, while non-descript boundaries create dysfunctional relationships.
Boundaries define who we are and what is and is not ours. They impact all areas of our lives — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Even though personal boundaries can be challenging to navigate, establishing and communicating them is essential for our well-being and safety. By setting these parameters, we define how we interact with others and how we allow others to interact with us.
How we communicate our limits and expectations is crucial. We should be firm, kind and direct, yet respectful and flexible. Boundaries that are too rigid literally shut people out of our lives, increasing isolation, while boundaries that are too lax can allow us to be taken advantage of and lead to our feeling emotionally overwhelmed and overextended.
Balancing clear, consistent and effective limits in relationships is a skill that needs intentionality. Here are some vital steps that can assist in creating boundaries that engage others while drawing a line as to what is acceptable:
• Clarify your personal boundaries to yourself first. Pay attention to your own emotional and physical needs; determine your values, traditions, priorities, and what is negotiable or non-negotiable.
• Know where boundaries need to be created, with whom you need to set a standard — partners, co-workers, friends and extended family.
• Communicate your boundaries. Be proactive; don’t react, apologize, rationalize or act angry. Be firm and clear.
• Realize you have the right and responsibility to take care of yourself. Also, realize that your actions will make others uncomfortable and possibly upset. You are not responsible for their reaction; own what is yours.
• Be prepared to be challenged. Stay the course; respectfully communicate your reasons and needs.
· Develop and utilize the support system of individuals in your life who respect your efforts in setting boundaries; limit interactions with toxic people who don’t and who try to manipulate or control you.
• Set boundaries in a manner that fosters growth and provides a possible pathway for relationships to grow. The fences we build should be made of Fiberglass to protect, not barbed wire to hurt.
This is an ongoing process, not an event; it takes time to learn how to set healthy limits. It’s your growth on your time frame.
The dynamic of establishing boundaries brings to mind pre-flight instructions: The flight attendant states that during an emergency, place the oxygen mask securely on yourself before helping someone else. Let this be a reminder of the importance of self-care that provides a base of strength for healthy relationships.
Vince Mercuri, executive director of the Open Door Alcohol/Drug Treatment Center and Crisis Intervention Program in Indiana, Pa., is a member of the Valley News Dispatch Editorial Board.