The urge to set big boundaries
Have you ever felt so frustrated with your inability to say no to food that you wish you’d never have to attend another birthday party? Perhaps you wish you could put a lock on your fridge to keep yourself from late night eating? Or maybe you carry a secret wish to be hospitalized until you were “fixed” and never had to deal with another craving?
Recently, I’ve noticed something about these “big boundaries” that we tend to resort to in our minds when we feel out of control. Or feel that our circumstances are out of control. We want everyone to just leave us alone. We want a serious time out from everything and everyone. It feels as if drawing a thick, impenetrable line in a wide (but not too big), circle around us, is the only way to handle our challenges.
It makes sense
It’s understandable. It’s natural to feel as if bigger boundaries and tighter ropes will solve our struggle. It feels as if things would be so easy, if only x, y, or z would be taken care of.
Still, on some level, we realize that the kind of broad-stroke boundaries we long for aren’t feasible. We can’t isolate ourselves for a year, the chances of hospitalization are slim, and putting a lock on the fridge is highly impractical, and would certainly inconvenience the rest of the family.
The thing is that not only are big boundaries highly impractical, if not impossible to implement, they are also not the true solution.
Failing to sweat the small stuff
My observation is that when we start to wish for these big boundaries, often in desperation, it’s because we’re failing to set all the small boundaries necessary for us to live a functional, recovered life.
It may be that we don’t call the host of the birthday party to check what will be offered and make sure we have what we need. Perhaps it’s demands from family members that we feel obligated to meet. Or maybe we have committed to a responsibility against our better judgment.
One of these on occasion doesn’t pose a problem. It’s when one instance is added to another, then another, that it becomes overwhelming. Then, when we’re not able to set these boundaries, whether we don’t feel we have right to, or we avoid it because it’s so uncomfortable and scary in case we upset someone, that’s when we, exasperated, long for a “big boundary” to provide some reprieve from the pressure.
But as I mentioned above, big boundaries are not the true solution. Even if they were possible, they’re not going to solve the problem. Rather, what will solve the problem is setting small boundaries with the people and circumstances around us.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable if we (or they!) are not used to it. Yes, it does include risk (someone might get upset, even reject us). But what’s also at stake is your wellbeing.
In the long run, others will get used to it, especially if they value your relationship. And most importantly, you’ll be in a much better position to take care of yourself, AND care for others.
Smaller boundaries – bigger bang
So, look for the small infringements into your personal space and time that are happening right now. The kinds that cause you to grit your teeth and tell yourself you “should” be ok with. When you’re really not. Admit it to yourself, and start setting those small boundaries. It could be as simple (but not easy) as saying “no thanks, not today”.
Setting boundaries is not selfish. It may feel selfish, but it’s not. It’s one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and everyone around you. Without boundaries, you lose yourself, and in extension, the world loses out on what you have to give.
So be brave. Your life is at stake.
Aim for the smaller boundaries. They’ll have the biggest impact.