Wednesday, June 21, 2017

New Year's Goals Revisited and Some Thoughts on Setting Boundaries

As some may remember I posted earlier this year about my new year's goals being somewhat untraditional.  After dealing with postpartum issues, depression and anxiety this year I decided I needed to make some goals that would help me increase my happiness and peace.  The goals I proposed for myself were:

1) Care less what other people think about me
2) Care less about what other people are doing
3) Do less
4) Focus on the first three and stop making so many goals!

If you'd like to see those goals in context or understand what I mean by them you can view the previous post here: Perfect Goals and the Imperfect People That Make Them.

So what have I been doing to achieve these goals?

Goal #1- Standing up for myself more.  Giving my opinions.  Spending less time worrying about what others might be thinking.  Praying to know the things that I should and shouldn't be doing.   Working toward breaking my habit of saying "sorry" too much as a way to ease my guilt (or at least being cognizant of the fact that I'm doing that!). Trying to say sorry for those things that I'm genuinely sorry for and giving people time to forgive me or not. I've been working with a therapist to identify when and why I feel shame and how I can combat the negative feelings and actions that are produced by being caught up in that shame.

Goal # 2- I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.  Yes I can still check it through the web browser on my phone, and yes sometimes I still do that but I'm trying to do it less.  I limit my sessions on social media to twice a day and usually only spend about 10 min. per session.  Taking time to have real conversations with people about what is going on in their life so that I keep a better perspective about what real life looks like.

Goal #3- Setting priorities each week about where I spend my time.  I've started writing personal time on my calendars to make sure that breaks are built into my day.  I'm also trying to set up consistent times to exercise and pursue other hobbies.  I used to feel guilty if someone asked me to do something and I said no unless I had a for sure reason I couldn't do it.  Now, if someone asks me to babysit and it's during the time I was going to do something (exercise, read, clean the kitchen) I don't feel as guilty saying no.  Sometimes, if possible I change my schedule, but sometimes when it's the only time I have to get my personal items done then I just say "sorry, maybe next time".  I'm definitely not perfect at this one but I'm working toward it!

As I've read a few books on these subjects and started into counseling to understand some of these issues better I've realized that these goals are all about boundaries.  Each of these goals, in a way, is defining for myself what I am willing to put out there for others and what I'm willing to take from others.  And as I look at the parts of my life that cause frustration and worry, I realize a lot of those feeling come from not setting appropriate boundaries (boundaries for myself, boundaries in my relationships, boundaries at church, even boundaries on my goal setting efforts).

So what does it mean to set a boundary? The most concise definition I could find was on wikipedia where it said: "Personal boundaries are guidelines or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits." 

A video on the subject that I found helpful from can be found here: Tips to set boundaries in any relationship

I think that boundaries not only apply to how others treat us, but can also extend to how we treat ourselves.  I had reached a point in my life where I was no longer treating myself in a reasonable or safe way.  I had negative thoughts about being worthless, I beat myself up for failures, I even questioned why I was even here.  I needed to set some boundaries for myself.  I also felt frustrated with others frequently.  But as I begin to take responsibility for my own mental health and emotions I realize that my frustrations were not really anchored in the actions of other people, my frustration was with my own reaction.  I didn't stand up for myself.  I didn't state my opinions.  I didn't make course corrections over small things and thus let little things turn into big things.  I realized this when one friend got upset about something and another friend said "how can you be upset with Julia? that's like kicking a puppy?"  I knew she was right and it kind of made me reflect on how I was reacting to things.  I'm not a puppy.  I'm a strong opinionated person! So why have I been letting myself get kicked and why am I acting like a puppy?

At my core I'm a loving person, some people I'm sure would disagree with that, but I feel like I am usually motivated out of charity and love for others.  I am however, also a red personality, I like to get things done! It's sometimes hard to reconcile these two aspects of my personality.  I don't want to step on others toes, I don't want to make a fuss, but at the same time I don't want to be held down or become stagnate. In recent years, I've focused so much on "not making a fuss" I've started doing a lot of unhealthy things- Not stating my opinion, letting others talk for me, not saying things in the right moment so then I vent it passive-aggressively later, letting things build on themselves until they explode. I've been trying so hard to repress the "bad" parts of my red personality I've been letting some of the "good" parts go too.  I'd given up hobbies like debating, writing, and critical thinking.  That last one is more of a life skill than hobby...but you still see my point!

So I'm working on setting those boundaries.  And so far the results are mixed.  Also, it's hard to be brave. It's hard to speak up for what you need after so many years of not doing that.  It's hard to stand firm in what you believe when people are angry, or saddened, or confused by why you believe those things.  Some of these types of conversations have gone really well.  Others haven't. Some people have heard my boundaries and respected me for telling them while others have felt abandoned, called me selfish or insinuated that I'm not being very Christ-like.  But I have to fall back on my first goal of worrying less about what others think of me.  When I've made these boundaries out of love and after reflection and prayer then I have to be confident in taking care of myself. I've had people set boundaries with me and I find that as we are open about what we need in healthy relationships it makes the relationship stronger.  I would much rather someone tell me when I'm crossing a line then sit back and stew and get frustrated with me.  So I try and have faith that others will feel the same.

As a Christian it can be hard to find the balance between helping others and taking care of ourselves.  Others might interpret our need for boundaries as a selfish. We know that we are supposed to be selfless and we know that we need to focus on others' needs as much as our own.  But we also have to take care of ourselves to be able to have anything left to give to others.  We've all heard the analogy of the oxygen in the airplane.  First you put on your mask so you don't pass out, then you help your children put on theirs. Heavenly father expects us to take care of our bodies and our families and sometimes that means we have to disengage from other situations that take from our limited resources (emotional, time, financial) whatever the case may be.  Going back to that original definition about boundaries: if someone is unwilling to be safe or reasonable around you, then it may be time to give it some distance and walk away temporarily until that person is ready to interact with you in a healthier way.  We shouldn't judge what other people do but we can certainly be a wise judge in what we allow into our own lives and homes. Christ would not require us to be put in unsafe situations. He wouldn't want for us to be emotionally, verbally or physically neglected or abused. 

Christ was loving, kind and forgiving.  But he still gave people instruction and commandments.  He gave people the steps and practices that would improve our relationship with God.  I'm certainly not saying we should command people in how they should treat us but it seems probable to me that Christ wouldn't have any problem with us giving people guidelines about steps and practices that can make our relationships healthier too.  When the rich young man asks Christ what else he should do beyond believing on Christ, Christ tells him to sell all he has and follow him.  When the young man refuses to sell all of his great possessions he goes away sorrowful and Christ sorrowfully lets him go.  Christ doesn't say "okay never mind what I said before" or "I guess you don't really have to sell your possessions".  He stands firm in the instruction that he gave.  When we set a boundaries like- you need to listen to my feelings, or you can't be drunk around my kids, or you can't threaten me, or you can't yell profanities in my home, and the person refuses to do those things- then the Christlike thing to do is to step back.  It can be hard to remember but when you take a step back you have to realize that you didn't harm the relationship by making a boundary they harmed the relationship by not being willing to consider the boundary important.

I find that even though I've had more people temporarily upset with me in the last few months than I ever have before I also have more peace.  I feel sorrow that some of my relationships will change and some may even stay broken because others might not be willing to accept my boundaries.  But really, if someone can only be my friend if I'm the only one giving in the relationship, or because they don't know my real opinions about things, or I only tell them what they want to hear, or because I never stand up for probably wasn't a really quality relationship to begin with.  

I'm learning who I am and what I believe.  I know that I love and care about others.  I know that those who love and care about me will stay by me and support me as I make positive changes in my life and as I state my opinions. I'm learning sometimes being kind and loving requires me to do hard or difficult things. I'm learning that being a "red" personality isn't a bad thing like some would have you believe.  Each personality type has strengths and weaknesses. As I embrace my personality and focus on it's positives I know I can get stuff done! Like improving my relationships, improving my view of self, and improving my mental wellness and quality of life!

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