When it comes to the people we love, we want to protect them. We want them to be safe, warm and dry (with full tummies). We want the people we love to feel happy and whole. But what do you do when your loved one keeps making decisions that keep them from being safe, happy and whole?
Whether they are abusing substances, staying in unhealthy relationships, or self-sabotaging their success, you want to help them. Often this “help” takes the form of rescuing them from the natural consequences of their behavior. This help often comes at the expense of our own wellbeing.
Setting boundaries with our loved ones can feel like “being mean” or punishing them for their behavior. However, the longer we interfere with the natural consequences of their actions the longer it takes them to start making new, healthier choices. Mistakes are how humans learn. That can be hard to remember when the person making the mistakes is someone we love.
We can love someone and not like their behavior. Setting healthy boundaries does not mean that you do not love them or that you are a bad person. It means you understand there is a difference between who someone is and they choices they make.
What is an appropriate boundary?
Well for starters, you are the only one who can decide what an appropriate boundary is for you. For a boundary to work, it has to be one that you are willing to keep. You have to stick to that boundary even when you want to rescue your loved one. Because once you break that boundary, the expectation from the other person is that no matter what you say, you will change your mind later.
A healthy boundary must be concrete. It needs to be clear and simple to you. You have to be consistent with that boundary, so it must be specific and tangible. You may need to write it down or talk it through with a trusted person. Clarity will help you when the person you love is angry with you for setting the boundary.
A healthy boundary is communicated clearly. You have to be brave and tell your loved one what you are and are not willing to do. This is another reason that writing it down can be helpful.
A healthy boundary must be consistent. This is why it is so important to choose a boundary you are willing to keep. Once you have identified and communicated it clearly, you have to be willing to stick to it. When you are new at setting boundaries you have to be extra firm and consistent to show that you are serious. Often the change from unhealthy to healthy boundaries is a process that takes time (even years).
Recognize that setting boundaries is a new skill that you are learning and like all new skills, it can be challenging at first. But it does get easier with practice. Remember just because you love someone doesn’t mean you are responsible for their choices.