The concept of relationship boundaries is designed to enable us to clarify our expectations and ensure that our interactions with others are both appropriate to the relationship and comfortable, or at least non-confrontational, for everyone involved. But what about your relationship with you?
Each of us needs boundaries or parameters for ourselves as well. Boundaries we design for ourselves set standards for our own behaviors and practices to keep us on track to meet our personal goals, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and live out our faith as we are called. In fact, if you don’t set and adhere to personal boundaries that you’ve set for yourself, you’re much less likely to successfully respect the boundaries set by people you love and care about.
We all know someone (maybe ourselves) who seems to put all her thoughts and energy into caring for others in some way. There’s nothing wrong with being that person – actually, it’s great. But if you’re a person who invests as much time as possible into caring for, ministering to, or teaching others, you may be at risk of becoming worn out, physically or emotionally. There are times and situations when we need to invest a huge percentage of our time and energy to care for someone we love, and we give up some of the time we might have spent caring for our emotional, spiritual, and even some physical needs. But this sort of situation should only happen in a true crisis, like the birth of a baby, caring for a loved one with a terminal illness, or otherwise willingly giving up your time and energy for a short, predetermined period of time. You can’t live in a suspended state of emergency with no end in sight. Keeping yourself in an anxious, fight-or-flight type of mindset for long periods can – no, does – do serious, long-term damage to your mental health, and to your actual, physical brain itself. I could go get a book off my shelf and give you a citation from a neuroscientist, but trust me, I didn’t need him to tell me that some of the gears in my head were broken after some of things I’ve been through.
I’m not a big fan of rocking chairs, so I didn’t ask for one for the baby shower. Nevertheless, here I am, rocking back and forth at the waist, sitting on the couch holding my wailing newborn daughter. Eric was only allowed a few days off after she was born, so I’m alone in our one-room basement apartment, and I have no idea how to make her screaming stop. As she cries I can feel a steady flow of post partem blood seeping out of me, and I am becoming light-headed. Then, finally, she settles down to a quieter, sleepy whine. I quickly lay her down in the crib and rush to the bathroom a few feet away, feeling the blood starting to run down my leg. But as soon as I sit down, she is screaming again. Crying now myself, I slowly and sorely make my way back to the crib and pick her up. Holding her in my arms again, I shuffle back to the toilet. I make it there, still holding her, and manage to sit down just as my vision begins to blur and I begin to feel like I’m spinning. I sit and bleed and cry as she lays there, crying again, on the bathmat at my feet. I try to calm her by rubbing her belly with my toes.
I loved my baby girl dearly, of course, but I couldn’t enjoy her because, only days after her birth, I was still too ill and weak to even care for myself. I know now that, even though the umbilical cord was cut, my daughter could still sense my own terror as if it were her own. I was so afraid of failing as a mother that I heard judgment in her cries, as if she were giving voice to my inadequacy. In fact, we were crying together, both terrified of our new, unknown reality.
I don’t blame myself for not doing things differently then. As a 22-year-old new mom, I had no idea what I would or wouldn’t need in terms of support, physical help, medical attention, or even sleep for that matter. But when several days like the one I described chained together, I knew I was in bad shape and needed help of some kind. But I was too proud, too ashamed, and too afraid to ask anyone.
Side note: The kicker here is that we were living in a small basement apartment, but the house itself was owned, even built, by the couple who lived right above us. And they had just had their first baby a month before my daughter was born. Another new mom was literally a single staircase away, but I didn’t go up those stairs and meet her baby until my daughter was six weeks old. When I did, I hid my cry-for-help behind an apology to her, in case my daughter’s crying had been waking her son. She said she was going to say the same thing to me about her son’s crying. She was also wearing pajamas in the afternoon and had a burp rag on each shoulder. Neither of us had the guts to ask for, or offer, to help. Brenda, if you’re out there and you read this, I’m sorry. And I’d love to see you again.
But no one chooses to go into crisis mode like this, not intentionally anyway, and when you’re in it, you know damn well that you would do just about anything to get out of it. So do that. Even if you need to call in multiple different friends and family members to bail you out of the flood, do what it takes. Swallow your pride, like I didn’t, accept whatever help you can get, and get through the crisis. Because you will get through it regardless, but if you seek help and guidance and love in the process you’ll get through it with only a few damaged brain cells and many reasons to feel thankful.
What about when it’s bad, but not an emergency? Or even when it’s not bad at all, or it’s pretty good, and you want to keep it that way? In a crisis-mode situation like the one I described above, self-control comes in like an ambulance. It’s an emergency, and the only boundary you’re setting with yourself is the one that tells you to swallow your pride or fear and get help.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t call an ambulance for a sore throat, because that’s an illness, but not an emergency. But the best way to avoid an emergency situation is to prevent it from happening. Self-discipline and self-control are the tools you use to prevent yourself from going into crisis mode and save yourself the hospital and ambulance fees. Metaphorically, I mean.
Self-discipline is HARD. Most of us have multiple areas in our lives where self-discipline is necessary, and fewer tasks that we enjoy enough to not require it. So self-discipline becomes a balancing act, where we’re asking ourselves, “What do I really have to do, and what can I let slide?” until you let it slide for too long and end up in crisis mode.
I have such a hard time with this, and I always have, because I am a person who has BIG FEELINGS and LOTS OF RESPONSIBILITIES and TOO MANY HOBBIES. (Try saying the phrases in all caps in a big, deep giant-on-the-mountain voice. It’s fun.) The problem with that is that I have both lots of things I need to do and lots of things I want to do. So I find myself performing the balancing act, but failing at it pretty regularly.
Actually, I’m failing at it right now, because it’s 1:16 AM and way past my bedtime. In this moment I’m prioritizing my writing work before my need for high-quality and an adequate quantity of sleep, for tonight anyway. But I did the pros and cons thing in my head, and given my schedule and goals for tomorrow, I should be able to either sleep later in the morning or take an afternoon nap. And if you’re going to get a blog post from me on Monday, I need to put in the time.
Some people would probably argue that it’s important to stay in a steady rhythm of sleeping hours, going to bed at the same time, give or take a few minutes, every night, and waking up at the same time every morning. And those people would be absolutely right. But I don’t have a 9-5 job to go to (and really for most people it’s like 7AM –9:15PM lately). What I do have, though, is a lot of stuff to get done, a house full of messy teenagers and pet hair, and memory loss that has me looking for my phone twenty-six times a day. If I freak out right now about some task on my list that has to be done right the heck now, I theoretically could get up, get it done, and plan to sleep late in the morning (or maybe the afternoon). But self-discipline tells me that, although one night up until 1AM won’t cause me many problems, I can’t make this a regular thing. I know that I function best when I get a solid 8 hours of sleep during the normal sleeping hours, and that 9 hours is actually the most optimal for me.
The self-disciplinary boundary here is that I go to bed at roughly the same time every night and wake up at roughly the same time every morning, but my bad-girl alter ego is showing, and I broke my own boundary tonight. I’ll pay for it tomorrow, I’m sure. I think that the knowledge that I will have an opportunity to either sleep late in the morning or take a nap during the day only sort of makes up for the broken boundary. I probably won’t sleep well during the day tomorrow. Actually, I will probably keep finding things to do, and do them with drooping eyelids. Because sleep, and in particular going to bed before it’s actually the next day, is one area where I struggle with self-discipline. I have a pretty good track record with other things, though, like making sure the dishes are done a few times a day and the laundry is rotated person-by-person throughout the week. I’m developing a habit of spending time in prayer first thing in the morning and following that up with some Bible reading. Again, I don’t do it perfectly, and I don’t do it every day, but I do make a practice of it pretty consistently.
So what are the areas in your life in which your self-discipline and motivation are in good shape? Where do you need to set a goal for yourself to keep yourself on track? What part of your life is lacking in self-discipline? Do you have ideas to get it on track? And where do you like to break your own rules?
Answer these questions in the comments, or better yet, head over to my private Facebook group, PTG Overcomers Community, and request a free lifetime membership while they’re still available (only 30 free memberships remaining!).