If there were only one skill I could teach, it would be boundaries. In both my professional life and personal life, I have observed that there is no more powerful skill than the ability to have, communicate, manage, and maintain healthy boundaries. This applies in our home life, personal life, work life, social life, and spiritual life.
Boundaries are the key to health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, frustrated, afraid, angry, resentful, depressed, anxious, or anything of the like, read on. This series on boundaries can help.
First, what is a boundary? Boundaries can be tangible or intangible. Tangible boundaries include fences, walls, property lines, and even our skin. They tell us where our ownership and responsibility begin and end. They keep in the good, such as pets, children, and organs. They keep out the bad, like thieves, rain, and viruses. Examples of intangible boundaries include words, time, and emotional distance.
Whether tangible or intangible, boundaries serve the same purposes. They help define us, so that others know who we are and aren’t. They tell us where our responsibility and ownership end and where someone else’s begins. They help let the good in, such as love, joy, and success, while keeping out the bad, such as pain, abuse, and fear. Boundaries serve to protect our values, feelings, beliefs, talents, and limits. Because they are individualistic, they must be communicated in order to be known.
Boundary challenges are common among families and family businesses. The reason is the multitude of roles each person plays. Dad may be a boss and a husband. Mom may be a wife and an investor. Uncle may be a vendor, a brother, and also a friend. Cousins may be co-workers, partners, and competition for leadership.
The lines can easily become blurry. How does a father give critical job performance feedback to his son? How does an aunt tell her nephew he is not the best candidate for a job? How does a niece tell her uncle she is being treated unfairly?
My favorite analogy for this situation is the wearing of hats. Each hat defines our present role and thus shapes our behavior. Here’s a story I’ve heard…
A father calls his son into his office and puts his “Boss” hat on. He stands behind his desk and tells his son, his employee, he is not well suited for this line of work and is thus being fired. The father then puts on his “Dad” hat, sits down by his son, and says, “I heard you lost your job. How can I help?”
It’s a beautiful example of boundaries done well. The truth was spoken and handled respectfully. Critical feedback and the need for change was expressed. Relationship was valued.
Nurturing healthy boundaries is a delicate process. One only you can do. One you must do to have healthy relationships, both with others and yourself.
The next entry in the Boundary Series will be “Common Boundary Challenges.”