Friday, October 09, 2015

A Short Word about Boundaries

Here's a little factoid that keeps getting reinforced through the experience of life:

Healthy people don't have a problem with your personal boundaries.  Most of the time you don't even have to assert boundaries with a healthy person because there is mutual respect, and when you do there is quick correction.  But with an unhealthy person, your boundaries are a threat, an offense, and an accusation all rolled into one.

I know there are books out there about how to assert personal boundaries, and that's fine.  But what should be emphasized more is that you only have to work hard at maintaining personal boundaries with people who are unhealthy.  Why?

Because they don't like your boundaries, and they are probably used to getting people to back down with them.  When you maintain your individual integrity, limits, and values, it set limits on them getting what they want from you.  It doesn't allow them to have everything on their terms.  It may also highlight that they are doing wrong, or make them feel like they are doing wrong, and they don't want to look at that.  They may try to make you feel badly, guilty even, like you are doing wrong.  They may use veiled or explicit threats to get you to back down (I'll hurt you, I'll leave you, I'll replace you).  They may get angry.  They may entice you, lull you with flattery and approval.  And they may hound you with a sense of obligation to give them what they want.

What should also be emphasized more is that learning to assert your limits and values in a relationship doesn't "fix" the other person.  They are for you, not for them.  Learning to better assert your limits and values is something that becomes more important with difficult and unhealthy people, while we can relax and be a bit more flexible with people with whom we share mutual respect and care. 

So, that begs the question... if you have no real obligation to spend energy dealing with the unhealthy person, why do it?  In many cases, our boundary ought to simply be "No, I'm not dealing with you anymore, not like this." 

But often we can't.  We won't let ourselves.  We want to prevent some terrible outcome that we fear.  We don't want to feel like we've failed.  We don't want to be rejected.  We like feeling appreciated too much.  We like feeling like the hero.  And so we remain pawns for people who will look for ways to exploit every crack and pinhole.

Yes, we are all unhealthy to some degree.  We are all difficult to some degree.  This can keep us humble when dealing with difficult people.  But there is a difference here that doesn't really need explanation, and discerning that difference isn't wrong, judgmental, or mean.  It is wise.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Search for Significance

When I was younger, I wanted to be different.  Being different, I imagined, made me someone.  It established significance.  I had my own thing, my own "code", my own me that made me stand out from everyone else.  I carried that "difference" within myself through college, where I realized that it was a double-edged sword.  On one hand, it gave me a "name", but on the other hand, it made me very lonely.  I hid behind it, I retreated to it, because I didn't want to let anyone close to me... and honestly probably didn't even know how.  I was safe, but I was in a self-made prison.

What I have learned about man's "quest for significance" is that our quest cannot ultimately be satisfied.  Whatever we deem worthy of bestowing that significance on us -whether it be wealth, intellect, wisdom, a relationship, our social status, our job, our beliefs- will become something that rules us.  I have learned that this quest for significance is a sham because the whole enterprise is built upon a lie.  Every endeavor to establish a significance and glory of our own apart from God is the essence of sin.  It reveals how naturally the human heart seeks this kind of glory for itself, unwilling to settle for being even an "ordinary" creature who serves and loves the living God.

I have found now, however, that I can taste and see the sweetness of belonging to God and having a glory and purpose that is not my own but bestowed by my Maker... not depending on comparison to other people, not depending upon my works, but depending on Him who made me.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Problem with Emotional Validation

Emotional validation can be great.  Everybody likes to know they are heard, understood, and that their emotional experience is valid.  When a hurting person has someone to lean on and talk to, who can validate their pain and let them know they aren't crazy for having those hurts, it can be instrumental in that person's healing.

But there is a limit to what validation has to offer.  There is a limit to validation's effectiveness.  The issue with emotional validation is that our emotions about things are tied to us, and we sin.   Therefore, there can come a point where you just have to tell the person, "I've listened to your hurts so that you know I'm in your corner.  I've cried with you, hurt with you, and felt frustrated and angry with you.  But now I'm really just listening to you complain about and criticize people, and that has to stop.  I'm not going to sit here and let you sin and expect me to help you."

Emotional validation is helpful in careful doses.  It can help a person through a tough time.  It is a foot-in-the-door toward establishing trust and partnership.  But validation at the expense of the truth can just be enabling someone to continue in sin.

"Hey, I understand that you feel very frustrated about those people, but right now you're just sinning.  They haven't actually sinned against you.  You are expecting me to tell you that it is okay for you to act like this, but it isn't.  Sorry."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ruminating about the Obvious

I spend a lot of time thinking about how life works and how to word things so as to crystallize the essence into something comprehensible.  It's a bit of a hobby of mine.  But recently I've realized all over again that one of the reasons I ruminate in this way is because I'm essentially rehearsing for the imaginary moment I'll need to explain and defend common sense to certain folks in my life who either don't get it or want to twist it so that they can justify their actions.

Thankfully, every now and then I come to a deeper realization of what a true waste of mental energy that is.  The people who get it don't need an explanation, and the rest won't learn from one... and probably don't even want to.

Unfortunately, some people want to be able to do whatever they want, and throwing you off balance by putting you on the defensive is a great way to manipulate you into getting out of their way.  So why oblige them?  Save your mental energy and words for the people who are truly there with you.