By Kelly Wright
“The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Psalm 16:6
Hope for the Perfectionist by David Stoop and Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend are two books that rocked my world as I began my counseling career.
They have continued to challenge me as I have read them almost every year for twenty-five years. Although I have memorized parts from both, the practice of setting healthy boundaries, especially with perfectionism, is still a work in process.
In Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend illustrate boundaries as a fence around a yard. In my yard, I am in charge of my thoughts, feelings. You are in charge of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in your yard.
Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe in theory, but in practice, I keep finding myself in other people’s yards. When I’m in another’s yard, I feel over-responsible for how they are feeling or what they are doing or thinking.
This past Monday is a great example. It was my daughter’s first day at her new job, and I was very tempted to call her in the morning and make sure that she was awake and ready for the day. I talked myself into it for several minutes, but then I realized that calling her would be jumping into her yard. Thankfully, I maintained my own boundaries, and though I didn’t end up calling her, I smiled really big when she texted me from her new office J
I’m not responsible for making sure my 23-year-old daughter is awake and ready for her first day of work. As a fence around your yard, boundaries define where you end and someone else begins. They define what you are responsible for.
In the early years of being a counselor, the boundary lines weren’t so easily defined. I felt very over-responsible for my clients. It was like the weight of their goals was all on my shoulders. At times, I felt I was carrying my clients instead of walking alongside them. If they didn’t make choices that moved them towards their goal, I would feel responsible and question what I needed to do to improve.
This was incredibly unhealthy thinking. One day this thought came to me:
If I was a dietician and was working with someone to get healthy, if they didn’t follow the eating plan or any of the strategies we discussed, would it be my fault if they continued to have health problems?
In that moment, I realized that I was violating a boundary. I believed I was responsible for my clients, when the truth is I was responsible to them.
Being responsible to my clients involved doing my best as a counselor. Being responsible for them was codependent and meant I was believing I had some power to control how they felt, thought, or behaved.
David writes of boundaries in Psalm 16 – The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places; surely, I have a delightful inheritance.
As challenging as boundaries are to set, the future benefits that we reap from boundaries are worth the effort.
As you reflect on the topic of boundaries, do you see yourself as someone who feels over-responsible or responsible for others? If so, what might be an internal boundary you could set to help remind you to focus on your yard?
There are so many great concepts in the Boundaries book. If you’d like to get a copy, click here.