John is a hard worker and dedicates every day to accomplishing great things at his office. His coworkers notice his achievements and begin asking him to help them, to do favors for them, even to mentor and coach them. John is excited about the acknowledgement and agrees to help others. But taking more onto his load creates an imbalance for him and soon, he is finding himself unhappy and resentful toward his coworkers—who still continue to come to him for assistance. John wishes he could say no, but he feels even more guilty when he kindly declines to help. So he continues on in a turmoil of angst and discontent.
Amanda loves talking with her girlfriends. She is such a good listener and is very compassionate toward others who are suffering. Her friends recognize this, and they often turn to her for a listening ear when they are troubled or down. Amanda finds great satisfaction in helping her friends, but afterward, she always feels weighed down by the things they shared with her.
Do either of these sound familiar?
Should John and Amanda be selfish and focus on their own self-care? Or should they continue to serve others, even when it doesn’t quite seem in balance or in their best interest?
Is it possible for them to continue helping others, and yet find a balance too?
These are hard situations. So it’s difficult to simplify a solution in just a few words.
But the underlying concept in both these narratives is the lack of boundaries.
Boundaries are (or should be!) everywhere. At work. At school. At home. Even between parents and children. I really liked this definition of a boundary: “Think of a boundary as the line you draw around yourself to define where you end and where your child begins.” (EmpoweringParents.com)
So, in application of all areas of life, boundaries are the line you draw around yourself to separate yourself from everyone else and everything else.
I like to think visually, so when I talk about boundaries, I always remember the scene in the 1995 version of “A Little Princess” where Liesel Matthews, acting as Sara Crewe, is now banished to the attic to live and to work as a servant. Uncertain of what lies ahead, she takes a piece of chalk in her hand and draws a circle on the wooden planked floor — around her to create a safe space for her to lie down and cry for her father.
That circle she drew–that’s what a boundary is.
It can be physical space (keeping an empty chair next to you at a meeting), or it can just be an energetic space (I visualize a bubble around me, with all my thoughts, wants, needs, passions, etc. floating around in it).
The purpose of boundaries are to keep yourself and others safe. My boundary keeps me safe and protected, as your’s does for you.
I love this picture taken by Mike Miller of the penguins he saw in the Falkland Islands, near the Atlantic Ocean.
Here, you can see the clear boundary line the penguins are staying within—for their safety and for the safety of the spectators as well! Even the onlookers can see not to cross the boundary. They respect it and allow it–which protects them as well.
That’s what boundaries do for us. They protect us and they protect others.
Here’s a fun example:
One cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, a camel gently thrust his nose under the flap and looked in. “Master,” he said, “let me put my nose in your tent. It’s cold and stormy out here.” “By all means,” said the Arab, “and welcome” as he turned over and went to sleep.
A little later the Arab awoke to find that the camel had not only put his nose in the tent but his head and neck also. The camel, who had been turning his head from side to side, said, “I will take but little more room if I place my forelegs within the tent. It is difficult standing out here.” “Yes, you may put your forelegs within,” said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was small.
Finally, the camel said, “May I not stand wholly inside? I keep the tent open by standing as I do.” “Yes, yes,” said the Arab. “Come wholly inside. Perhaps it will be better for both of us.” So the camel crowded in. The Arab with difficulty in the crowded quarters again went to sleep. When he woke up the next time, he was outside in the cold and the camel had the tent to himself. (Author Unknown)
In all seriousness, maintaining our boundaries is vital in maintaining who we are and what we can offer others.
So how do we maintain our boundaries?
Because our boundaries are not as visible as a chalk line or a tent flap, they often get crossed or invaded without us even knowing. But you know what is truly incredible? We each have a gift that alerts us when a boundary is being violated. It’s a simple thing—and you are probably very familiar with it already. Do you know what it might be?
It is your anger.
Your anger is a gift to you—that comes to you when you have a boundary being violated. It says, “Hey You! Look! This person or this situation crossed your boundary! There’s something you need to do about it—to restore the line!”
Your anger does not come to tell you to get revenge—that does not restore the boundary. Nor does it come to you to tell you that you’re out of control, you’re a bad person, or that you need anger management skills. It is actually coming to you simply to say, your boundary has been violated and you’re in danger if you don’t restore it.
Isn’t that amazing?
Realizing this created a huge shift in me from feeling guilty and bad for having anger to a place where when I feel angry now, I recognize it’s there, I am alerted to my broken boundary, I fix it, and then anger leaves. And I feel better from it.
You can make this shift too!
Start thinking differently about your anger. See it as your sidekick, rather than an enemy, or even part of you. Your anger is not you. Your anger is not who you are. Your anger is not even a part of you. It is separate, coming to you to tell you that there is something you need to do to restore your boundary.
TAKE NOTE: Boundaries are a protection for you and for others.
- When a boundary has been violated, you cannot function properly and wholly.
- Because of this, you have a gift of anger that comes to you to alert you when a boundary is broken.
- Being aware of this, you can then tune in to your heart to discern what action you need to take to restore your boundary.
Once you have taken action to restore the boundary, anger leaves and you are left in peace!
There are a lot of articles on this site that talk about anger, that describe what you can do once you recognize your boundary has been violated, and how you can identify your anger’s message to you of how to restore it. (Yes! Tuning into your heart and your anger can illuminate to you how to restore your boundary in safe and healthy way!)
- “Shifting from Anger Management to Anger Assistance” is a great article talking more in depth about anger, and it gives you a step-by-step process of how to discern your anger’s message–so you can try it out right now!
- “I Felt Disrespected, so This is What I Did” is an article about when a family member left a dirty bowl on the countertop for me to clean up after them (invading my boundary of respect)–how frustrated and hurt I was for being treated like a servant, and what I did when I recognized my anger over the situation.
- “Annoyed with Renters–and What it Really Means” is a post about physical boundaries being violated, and how I worked through that.
- Also read “Emotional Offspring. Yeah, That’s a Thing.” It’s a fundamental post about which emotions (like frustration or annoyance) fall under the main category of “Anger.”
Check these posts out! And send me your own stories!
I have seen a HUGE change in my life with my anger as I’ve learned to recognize my negative emotion as a messenger to me, alerting me that my boundary has been violated. I feel more whole, more sustained, and more able to give to others when I discern it’s appropriate. I’m grateful for the gift of my anger!
You can feel this same way too! You can feel more whole as you intentionally create a safe space around you as you participate in the world. And you can identify your anger’s message and reestablish your invaded boundaries when necessary. You can do it! You can!