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How implementing healthy boundaries allows us to thrive

Encounter at Catholic Charities

By Ché Wilson

Picture this: it’s 6:30 AM on a weekday morning, and you’ve woken up without hitting the snooze button even once.

Your partner and children are going kindly about getting ready for the day, the traffic is light on your way into work, and your favorite parking spot is waiting, seemingly, just for you.

For most of us, the reality is snooze buttons, wrangling family members, hitting what feels like every red light, and pushing through the morning “routine.”

But how could that ideal scenario become a reality, or even the new normal?

Can you picture how your mindset might change if your mornings begin with hopeful expectation, rather than dread? 

While we manage our daily tasks, we’re confronted at every juncture with the demands of relationship, societal conflicts, and a myriad of inconveniences.

As we adapt to those interruptions, we sometimes experience an erosion to our positivity.

We begin to think of others as the “enemy,” a doting parent becomes a short-tempered dictator.

An industrious employee becomes the object of scrutiny.

A well-meaning friend becomes the bearer of unsolicited help, and at worse, a hypocrite.

How can we shed this mindset and find again the inner peace that helps us to meet daily challenges with grace?

One way to start is by implementing healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are parameters that we position for ourselves that not only protect ourselves but ensure that we have more positive and productive outcomes with others we encounter.

In her book How to Have Meaningful Relationships, Emma Powers writes that boundaries “enable you to set the standard for how you’d like to be treated.”

While the outcomes of boundaries are described as positive, the work that we must put into establishing those boundaries is often grueling.

Establishing boundaries requires us to be able to know ourselves, be unapologetic about protecting ourselves, and be respectful of others’ boundaries.

Perhaps one of the most challenging steps is the first: knowing ourselves.

Knowing ourselves is a crucial skill for us to master.

One prohibition to knowing ourselves is falling prey to believing ourselves to be only that which others have told us we are.

When we define ourselves by others, rather than by Our Creator, we are tempted into a conflicted state of resentment and appeasement.

This conflict can then lead to resentment, because when we discard who God created us to be in favor of who others want us to be, we’ve chosen to ignore the beauty of our own selves.

Perhaps you’ve seen this play out in your own life.

Maybe when your plate was full, but you said “yes” to an event — then found it to be a waste of your time.

Or, maybe you interrupted your schedule to help a friend and received no gratitude in return.

When we don’t draw boundaries around our time, our well-being, or our mental peace, we end up sacrificing what we don’t have, and in turn experience resentment of others asking more of us than we can provide.

It can be hard to remember that, though we’re created in the image and likeness of our God, we are not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent.

We strive to imitate His goodness, but if we neglect our own needs in constant appeasement of others, we’ll soon run short of the energy needed to serve others with love.

So, drawing healthy boundaries is a means of protecting ourselves and that protection is also a form of self-care or self-love.

And when we care for ourselves well, we can begin to climb out of the burn-out of self-neglect and begin to notice again the people and things that bring us joy, make us feel worthwhile, and engage in God’s work with a renewed energy.

To put it another way, while responding to others’ needs by serving in any capacity is love in action, or charity, we each have limitations of time, energy, and mental peace.

Healthy boundaries can protect us from becoming drained or questioning God’s direction in our lives, feeling lost.

Whether your faith life is young, or you think of yourself as a well-seasoned Christian, we all have times of questioning God’s call and direction in our lives.

It’s important to ask yourself if that questioning is a passing time of discernment or welling up from an experience of continued burnout due to a lack of healthy boundaries.

As we draw our boundaries, we should be mindful of communicating those to others with grace, and especially mindful of others’ boundaries for us.

Powers provides us with a few tips on respecting others while asking them what we need to find the balance between their and our own boundaries.

She encourages us to:

  • Write a letter or send a text message, rather than calling or launching into the subject in person, to allow the other person to have time to think about the request and the response.
  • Recognize time in our requests and be lenient as to when we expect others to act.
  • Be aware of the other person’s needs and abilities.

It’s always important to remember that boundaries are not created to cut people off or insulate you from others’ needs.

Healthy boundaries are meant to protect ourselves from demands that we are not able to fulfill and ultimately help us transform our mindset from “surviving” daily demands to “thriving” among them. 

In Fall 2022, Ché Wilson served as an MSW Practicum Student at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri in the Counseling Services program. Want to learn more? Read up on our Counseling Services program and find supportive materials online at cccnmo.diojeffcity.org/counseling-services.