Leisa Aitken, renowned psychologist, defines a boundary as anything that helps you differentiate you and your responsibilities from someone else and their responsibilities. There is nothing easy about setting up or enforcing boundaries, not setting any boundaries leaves you over-run and exhausted whereas setting up boundaries can make you look selfish and self-interested.
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Leisa uses Jesus as a perfect example for setting up boundaries, she points out that Jesus withdrew from crowds and only selected twelve disciples, setting up boundaries for himself. “He did for us, what we couldn’t do ourselves” says Leisa and this is how we should establish boundaries with others. People often fall into two major categories when setting up boundaries; “over-functioners” are those who do things for others that they are capable of doing for themselves, and “under-functioners” are those who ask others to do their own tasks. When looking at how one can become an over functioner Leisa says it’s a part of our nature to feel like we need to have a role in our relationships, be it the care-giving mother, the nurturing spouse or supportive best friend. Similarly, it’s hard to see the ones we love struggle and we can use solving their problems to hide our own problems and struggles. On the other hand, by feeling resentful about asking other people to help you can be the key indicator for an under-functioner.
The tell-tale signs of an over-functioner is emotional exhaustion, not feeling like you’re accomplishing anything and resentment for not being able to do everything. If any of these ring true for you Leisa advises that you to look at your own thoughts when someone asks you to do something for them, if your initial reaction is negative or if you feel pressured, you should re-evaluate why you are doing these things for others.
How can I put up boundaries without being judged? “It’s tricky, especially if you’re the over-functioner,” says Leisa “as you often leave an under-functioner in the dark.” It’s best to pull back slowly and gently, determine what your responsibilities are and what others are entitled to do. Sometimes, even speaking with the under-functioner, encouraging them to take control and giving them autonomous tasks can boost their self-esteem and help them.
All being said, the best way to know where your boundaries should be is to pray about it, ask God for guidance to where your duties lie and where he can step in. Also, be aware of the things you do, why you do them and whether you should. Leisa pointed out the works of Harriet Learner, The Dance of Connection, the Mother Dance and many others, where she covers the more specifics of setting up and enforcing boundaries. Lisa has also done other Open House Masterclasses on Mindfulness, Anxiety and Depression.