Monday, May 02, 2011

Family relationships: setting healthy boundaries

Family connections are still very much on my mind these days, partly because of the situation with my cousin, but also because of a play that I'm going to do later this fall titled 'Night, Mother by Marsha Norman.

The play is about suicide; it is just the two women on stage for the whole time, and it is powerful, dramatic, and thought-provoking. When we did the read-through, several people present, including me, were in tears. And we realized from that experience that suicide touches more lives than we perhaps realize. There are preliminary plans to involve suicide prevention groups and mental health professionals to encourage better awareness and speak to the issues that so often surround suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Watch for more information and performance dates.


I've also been contemplating family relationships, both extended and nuclear, and how we behave with those we are closest to. Sometimes we are most unkind to those who we supposedly love the most -- perhaps because we feel secure that we will be loved in spite of our actions? Or is it that we put down our mask within our family circle and reveal what is really going on if anyone cares enough to look deeply enough?

I also think there are givers and there are takers in every family, in every group. The givers -- of which I am one and always have been, sometimes not healthily -- will put others' welfare above their own in many cases and sometimes to go extreme lengths to make sure the needs of others are met despite whatever sacrifice it may entail. One of my daughters has done this in the extreme with most of her relationships, and they have cost her dearly in money, material possessions, time, and mental and physical health. She has not yet learned how to draw  boundaries. And I was probably not the best role model for her when she was young.

It took me a long time to begin to establish boundaries, and I'm still learning, but it is necessary to become fully who we are. (I continue to daily repeat Mary Oliver's poem "The Journey" about saving the only life I can save -- which is mine.)

This article speaks to boundaries, saying among other goodies: " You can’t set a boundary and take care of someone else’s feelings at the same time. You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting."

It goes on to say that learning to set them is a process, and that you will do so as you are ready.

It's hard. It's not fun. But it IS liberating to take care of the only person I can really be responsible for -- myself.

There also are takers, who while they may give lip service to the needs of others, really want the attention to be on their needs, their wishes, their lives, and don't really want to listen to your stories. I've had experience with them in my family as well, although I'm finding that with some age and life experiences, some of the takers have achieved some balance in their actions and can give without expecting a return.

What makes us a giver or a taker? This article says it likely begins in childhood and how we are raised, what needs are met or ignored, how we are treated. And this one has some good exercises in how to begin to set them.

What is important now is that we can change. We can learn how to treat both ourselves and others with compassion and kindness. Setting boundaries is an act of self-love as well as an indication of acceptable behavior. It is not closing a door on a relationship, but rather an affirmation that both parties are important. 

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