Boundaries protect ourselves, loved ones

By Sharon Witzell
My parents purchased a flock of baby chicks every spring when I was growing up. My father put a fence up to keep them safe from speeding cars on the road. At night they would stay locked in a little shed to keep the coyotes from eating them.
Similarly, we use boundaries to keep the bad things out and the good in. We all need boundaries to keep ourselves and members of our family safe. Boundaries set a border or limit like the fence and shed that protected the chicks on my family’s farm. Personal boundaries define your identity, what you value, what you’re good at, your beliefs, needs or feelings.
We use words to set boundaries. The most basic boundary word is “no.” If you were abused or bullied as a child you may have difficulty setting boundaries. Often people with poor boundaries have trouble saying no and they avoid speaking the truth. They please people and think it is selfish to say no to people who need them. Often people use them and disrespect them.
Bishop Fulton Sheen said: “Christ did not come to make us nice people. He came to make us new men.” Being a loving and unselfish Christian doesn’t mean we always have to agree with another person’s wrong behavior or never telling anyone no. We create a boundary when we say, “that behavior is not okay” or “I disagree with what you are doing.”
When God created the earth he fixed boundaries so that people might seek him and find him. (Acts 17: 26, 27) In the scriptures he often tells us what is okay to do and not okay to do. When Pope Francis said, “It is not okay to put your parents in a nursing home and never visit them. If you do not learn to treat the elderly well, you won’t be treated well either,” he set a boundary to protect the elderly seniors in our church.
We can set a boundary when we state how we feel about the facts. A good way to set a boundary is to follow these four steps: state the facts, tell how you feel about those facts, state what you need, and state a consequence if an adult or your child does not respect the boundary you set for them.
I once heard a priest state these four steps in a homily. “We don’t have enough money to pay the bills to run this church. I feel stressed, anxious and worried about this. I need all of you to start paying your full tithe to this church so I can get some sleep at night or I’ll have a stroke.” I heard a friend state this boundary to her husband. “It is not okay for you to be looking at pornography. I feel disrespected, hurt and embarrassed when you do that. I need you to go get help or pack your bags and move out.”
Your loved ones may get angry or feel offended when you set a boundary or they may accuse you of saying negative things about them, but a wise elderly priest told me “It’s okay to say negative things if it’s the truth and you are helping to save someone’s soul or improve their behavior.”
He also told me I need not worry if they felt ashamed or offended as it was not what I said when I spoke the truth to them that offended them, it was what they did or did not do that caused them to feel hurt and offended.
Witzell is program coordinator for Senior Adult Ministries.