FAMILY PICNIC – BOUNDARIES
Stress less this summer with healthy relationships
When planning a picnic, perhaps the first thing you do is think about who you want to sit next to on the blanket. Picnics bring feelings of intimacy and connection, so the thought of inviting your greatest enemy wouldn’t cross your mind. Picnics are supposed to be fun, relaxing, and restorative. Strife may arrive at your door when you least expect it, but it will seldom find a seat on the picnic blanket.
If you were to throw a picnic this weekend, who would you invite? A best friend? A co-worker you click with? Who would you not invite? Chances are, you can answer these questions instantaneously. The answers to these questions reveal who adds value to your life and who adds strain to your life. These are the easy questions.
Here is the hard question. Who is the person you’d feel obligated to invite to your picnic and would reluctantly do so? They may not be a bad person or your greatest enemy. They may even be a person you like, but not a person you would elect to share a PB&J and sweet tea with on a sunny summer day. Yet somehow you find it impossibly hard to say “no.” You know you’ll not enjoy the day as much, but you feel a tension to invite them anyway. Perhaps it’s a proactive way to stave off future drama. Maybe you are concerned about their feelings, and you know they’ll feel hurt and rejected. So navigating a little less joy on your end feels negligible in light of their emotional wellbeing.
Your reasons for reluctantly inviting people to your picnic are not inherently bad. They show you possess a measure of empathy, intention, and self-awareness. Unfortunately, they may also show that you struggle creating healthy boundaries.
Brené Brown notes, “Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don’t matter, and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends.”
Establishing intentional interactions for various people in your life
This does not mean you reject everyone who makes you uncomfortable. It simply means establishing intentional interactions for various people in your life. The older you get the more you realize it is impossible to please everyone. The Apostle Paul phrased it this way:
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10 NIV).
Paul understood the cost of conviction. He understood that by living a spirit-led life he would not always do what people thought he should do. Despite their best intentions, people are fickle, and their opinions change direction like the wind.
- One day they may be a vegetarian; the next day they’re eating a steak.
- One day they hate their job; the next day they love it.
People often lack emotional stability and reliability, but you don’t have to be that person. It begins with clarifying what you will and will not accept in your life.
This isn’t just about people. This is about purpose. You’ve probably heard someone say, “If you don’t schedule your life someone else will schedule it for you.” Setting healthy boundaries means taking responsibility for the gifts God has given you, aligning your time and energy to best utilize those gifts to make an impact for the Kingdom of God, and informing people of these convictions.
When Peter attempted to inject his opinion on what Jesus should do and should not do, Jesus responded,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23 NIV).
One of the greatest gifts you can give your friends and acquaintances is the clarity of boundaries. When you can model what is acceptable and unacceptable in your life, you free people around you to do the same without guilt or condemnation.
Sure, they may huff and puff and create some temporary tension, but in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” People will adapt.
According to Alice Boyles of the Harvard Business Review: “Here’s a very basic law of psychology: When behaviors are reinforced, they increase. When you ignore them, you might see an ’extinction burst’ — a short-term rise in the problematic behaviors — but then they will stop.
For example, if a colleague emails you after-hours and you reply, you’re encouraging more work at night. The sender will ask for more — from you and everyone else. If you instead ignore inappropriate attempts to push you to overwork, the person may for a short period of time try frenetically and in more manipulative ways to get you to comply — the extinction burst — but then they’ll adapt. People are wired to learn.”
It’s ok to enjoy YOUR picnic.
It’s ok to schedule something that is life-giving to you without feeling an obligation to appease others. Ultimately, you are not responsible for their happiness.
According to Psychologist Henry Cloud, “We can’t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a ‘litmus test’ for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our no. They only love our yes, our compliance.”
In short, if people only like you when you do what they want, they are likely a relationship to keep at a distance. Great love never lasts when it has been built on a foundation of manipulation. Sometimes the greatest boundary you can set only consists of two letters, requires no explanation and needs no clarification.
“No” is a complete sentence.
People often look at boundaries as harsh overreactions to simple demands. This is not the case. Boundaries are not cold, hard walls erected to keep people out of your life. They are more like gates or fences. You can peer through a gate or fence and determine whether or not danger is approaching. If so, keep the gate locked.
However, if what approaches your gate is kind and will add value to your life, open the gate and let them in.
Jesus understands the significance of boundaries, and even more so, He respects them. He does not forcefully barge into your life and demand obedience, sacrifice, and love. No, he comes up to the gate of your life and says:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20, NLT).
The danger of establishing boundaries is that fear, failure, and trauma may also cause you to keep out things that are good. Your self-esteem may be so battered and worn that you would schedule a picnic, bring the food and games, but invite no one. This is an unhealthy boundary that feeds an unhealthy thought pattern.
Healthy boundaries will empower you, build confidence, invoke peace, and bring fulfillment. You’ll be more productive, purpose-filled, and more effective. If the boundary causes you to feel depressed, stressed, overwhelmed, and fearful, it’s not a healthy boundary.
So how do you set healthy boundaries and keep them?
Here are a few tips.
1. Determine External Invasive Actions
Sit down and write a long list of things people do or say that make you feel bad. For instance, it may bother you when someone walks into your office and begins having a conversation with you without knocking. It may seem minor to them, but you find the interruptions negatively affect your work production.
Maybe your spouse continually cuts you off when you are talking, and it makes you feel unheard and uncared for. Maybe they are too physical with you or use language you find unacceptable.
Whatever it may be, there are things people do and say that make you feel uneasy. Write them down
2. Commit to the Conversation
You don’t have to be a jerk to create boundaries. You just need to be clear. Whenever you set a boundary people don’t like they may
- Respond with greater aggression because you are cutting off the power they have over your life.
- Try to manipulate you into retracting the boundary by making you feel guilty.
- Throw out excessive ultimatums.
- Try to induce fear.
These reactions are merely confirmation of the path you are on and the boundaries you are setting in place. If a healthy boundary causes someone to leave a relationship with you, gracefully allow them to leave. You are not responsible for their happiness.
If they genuinely care for you and did not mean to violate an unspoken boundary, they will be sorrowful and apologetic and will gladly honor the boundaries. They may likely have some boundaries of their own they had been reluctant to share, and your courage has inspired them to take responsibility for their own mental health.
3. Stay Consistent
Don’t undermine your efforts with inconsistency. Write the boundaries down so you don’t forget them. Write out why you established these boundaries in the first place. Write out how you’ll enforce the boundaries. Keep them in your mind and don’t deviate. You know what’s best for you and no amount of debate should sway you from your goal.
As you open the weather app on your phone you see that the weekend looks bright, sunny and the weather will be a perfect 78 degrees. Go to your favorite park, beach, or rooftop and have a picnic with the people YOU want to be there.
And don’t feel bad about it.
Brené Brown (2012). “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”, p.122
Henry Cloud and John Sims, Townsend. Boundaries: When to say Yes, when to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 112.