In addition to my degree in clinical social work, I have a masters degree in public health. One important goal of public health is to prevent disease from spreading. I want to help you see the costs to you of broken (or non-existent) boundaries by using the analogy of vaccines. First you need to understand that prevention is often invisible unless you look at the prevented costs. Here’s an example of that.
Vaccines–they are a great example of this phenomenon. Statistics reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases show that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccines alone that achieved cost savings are over $11.1 billion dollars in the US (∼$3.5 billion and ∼$7.6 billion from the direct cost and societal perspectives, respectively) And that does not include the prevented discomfort of the illness born. Those of you who have watched your child suffer from a difficult illness will get this right away. And of course we saw all of this play out in real time during the COVID pandemic.
So when you choose to ignore preventive vaccines, whatever your reasons may be, you not only increase the chances of you or a loved one getting sick, you run the risk of contributing to outbreaks, even pandemics, of what you choose to ignore. In other words, everybody suffers from your choice. And unfortunately, this can run through generations.And that is exactly how boundaries work.
The Cost To You Of Broken Boundaries Is Steep
When you don’t know how, or cannot hold, your own boundaries, nor respect the boundaries others have set, you suffer, your family suffers, and your children learn by observing your behaviors. Oh boy do they learn. Then they (unwittingly) pass on those same unhealthy behaviors to their children, making it harder and harder to for a family unit over time to function in a way that gives birth to healthy, happy, and creative lives. And of course there is the dysfunction that happens for you in the workplace and with your friends, in addition to your family members.
When you do not set healthy boundaries, there is a cost to you that may be hidden. First I’ll remind you that healthy boundaries are simply when you allow the good stuff in, and keep the bad stuff out—via several principles listed below. Brené Brown, at the University of Texas, Houston, has done seminal work in this area, and it is her research that I draw upon. She has some fantastic tools for this work that you can find here.
It is not your job to continually take responsibility for the other person’s emotions.
How To Create Healthy Boundaries
- Try to do what you say you are going to do, and don’t overpromise. This means being aware of your personal limits.
- If you screw up, own it and apologize. Make amends if necessary. If you made someone’s life more difficult by your error, then help them fix it if you can. The caution here is that you do not continually take responsibility for the other person’s emotions. That is not your job.
- Keep those lips sealed. Be aware of when you are leaning into gossip. Would you want whatever is being said to be said about you in your absence? Would you say it to the person’s face? And remember that when others listen to you, they are taking in the clear message that the story you are repeating without permission is something you would do to them as well.
- Do you live what you profess to value? Do your words match your deeds?
- When you are talking with a loved one or friend, do you feel safe with divulging tender feelings or painful areas of your life? In other words, does this person make you feel safe or judged? It is the judgment that needs to be addressed.
- Are you able to extend the benefit of the doubt to others without automatically assuming the worst? This is the most difficult when you feel you can easily predict a loved one’s behaviors. Sometimes you have to step back and put on your “curiosity hat.”
When you practice the above behaviors, resentment cannot build. You have taken the oxygen from it. When you have the skill, and it takes practice, of setting a clear boundary, trust can flourish.
If you have trouble with this, and with setting and holding healthy boundaries for yourself, contact me. I can help with that.