Lines in the Sand: Setting Boundaries for Yourself

Last week, my post focused on underlying factors that drive our behaviors (Under the Surface: Anxiety, Binge Eating, and Coveting Control).  So, in this week’s post, I wanted to give a few examples of ways we can set boundaries to direct our actual behavior.  Even though dealing with what’s under the surface is incredibly important, there are simple ways we can set up boundaries for ourselves to direct the behavior we want to change. Sometimes, these boundaries can even impact the underlying factors themselves.

I want to be careful in describing these boundaries, because I am a notorious rule-follower.  I usually need more help with being willing to break rules than I do in getting myself to follow them.  I easily get to a place where rules become more important than the principle the rules are meant to protect.  Once, in one of many discussions about rule-breaking, I told my counselor I needed a rule to tell me which rules were ok to break!

All of that to say, boundaries and rules shouldn’t become more important than the principle behind them, nor should they become more important than other, more important principles.  They especially shouldn’t become more important than principles with regards to how you treat yourself and how you treat other people.  That’s why the first part of this post’s title is “lines in the sand.”  A line in the sand typically refers to something firm.  Here, however, I also want to think of a line in the sand as something that can be changed, redrawn, and even erased as our needs and circumstances change.

For a concrete example of what I mean by boundaries, here’s a classic example from my training in early childhood education.  A preschool teacher is frustrated because several of the children like to run back and forth across a path in the middle of the classroom.  She consults a mentor, who asks, “Well, why do you have a runway in the middle of your classroom?”  In other words, by simply rearranging the furniture, the teacher could almost eliminate the problem.  There are ways that we can apply this logic in our own live, by removing or rearranging factors that contribute to destructive patterns.

As a few personal examples…

  • Overeating/binge eating.  I thought I’d start with this one, since it’s related to my last post.  A typical and often helpful tactic to prevent binge eating is to avoid “trigger” foods.  There are certain foods that tend to set me off.  So, I simply don’t keep them in my house most of the time.  As those of you who struggle with food know, this doesn’t solve the problem–if you’re heading into a compulsive eating streak, you can pretty much binge on anything (even if you don’t like the food around you).  But keeping certain foods out of the house at least eliminates some of the contributing factors.  This is especially helpful during a time when you’re trying to deal with underlying factors, but are still in a place where your resistance is weak.
  • Stress and exhaustion.   In modern, technology-driven society, there are so many demands on our time.  At several points in past years, I have needed to set boundaries for myself to make sure I spent some of my time resting rather than constantly being active.  Sometimes that meant actually taking a Sabbath for one day on the weekend.  For a few months, it meant carving out an hour every day where I didn’t allow myself to do anything that felt like work.  There are certainly underlying factors that compel me to busyness.  Setting aside time to rest not only helps the surface problem of exhaustion, but also make me quiet enough that I have to acknowledge what’s under the surface.
  • Despondency.  I know, everyone thinks teachers have it great because we get the summer off (if you’d like, I can explain the trade-off to you sometime).  I do appreciate having that block of fairly flexible time, but it’s also a time I spend without structure and mostly alone.  During the summer, it’s easy for me to become discouraged and overwhelmed.  At the beginning of this past summer, my doctor gave me simple instructions: to get outside, to get around people, and to get moving.  So, I made it one of my summer boundaries that if someone invited me to an event that included one of the above–and I didn’t have a real conflict–then I couldn’t say no.  It got me to do what I needed to do, even when I didn’t necessarily want to. 
As I’ve explained in both of these posts, we need to pay attention to surface behaviors and their less obvious causes.  It’s a balance; but, at the same time, you can’t separate one from the other.  While seeking treatment for causes is imperative, symptoms are still very real, and shouldn’t be ignored, either.  Hopefully, I’ve sparked some ideas for you in terms of your own boundaries to set around your own behaviors.  Just remember to draw those lines in the sand.  And, above all else, know that your successes and your failures are covered by God’s infinite grace.
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