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Leslie came across as a pleasant older woman. She was small in stature, slender and well dressed. She pensively walked into my office with a gentle shyness which revealed that she had a sensitive nature. With tea in hand, Leslie and I entered my office and we immediately assumed our positions as therapist and client. After a little small talk and some necessary pretreatment conversation, Leslie disclosed that she was seeking therapy to satisfy the stipulations of her probation.
Without prodding, she disclosed the nature of her crime. She started with, “I am a nice person and wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone.”
Instantly my curiosity was piqued. She seemed a little uneasy, so I leaned in and gave her a reassuring nod, letting her know she had my full attention. Leslie went on to describe her daily summer routine of waking, breakfast and then immediately out to her garden to tend her flowers, especially her prized roses. With a glowing smile, she described her pride in nurturing the fragrant and multi-colored rose blooms that gave her such satisfaction. Though I was not sure where she was going with this, I urged her to continue.
Hurriedly, she explained. “It was a few weeks ago that I began noticing that the ground around my favorite rose bush, the Peace rose, was being disturbed and at further investigation I observed one early morning that two local cats were using my rose garden as their personal litter box”.
As Leslie continued, I began to understand how this mild-mannered, unassuming, non-violent, rose gardener ended up being charged with assault and now, sitting on my couch.
Leslie stated that it didn’t take long for her to realize that her new next door neighbor’s felines were responsible for the fecal infractions. On numerous occasions, but to no avail, Leslie pleaded with her neighbor to contain his cats. She begged for respect of her property and regard for her boundaries. Unfortunately, that respect never came, and Leslie’s frustration bloomed. Leslie continued to find poo droppings buried in her roses and her frustration eventually turned to infuriation. One early morning, after watching one of the cats again defecating in her beloved rose garden, with a bag of freshly infused littered dirt, Leslie deposited the poo on the unsuspecting neighbor’s front porch. Unfortunately for Leslie, the neighbor didn’t see the mound on his porch when he stepped out and slipped off the porch, landing on his bum. Both Leslie and her sharply dressed, yet freshly soiled neighbor were remarkably impressed with the slipperiness of the fresh poo.
Although not seriously injured, police were called, and Leslie eventually pled guilty to assault. The court told Leslie that she needed to work on her anger; however she and I both agreed that she needed an education on defining and enforcing healthy boundaries.
A healthy boundary is the awareness, acknowledgment, acceptance and appreciation of that which we value. Boundaries are the tenets that establish the conditions for whom, when, where, why and how someone may enter and make use of that which belongs to you. Metaphorically speaking, to decide if cat toileting is allowed in our garden. When our boundaries are appropriately enforced, we have a greater sense of control and a diminished propensity to develop resentments. Boundaries also protect our values and afford us a sense of peace.
We need boundaries because boundaries give us a sense of control. Researchers have documented just how essential a sense of control is for the mind and body alike. Having a sense of control, for instance, has been consistently linked with physical health. People who feel in control of their lives report better health, fewer aches and pains, and faster recovery from illnesses than other people do. People who have a sense of control also live longer. Establishing boundaries allow us to command our lives.
We need boundaries because we develop resentment when our boundaries are violated. Resentment helps no one. St. Augustine once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”. Resentment develops when we are offended or sense injustice. As with other emotions, resentment is neither negative nor positive, however unrestrained resentment can sabotage relationships and boundaries. When others are aware of boundaries and our boundaries are enforced the likelihood of developing resentment is lessened.
It is right to protect that which is important to you. Getting clear on your values will help you identify what you want so you can live in alignment and achieve success. Our time, emotions, property, ideas, self-respect, etc. are important to us, and these values need protection. It is not uncommon for people to demand of us what we do not want to give. Understanding your values helps you become more self-aware and in tune to your needs. It also helps us to distinguish our needs from the needs of others. The enforcing of boundaries is a way for us to value ourselves and when we value ourselves others are able to value us too.
Whenever others respect our boundaries, our lives are more predictable, less stressful and easier to manage. Boundaries keep peace. The enforcing of boundaries is not a means to control others. It is a way for us to establish the rules for our relationships.
In Leslie’s case, she reported that she clearly stated her request to her neighbor in that he respect her property if they were to have a cordial and neighborly relationship. When boundaries aren’t respected then there first must be a stated consequence. Appropriate action for Leslie would have been to document the infraction via photo and written, and to file a complaint with animal control, and continue to do so after every violation. It is also crucial to only declare consequences that one is willing to follow through on, or else the boundaries will not be effective.
Setting healthy boundaries is a crucial part of life and an important aspect of any self-care practice. A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends. The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you. However, respect is a two-way street, and appreciating the boundaries others have set for themselves is as important as setting boundaries for oneself.