I’d had enough, hands up in defeat and ready to admit I can’t do this anymore.
Family or not- I was done!
Pretending, rationalizing, making excuses, accepting inappropriate blame and behavior. Done and over!
It was the fear of what might happen next that pushed me to the office where I found myself sitting across from a counselor- unsteady, uncertain and uncontrollably crying.
She had an easygoing demeanor and a kind voice and just asked me to start with what happened. The words came slowly as I hesitantly told my story; a story that somehow transported us back in time to my childhood and looking at events that I had never considered where entwined into the present.
It was an eye-opening journey that revealed a new perspective and unlocked a whole new strategy for dealing with difficulties in my life.
I can honestly say it was “the best of times and the worst of times” because it was in reaching the limits of my emotional wall and unleashing all the stored-up sloppy pain that I was able to gain clarity. I had a new perspective and was able to see my life and the life of others through a different lens.
This painful time lead me to the best part as I was able to embrace the realization that it was OK to choose a different way, a different reaction, a different course. I didn’t have to continue to allow past hurts and unsafe people to influence the trajectory of my life and steal my joy!
During this time, God taught me two precious lessons:
1. It's OK to get help and wise people don't wait very long.
“Where there is no guidance, a person falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” ~Proverbs 11:14
There is no shame or weakness in asking and seeking professional help - is a wise choice! A person with objective wisdom and knowledge can open up whole new ways of seeing yourself, your situation, and provide the tools to bring healing and restoration.
2. It’s Ok to build fences a/k/a setting boundaries (even with family.)
I love this definition from Dr. Cloud- “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end, and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not "own" my life, my choices and options become very limited.”
Boundaries are not a bad word. They are essential goodness; the catch is to build them like fences and not walls. Walls keep everything out; but fences have gates that can be easily opened allowing good things in, bad things out and the ability to guard the things that nurture us inside our yard and to keep the bad things that can harm us outside our yard.
Best strategies are to know when it’s time to get help, how to recognize unsafe people and how to set healthy boundaries- time to build your fence.
Knowing When to Get Help- Only you can decide this but, if you find yourself struggling, don’t know where to turn, and all past efforts for change have failed; then it’s probably time to make that S.O.S. call.
Learning to Recognize an Unsafe Person- Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend outline the personality and behavioral traits of both safe and unsafe people in their book, Safe People. Knowing the difference is key to recognizing who is safe to be inside your fence and who needs to be kept at a distance.
Below are some top traits of unsafe people:
Unsafe people do not like to admit their weaknesses- they would rather portray they have it “all together.”
Unsafe people are religious instead of spiritual. Quick to judge and point out other’s failures and resistant to extending grace and forgiveness.
Unsafe people are defensive. They can’t handle criticism and will attack and/or deflect if confronted.
Unsafe people are self-righteous instead of humble. These people see themselves as superior and will often project their flaws and insecurities onto others.
Unsafe people can be quick to apologize, but they do not change their behavior.
Unsafe people avoid facing their problems. They would rather deny the issue than admit a problem and take steps to resolve it. Everyone else has the problem, and they don't need any help.
Unsafe people demand trust instead of earning it.
Unsafe people blame & deflect instead of taking responsibility.
Unsafe people will lie, hide and/or exaggerate the truth.
Unsafe people are stagnant- never looking to self-improvement because they don’t need to grow.
Unsafe people when hurt and upset lack empathy, they find fault and refuse to offer grace and forgiveness.
**One word of caution- even safe people are not perfect and may exhibit some of these traits from time to time. Grace and forgiveness are needed here. To truly identify an unsafe person, you need to look at patterns and degrees of behavior when evaluating character. Sometimes the easiest way to spot an unsafe person is to determine whether or not that person has a history of failed relationships, regularly doing battle with others and has ever-present drama in their lives. Of course, it is never their fault, and others are always to blame- they just can’t see they are the common denominator.
Time to Build the Fence- Every situation is different and may require different kinds of fences from physical to emotional ones. It could be limiting physical interactions with a person; it could be removing them from your life altogether, it could be changing your expectations when it comes to a particular relationship, it could be defriending or blocking a person from your social media network, or even utilizing an app designed for co-parenting for estranged spouses. Boundaries can be loose or rigid, temporary or permanent, but the point of them is to keep unsafe people at a distance and create a more tranquil living space for yourself!
People that continue to inflict hurt and damage shouldn’t have a prominent place in your life! God calls us beautiful and holy. He has never called us to hold ourselves as out as a doormat to be stepped upon, crushed, defiled and abused. That is not His design, and we should never think it acceptable to be mistreated under a false belief that we are doing God's will or being a good Christian!
Sometimes we just have to accept that we can't change the past and we certainly can't change others and their behaviors. All we can do is change ourselves, change our reactions and change what we allow in our lives.
A helping hand, a sturdy fence and the ability to forgive can be just the right combination to restore healing, tranquility, and joy in your life!
Father, help us to know when to seek help, how to identify negative influences and how to construct healthy boundaries in our lives. You created us to live life abundantly, grant us the wisdom to tend to our yard so that we can be healthy enough to extend love, grace, and forgiveness to others even when distance might be required.
The day for building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries.
~ Micah 7:11