In the field of mental health and addiction we talk to clients a lot about setting boundaries with ”toxic people”. If you consider someone to be toxic to your mental and physical well being you can establish boundaries on what it means to have a relationship with that person. It may mean not having one at all. The idea here is that we need to take care of ourselves in order to help others and we need to take responsibility in establishing appropriate boundaries so that we can have healthy relationships. As I get older I become less and less sure of the term “toxic people” but that is often how it is referenced in a treatment setting, at least in my experience. In this quest that I’ve been on to be generous with and open minded to my neighbor, to be loving and giving of myself and my time, some questions have come up about how to reconcile doing both because honestly, there are times where I may struggle personally with someone in my life due to past experiences and I don’t feel safe around them. My immediate thought is boundaries! I need to establish boundaries and for me, that can mean minimal interaction with that person. On the other hand I think to myself that Jesus befriended everyone including those that hurt him. Did he establish boundaries? What did that look like? Here is where I ask those of you that are way more versed in Jesus’s life then I am. What were his boundaries with others? Who did he establish them with and why?
It feels easy for me to talk about genuinely loving others and opening my heart to them until I am confronted with someone I don’t feel is healthy for me to spend time with. now, there are definitely varying degrees of what a toxic relationship can look like. Some relationships, in particular abusive ones warrants a discussion that needs to be had but isn’t quite the level that I’m talking about here. I’m talking more about a relationship with someone that leaves us feeling mentally and physically drained. One where we have to use a lot of mental energy. In my life, loving these people and establishing boundaries with them looks like:
- Preparing myself for our interaction so that I can be as kind as possible, (my eye rolling is a problem, so kindness for me also involves not rolling my eyes behind the person’s back!)
- Trying to put myself in that person’s shoes. This helps me maintain empathy towards them, which basically helps me remain open minded and less triggered.
- Notice what it is about the person or the conversation that is triggering me. I try to pick up on my own counter-transference as much as possible because really, if I’m feeling affected negatively by someone, often times it has to do with my level of tolerance.
- Choosing what my time with the person will look like and how it will be spent. I try remain as open minded and loving to the person as possible when in their company. When I think it’s time to go our separate ways I make that known and honor my boundary with them.
- Pray for them and pray for my own inner peace so that I can be clear on how to set boundaries while remaining Christ like. I’ve maybe done these a handful of times, if even. I definitely need to do this more.
What boundaries have you had to set in your life? What have been the challenges?