Boundaries 101 Rule 2

Before we get started...this blog is part of a series on Boundaries you can read them here:

Boundaries 101 Introduction
Boundaries 101 Rule 1

Boundaries 101 Rule 2

Last week we discussed my first rule of boundaries: you must define what your boundaries are and communicate them clearly. Here, I’d like to continue my story about Hoa and talk about my second principle for fostering healthy relationships through boundaries.

After two years of car rides, installing door handles, carrying groceries, and even some suspect advice (Hoa once told me that I had to shave or my wife would leave me for a younger looking man!), Hoa and I had become close friends. I cared for her well-being immensely, and she even referred to me as a son.

It was during this time that Hoa was evicted from her home. She was a “tidy hoarder” of sorts and kept neat stacks of everything imaginable. Since Hoa lived in public housing, she was required to maintain a certain level of care for her house, which did not mesh well with the piles of donated dishes, luggage, etc.

I managed to find her a new place to live, but her home needed to be completely emptied. So, I called in the cavalry; my church let me borrow a moving truck, and I collected a group of a dozen or so friends, my wife, and high schoolers from my church to come empty her home on one weekday evening.

It was truly a remarkable scene. The truck wasn’t nearly large enough to fit all of her possessions. Nor was the double-wide dumpster. We could not believe that she had managed to fit so much stuff into such a small home. It was during this chaos that two of my old roommates separately commented that I needed to take a step back and become less involved with Hoa once everything died down.

I listened to them, but instantly my concern for her came to mind. I thought, “Yeah, okay, but don’t you see how much trouble she’s in? Don’t you know as well as me how mentally ill she is? Doesn’t she need our help? Isn’t ‘true religion’ caring for widows and orphans?” The idea of stepping back was a hard pill to swallow in the midst of so much need.

Which leads me to my second rule -

Rule 2: When those close to you say your relationship is no longer healthy, you have to listen to them.

You see, the idea that unhealthy relationships only form because one person is too passive is an oversimplification. Quite frequently, actually, people have poor boundaries because they have a lot of unchecked empathy. Empathy is a wonderful thing, we need more of it in this world. But empathy without a healthy sense of what your responsibility is and what it isn’t, a healthy sense of where you stop and others begin, a healthy sense of what you can control and what you can’t (i.e. healthy boundaries) - this combination is a recipe for abuse.

And make no mistake, abuse is more than just physical violence. Neglect, manipulation, name-calling, bullying, gas-lighting, silence, mocking, chronically taking without giving, and even refusing to apologize for or admit fault to mistakes can (not always) be ways in which people abuse others in relationships. Just because you can’t see a wound doesn’t mean it’s not there.

It was hard to hear my friends’ feedback, but I am thankful they cared enough to help me see what I couldn’t see. That’s why it’s so important to listen to those around us who care about our well-being. Sometimes, their perspective is different, and we need them to point out our blind spots. Our empathy for others can blind us to the fact that we are in an unhealthy relationship with poor boundaries.

So when your family are telling you that you make too many excuses for him, you should probably listen. And when your friends are telling you that you work too much, it’s something you shouldn’t shrug off. And when your wife says your friend takes advantage of you, she just might be right.