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Your Stress May be due to lacking boundaries

Do you feel like you are stressed out too often? Do you notice that you seem more stressed in the company of a certain person or people? The source of your stress may actually be your inability to say no, taking too much on, or thinking you have to do everything for everyone!

Let’s talk about this in the context of pebbles, rocks and boulders. Pebbles are those little things that each of us ( including our kids) is responsible for. Pebbles for an adult would be putting gas in the car, paying bills on time and showing up for work. Pebbles for kids (depending on age) could be cleaning up their room one time a week, brushing teeth before bed or doing their own laundry. Rocks, are things we are still responsible for, however we might need some assistance from another person. For a young adult in between jobs, it could be them asking for a ride to an interview until they save enough money for a car. A child’s rock could be asking for help to quiz them on an upcoming spelling test.

The bottom line with rocks and pebbles is that the individual is solely responsible for their pebble or rock and understands this responsibility. Their environment and the people in it support and confirm the ownership of their rocks and pebbles.

Boulders on the other hand, are the difficult and unexpected major curveballs in life that occur through no fault of our own, such as when we go to work and there is a sign on the door that the company is out of business, or our house catches fire, or experiencing a natural disaster. These times call for compassionate responses where we show up saying how can I help?

Where we get into difficulty is when we’ve convinced ourselves, or others have convinced us that somehow WE are responsible for their rocks or pebbles.

Are you still doing your seventeen -year-olds’ laundry? Are you working full time and still doing all the cleaning, cooking, and other tasks of daily life? Are others in your home fully capable of taking over some of these things but it is just “easier” to do it all yourself?

Here’s two potential problems with that story… one is that when you do too much, you become exhausted. That often results in frustration, resentment and a lot of distress.

Secondarily, doing too much often serves to keep the people around you immature and /or irresponsible and often ill prepared for real life and all of its responsibilities.

When we step back to evaluate what we are good at, what we actually have time for, what we are willing to do with a glad heart to serve those around us, then we can cheerfully take what is ours and stop carrying others’ pebbles.

If you choose to no longer carry others’ pebbles, you will most certainly want to convey that to them in a kind and respectful way. You might share that you realize you are doing too much, and you are ready to let go of the things that others are capable of doing.

You will want to be specific about which pebbles and rocks you are returning to their rightful owners.

Generally speaking, setting boundaries sounds like, this is what I am willing to do, and this is what I am no longer willing to do.

A boundary is an invisible fence If you will- it can protect our property, and also our heart, our health and wellbeing.

Boundaries transcend everyday chores and tasks and are necessary to have relationally as well.

Relational boundaries may sound like I’m willing to entertain your mother for a week but not for a month. I’m willing to go where you want to go on Saturday, and then I’d like to choose what we do on Sunday.

A client of mine “Ann” (not her real name) felt really stressed out and put out as her aging mother asked her to help with her shopping. While Ann was happy to help her mom with shopping once a week, Anne’s mom wanted her to shop four times a week, and often would have a list for her that included four or five different stores.

Ann felt exhausted and manipulated. By learning new boundaries Ann was able to tell her mom what she was willing to do (how many trips to the store per week, and how many stores she was willing to visit ) and over time began to feel a sense of control over her life again. As you might imagine, her mom did not like these boundaries, however her mom could also choose to ask someone else to shop for her other than Ann. When Ann learned to stop carrying her mother’s rocks and pebbles, she literally felt lighter.

Will people like your boundaries? Well, often not. It may mean that someone in your world has to begin to take responsibility rather than just enjoy all the privileges. It may mean that someone may try harder to push for what they want.

Some people in your world may press, manipulate, coerce or try to bargain your boundaries away.

The cool thing about boundaries, is we don’t ask permission, or wait for someone else to approve of them. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be boundaries at all.

Today consider where- work, home, and who- spouse, partner, relative, coworker, friend… you have been resentfully carrying someone else’s pebbles or rocks. Then consider what you are willing to do for them with a cheerful heart. Anything that isn’t being offered as a gift given freely, can signal that you may be doing for others to your own detriment.

Learning to sit with the discomfort that others may not like your boundaries is an important part of the process. Realizing that you may have taken on a lot of pebbles and rocks can feel unsettling too. You may want to release one pebble at a time, or you may choose to let several of them go. This is also a great time to practice compassion for yourself and others.

Only you can assess how much is too much. Only you can redefine what cheerful giving is for you, and where you are needing to let go so others can pick up what is truly theirs.

Once you work through the discomfort of owning what is truly yours and communicating your boundaries clearly, sticking to your boundaries will be essential. Once boundary setting becomes practiced, most people experience a beautiful transformation of rediscovering joy, experiencing less stress, and feeling more in control of their life.

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