Don't set yourself on fire


One of the things I value most in life is relationships. I want to know the people around me. I care about who they are and what is happening in their lives. As a result I tend to go deep, fast. Sometimes this is to my own demise, but I also never regret taking time for people and getting to know their stories. It’s always worth it. Is it possible to be invested in someone’s life without being hurt?

It is, in fact. And boundaries are the way through.

I used to hate that word. I find it so formal and business-like. And relationships aren’t a business. They connect us and make us better people. We are relational beings. We weren’t born to navigate life alone.

I once heard someone say, “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” That pretty much sums up what it means to live with healthy boundaries.

Here are some things that I’ve learned (and am learning) about boundaries. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate.

  • Know your values and live them. We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” We are the best version of ourselves when we are clear about the things we stand for and then live our lives based on those things. Don’t allow the relationships in your life to dictate your values. In fact, your relationships should be the biggest indicator of your values.

  • Don’t apologize for who you are or what you believe. I am gay, which means I fall among a category of people that are often discriminated against. It isn’t always popular, especially in the south (where I grew up) and among the faith-based community (which is where a large portion of my work takes place). I’m not saying all southern or faith-based people are bad, but historically these two cultures don’t have a reputation of being the most accepting. That doesn’t change who I am. It’s not my job to make sure other people are comfortable, but to simply live with respect and kindness.

  • Don’t take ownership of someone else’s feelings. In any relationship, whether personal or professional, there is going to be hardship, miscommunication and hurt feelings. That’s okay and perfectly normal. In that situation you should absolutely make amends and own your mistakes. But don’t carry something that isn’t yours to bear. Empathy? Yes. Ownership? No. Something I learned from Dr. Brene Brown (my hero) is instead of saying, “She is really frustrated at me,” say, “She is really frustrated.” If this is a common theme in your relationships, it may be time to move on. Don’t spend a lot of time or energy on an unbalanced relationship. Not worth it.

Boundaries aren’t easy to implement, but they do lead to healthier relationships. Do the hard work of creating them and sustaining them. You and your circle will be better for it.

Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

Caleb Johnson2 Comments