What I learned about boundaries

When I was a child, we ate a farm breakfast before we rushed out of the house to catch the school bus—eggs and bacon or sometimes biscuits and gravy.

At the same time that my brothers and I were climbing into the school bus, my parents were leaving the house and starting their daily chores. They both worked long hours on the farm.

When we returned home from school, we were greeted by a table full of dirty breakfast dishes. My brother Jasper and I began immediately cleaning the kitchen. I would scrape the dried egg or dried gravy off the plates and wash the dishes, and Jasper would dry.

With a little urging from me, my other brothers would help Jasper and me sweep the floor, dust the furniture and make the beds.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with children helping with housework. However, my father was an alcoholic and my family didn’t function as a healthy family. I soon became the “parent” who took care of my mother, father and brothers and I thought it was my job to keep everyone happy.

What lessons did I learn about boundaries?

I learned that the more chores I did, the more praise I received from my parents. I became a pleaser, always trying to find things that I could do or say that would please my parents or other people. I learned that it was my job to keep everyone happy.

I learned to discount who I was, how I felt and what I thought. I was praised for what I did, not who I was.  I looked for confirmation from the outside, not from inside me.

How did I learn better boundaries?

After my divorce, I went to a counselor who asked me a lot of questions. What do you think? How do you feel? What do you want to do now?

I didn’t know any of the answers. I didn’t even know what movie I wanted to see.  During all those years when I was trying to get approval from everyone, I had lost any concrete sense of who I was.

I had to get to know myself. I had to search for my identify. It was a long journey. What helped me was many hours of counseling, writing in my journal, talking to friends, looking inside myself for my own answers.