For the Birds
As I was driving to work one day, I saw a flock of birds around 50-100.  Now, I must confess, for those
who know me, I am an avid birdwatcher and have a “Lifelist”.  A Lifelist is a lifelong list of birds that you’ve
seen and the dates and locations that you’ve seen specific birds. What was interesting about these birds
was that they kept going up and down and turning this way and that.  But, no matter which way they
turned, they all seemed to stick together.  Almost like there was an invisible thread that held them
together with each bird knowing its place.  

How do the birds know where their space ends and the other bird starts?  Why do they not simply fly into
each other?  Well, they must have good boundaries.  People need good boundaries too. There are
physical boundaries and sometimes unspoken emotional boundaries. A boundary is kind of like a fence,
organization, you can’t see a fence, but there must be some type of order there for them to fly in
formations like they do. For people, some examples of poor boundaries would be worrying about other
people’s problems. Or it can be things like being over-involved in other people’s lives.  Sometimes
people have a hard time knowing where they end (emotionally) and where someone else starts. Another
way to explain it would be knowing what you are emotionally responsible for and what someone else is
emotionally responsible for.  Many people have good hearts and good intentions in helping others, which
is wonderful. But, it is in knowing when we are helping and when we are actually hurting the person, by
being too involved in their life, that makes the difference.  

A simple example of a bad boundary would be telling another adult how they should dress or how they
need to wear their hair. If they asked you about how they are dressed or how they should wear their hair,
this would be different. Where good boundaries would play out would be in something like someone with
an alcohol or drug addiction.  These individuals need to feel consequences to their actions.  Let’s just
say that a husband or wife even a child comes home every night drunk or high on drugs and passes out
on the kitchen floor and in the process gets physically ill. A loving spouse or parent may think that they are
helping the spouse or child by cleaning them up, cleaning up the mess and getting them into bed (this is
called a “rescue”).  In the morning the person wakes up in their bed and everything is fine, with the
exception of maybe a nasty hangover.  Although, it may sound loving and someone might easily think that
they are doing the right thing, it is actually hurting the person. If the person doesn’t feel the consequences
themselves to their action then they have no reason to change their behavior.  In this case a healthy dose
of “tough love” would be good for this individual, in other words leave them lying on the kitchen floor.  So
maybe waking up with a hangover on the kitchen floor and having to clean up their own mess from getting
sick (consequences to their action) would be so disgusting to them that they quit drinking or drugs.  The
interesting thing about this is that the healing process could only start when they are disgusted with
themselves and want to change, not when you are disgusted with their behavior and want them to
change.

For more resources on this topic, the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend is a great place to start.
They also have written Boundaries in Marriage and Boundaries with Children. Another great resource is
Al-Anon (for spouses or loved ones of addicts) and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or Narcotics
Anonymous meetings.  Al-Anon, AA, NA meetings are free to the public and there are usually a large
number of meeting times and places in many cities around the world.