Posted by: Marie | October 26, 2009

(172) Fuzzy boundaries

Post #172
[Private journal entry written on Sunday, July 5, 2009]

Another fine day in Gig Harbor, another fine epiphany to share . . .

But, first . . . a big announcement . . . Charlie, the new puppy, learned to bark yesterday. He wanted some attention but wasn’t getting it, so he barked. As soon as the bark shot into the air, he stopped short and looked around, so surprised . . . he couldn’t figure out where that loud noise came from. It was a hoot!

boat and people

And, a fun bit of news . . . we went sailing on Friday in Port Townsend on a 26-foot boat named “Dorjun” that was built in 1905. It has quite a history . . . worth reading if you like maritime history! (I included a few photos from our trip, that’s me in purple.)

My mom had never been sailing before and was very hesitant about going (remember, she is deathly afraid of water). We found out later that she was thinking we were going on little two-person boats that she would have to help control . . . in very deep bay waters. She thought we were doing a seawater version of whitewater rafting. When she saw the boat and we assured her that it would be a very slow, very calm joyride — that she would not get wet at all and that the boat would stay almost completely upright (we made the captain promise) — she finally relaxed and agreed to go. And, she had a blast!

boat info

So, anyway, back to my epiphany . . . .

In interacting with my family this week, I have noticed a definite fuzziness around appropriate boundaries. For example, I was working my marketing plan and schedule for my business for the upcoming year . . . each of my family members individually came over to the table to look over my shoulder at my computer screen. They asked me what I was doing and why I was spending so much time on it – what could possibly take that many hours? (I worked on it for 5-6 hours.)

While I didn’t really care if they saw what I was doing, the experience did make me want to take my computer and find some private corner where they couldn’t find me. I really didn’t appreciate having them look at my computer screen without being invited to do so. I found myself wanting to cover up the screen with my hands and arms. It just wasn’t any of their business what I was doing on my computer.

boat sail

Then, at supper last night, my brother-in-law and I got into a discussion about politics. Now, I’m not a politico by any means, but I do pay attention to what’s happening in the world and I have some strong opinions about some things.

Instead of participating in a calm discussion, my brother-in-law started yelling at me . . . not in anger, not really “at” me . . . just in a way that indicated he believed my viewpoints were stupid and that yelling was an effective way to move my way of thinking to his way of thinking. There was no room for expressing my thoughts, there was no room for discussion, there was just him yelling. So, I walked away and took my dishes to the sink.

Then, as we were getting ready for church this morning, my sister started reminding me that I needed to get ready to leave . . . she kept reminding me that we only had X number of minutes left and that they would leave without me. I understand that she is my older sister (by 16 years) – but I am in my fifth decade of life and I really have, by now, figured out how to budget my time. I didn’t say anything, but I did make a mental note that this is an example of a fuzzy boundary in my family.

I did find it interesting that my mom and I were ready at the appointed time, standing by the front door, while my sister and brother-in-law were still scurrying to get ready for several minutes after that time . . . I said a few things in my head that I didn’t let slip out from between my lips – it wouldn’t have helped anything.

In the Sunday School class, the group was doing a deep study of the Bible, especially of the history recorded in the Old Testament. They quizzed each other on who did what and what for . . . and they had fun seeing who could get the answers right.

I was struck by how important it seemed for people to have the right answers – to do it right, say it right. In the class and in the subsequent worship service, I sensed a significant commitment to being “right” about how to live a righteous life.

I paid attention to the energy I felt . . . it felt like a slow moving vehicle in the passing lane – with a driver who is rigidly committed to going the speed limit – not a notch above, not a notch below. All that mattered was strict compliance and the absence of questioning. It was a resistant energy, a stubborn energy. It was the same energy I felt coming from my brother-in-law in our political “discussion” – a definite message that free thinking is not allowed – that there is only one “right” answer.

It was the same oppressive energy I felt in my family of origin and in my childhood church. If I dared to think any way but the “right” way, I would be damned forever. If I let even one second of time pass between the time I sinned and the time I asked God for forgiveness, I was in danger of being damned forever, because I might die before I got around to asking for forgiveness.

Also, my father told me that, if I didn’t follow the religion and the standard of morality taught to me by him, he would disown me – forever – and my children, and my children’s children.

These warnings and threats were the non-violent tools of discipline used by my parents (which were then reinforced with violence).

My brother-in-law still feels that way – well, he hasn’t ever threatened to disown me and it’s been a good 35+ years since he last spanked me, but all the rest applies. I don’t think it is an accident that he ended up marrying into my family forty years ago – I’m betting that his attitude gives me a real-time snapshot of the attitude my dad carried when he was alive 20+ years ago, when I was a kid. In my adult mind, that sure meets the definition of a boundary violation. It was the oppression under which I lived every single day as a kid.

No wonder I have trouble with establishing and honoring boundaries as an adult. I can see where it started by simply watching my family of today. During this week, I found myself silently saying to my family members a number of times, “Now, you wouldn’t do that to someone outside of our family, what makes you think it is okay to do it to me?”

Well, the answer to that is: I have made it okay. For all of my life, I have let it be okay for my family to violate my boundaries . . . or at least to cross over where boundaries should have existed, but didn’t. So, that means I need to learn how to establish, enforce and honor boundaries with my family. Learning how to do that is one of the items on my “therapy to do list”.

Quotes 084


  1. Establishing boundaries with family is a difficult one. I tried and tried, finally I had to step out of their lives. It’s how I survived, I’m surviving. Every now and then, I call my mother just to reach out the test the water. It’s always too cold. good luck with yours…

  2. Hi, Ivory –

    Yes, you are right that boundaries with family can be difficult. I guess it is because my family is where I learned how to interact with people — I learned the “rules” and I thought that is the way it is supposed to be.

    It is tough to challenge the established way — to question the basics that make up the identity of those I love so dearly. I can’t imagine living without them in my life — it’s a delicate balancing act between how much do I want them in my life and how much I’m willing to rock the boat.

    There are many blessings that come from being part of my family. It would be neat to continue those relationships and maintain my boundaries at the same time. What a concept!

    I hope you find a healthy balance with your family — or that you create another family of choice in which you can be honored. We all need that sense of belonging and “home”.

    – Marie

  3. Hi Marie, boundaries with family are really difficult I think.

    I find that after I stay about a week with my family that they want to start telling me what to do (treating me as a child again), which leads to strain. Sometimes I can defuse the situation, sometimes not.

    Mostly I don’t stay for more than a week.

    Wishing you all the best as you do this.

    • Hey, Evan –

      I imagine that our parents only want to pass along the wisdom they have gathered . . . which is the desire I have when I’m working with my young piano students . . . so, I get it.

      It would be neat for us (and them) to figure out how to pass along that wisdom without being attached to if, when and how it is used. I think I would have an easier time hearing what is being taught if I truly had the freedom to select what I picked up and what I left alone without having to justify my choices.

      Thanks for your comments! I always enjoy hearing from you!

      – Marie

  4. Marie,
    Boundaries make for interesting thoughts. This is an excellent post. It is interesting how in many ways with family we feel it is okay to cross boundaries that we would not cross with strangers. I find it fascinating that you felt the same slow moving energy in the bible study group as you did when listening to your brother in-law try to beat his drum loudest as if to deafen out any other possibilities. Thanks for sharing your fuzzy boundaries.

    • Hi, tobeme –

      Oooohhhhh, oooohhhhh, oooohhhhh . . . .
      I really, really like how you described the exchange with my brother-in-law (beating his drum to deafen out any other possibilities). That struck a chord deep within me! My sensory processors love that wording, LOL!

      Now ya’ got me thinkin’ again . . . . . more fodder for future posts . . .

      – Marie

  5. All I can say is that you are certainly not alone in your struggles with your family. I have come a long way with my own family–but we still have difficulty in both communicating in a loving way to each other and respecting each other’s boundaries.

    Your post was wonderful in the growth that I sensed–and often, it is good to remember how far we have come up the mountain and not just how far we have left to go!


    • Hi, Melinda –

      Thanks for the supportive words . . . I’m sure there are many of us who struggle with relating to our family members in a healthy way. I’m glad you are making progress with your family!

      I appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment!

      – Marie

  6. Boundaries, fuzzy or otherwise are a difficult situation to create, especially when we are wrapped up in controlling…whether ourselves or trying to control others.

    Sometimes I just set my boundary and walk away, sometimes that doesn’t work and I have to set it again and make it more noticable, but mostly I learn the lessons that are there and that the universe is providing me.
    Thank you for this most thought provoking post.

    Always a joy and congrats on the baby pup barking! Too sweet!

    • Hi, Gabi –

      You know, I think you hit on a great point . . . I think one of my biggest struggles with knowing when my boundaries are reasonable results from my tendency to fight against being controlled as well as my tendency to try to control other people.

      I don’t like to think I try to control people, but I catch myself doing it sometimes. It happens when I’m attached to the people feeling or acting a certain way.

      I like how you said it . . . that you set the boundary and walk away. That shows a certain detachment to how other people respond to your boundaries (beyond respecting your boundaries).

      Well said — great input! Thank you!

      – Marie

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