Boundaries

Good fences make good neighbors.” — Robert Frost

One of our neighbors is building a stone wall at the edge of his property.

Watching his progress, I’m reminded of my childhood road trips to historic New England. From the back seat of my dad’s Chevy Impala, I’d count miles and miles of curvy pastoral roads lined with rambling field stone walls.

Guarding cemeteries or defining farmland, those venerable stone borders conveyed a sense of authority — though some were barely tall enough to stop trespassers on a mission. Sections of the walls dated back to the American Revolution, when our young country was in the process of defending and defining its own boundaries.

Everyone needs boundaries. While most humans crave social connection, there are times when we all need to draw invisible lines between “us and them.” Healthy personal boundaries help protect our own space and identity. They remind others that we have a right to privacy; that we are not accessible to everyone at all times.

Women seem to have a tougher time setting limits and boundaries. Hard-wired to nurture and assist, we often answer the needs of others before our own, whether we’re caring for small children or elderly parents.

But our personal boundaries start to blur when we spend too much time meeting the needs and expectations of others. When this becomes a pattern, we must stop saying “yes” to every request for our time and attention.

Today, thanks to cell phones and the Internet, most of us are over-connected and readily available. While I consider myself a people person, I’m easily overwhelmed by the constant chatter and demands of social media — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and blogs — not to mention the never-ending stream of email to read and answer.

Sometimes, all it takes is a long, solo bike ride through the neighborhood to restore my equilibrium.  It also helps to declare “time out” from social media for a day or two.

Building a metaphorical fence around my time is the best way to restore my sanity when everything feels like “too much” to handle.  What about you? Do you find it hard to create or maintain your own boundaries? — Cindy La Ferle