I’ve been doing a lot of personal work on boundaries recently. It’s such a hard subject and really difficult for me personally because I am an enneagram nine and tend to lean too much into over functioning and enmeshment. Over functioning is doing for someone else what they could be doing for themselves or getting overly involved in a situation to control it as a means of placating your own anxiety. I realize I have been over functioning in many areas of my life and so now it’s time to put in place some boundaries to help me begin to understand my place in relationships. When you over function, you prevent others from growing and maturing because they don’t have to, you are buffering them from hard things. Let me give an example.
I do the kids laundry. If I were over functioning I would not only do their laundry but also pick up dirty clothes from the floor and put the clothes away. Those are things they could be doing for themselves. So, I have put up a boundary. When it’s laundry day I expect the kids to have all their dirty laundry in the laundry hamper. I will only wash what is in the hamper. If they fail to put their clothes into the hamper and they are all over the floor, then they will not have clean clothes.
Boundaries are not to tell others what they can and cannot do, they are to tell others what you will and won’t do in response to their action or inaction. You cannot control what others do or don’t do, even kids. I cannot control whether my kids choose to put their dirty laundry in the hamper or not, but my boundary is that I don’t pick up dirty laundry off the floor. So, if they choose to not put their laundry in the hamper then I choose not to pick it up and therefore they don’t have clean laundry. It’s not punitive, just stating what I will and won’t do.
When it comes to over functioning I have realized that I have been overly involved in relationships around me as a way to prevent conflict. I try to help people see the other person’s perspective and work things out. This is okay to a point, if they asked for help, but when I insert myself into situations that they could work out for themselves then I’m over functioning. Then when they don’t do what I’ve suggested I get resentful and that’s not helping anyone. This happens in family situations and also with church people. Sometimes I can get too involved in church situations as a means to control the situation if I feel like it’s not going the way I would want it to. That’s over functioning. It’s gotten me to the place where I become resentful when people don’t take my advice. That’s not helping my relationships, so my boundary is I will not get as involved in situations that do not directly involve me. You can help people with situations, but then there is a point where you get too involved and can become resentful and hurt when things don’t go as you would like. I can particularly fall into this situation because I am a good listener and I enjoy listening and counseling people. Sometimes that can lead you to carry to much weight of people’s problems if you know them personally. This is why professional counselors do not counsel people they know. I get that now, I did not before.
Boundaries are hard particularly in dual relationships, which are relationships which exist on two levels. For example, you work with a friend and they are your boss. So you are both friends and boss/employee. That is a dual relationship. This happens frequently in small organizations and communities, but it’s a very hard line to balance. You have to be very mature to make it work and few people have that much emotional ability. So, you have to put up boundaries between where one relationships ends and the other begins, such as “we will not talk about our personal life at work”. This can become even messier at church. When you are friends and co-laborer for the kingdom, things can get messy. For some reason things become much more personal at church and feelings can get hurt easily if their is a disagreement. People tend to see disagreement in church as an attack instead of just a difference of opinion. We have to have differences of opinion to make a church work otherwise we are all just “yes” men and women and that helps no one. We have to put up boundaries and work together to find a solution without taking offense so easily with others. We have to be committed to quickly work things out between each other if there is misunderstanding and not let it fester into a real offense. Things can get toxic very quickly. I used to try to get in between situations where there were disagreements or differences of opinion, but that is over functioning. It comes from my need for everyone to get along and for there not to be conflict. I am putting up a boundary to step back and allow people to work things out for themselves or not to. If they choose to not step up and work things out between them they will part ways, but my involvement will only forestall the inevitable and keep them from using their own emotional skills. I can’t keep carrying that weight.
Some questions to think about with regard to over functioning and boudaries:
- Am I doing something for someone else that they could be doing for themselves?
- Am I resentful in a certain situation? could it be that I am over functioning in that situation?
- What boundaries could I put in place to help preserve myself and that relationship?
- Am I getting involved in situations to placate my own anxiety and try to take control?