I was recently reading a wonderful article about how a young boy who had been bullied was working with a horse and the horse kept nipping at him. The author was a horse person and she spoke of how she would cringe when she would witness this. She desperately wanted to say “don’t let him do that!” or “give him a smack on the nose for that!”. But she kept silent, waiting instead for God to speak.
The boy, who had been let down by most adults in his lifetime, and simultaneously let down by other children at school was displaying something vitally important to the mentally healthy human experience. Boundaries WITH connection.
A popular topic since the Townsend and Cloud book came out, boundaries have been used in a number of ways and not all of them healthy. I have heard probably 40+ sermons on the topic and have attended many more classes, but I feel like we are missing the simplicity of what they were intended to be. We hear most sermons sharing how boundaries are to protect ourselves, to maintain our energy, not get drained, etc. But what is amiss in most teachings is how to have boundaries without destroying connection.
Why is this maintenance of connection so important, you ask? Connection is what heals and keeps us mentally healthy. When we neglect to move INTO our pain (our grief, hurt or sadness) we blow up, and instead of creating healthy boundaries (by simply disallowing the words or actions of another that hurt us to impact our minds, hearts and spirits) we create unhealthy boundaries, fostering DISCONNECTION and therefore setting ourselves up to live in shame, hiding, and anxiety.
So, how do we maintain this connection through correction. Gentleness, kindness and love are VITAL. For example, if we respond to EVERY nip of the horse with force, we send them a message of disconnection. We break the relationship. When you observe wild herd behavior the boss mare, the matriarch and head of the herd, is the classiest one. She never uses more energy than she absolutely has to use. It’s not that she ignores things, it’s that she addresses issues within the herd ONLY with as much as needed, but also with as little as possible.
We can learn a lot from these mares as we learn to navigate family relationships. Think of parenting – when we have to address misbehavior of our children we don’t want to “put the fear of God” in them, because then who will they run to when they have a problem they need help with. What we need instead is a way to confront and maintain connection. We need to learn to address the behavior with only the amount of energy that is needed and with as little as possible. We don’t ignore the behavior, instead we stand firm enough to where the boundary is clear, allow the child to bounce off the boundary and into relationship with us, the parents. Always allowing the confrontation to end in peace, not escalation. Staying consistent and making small adjustments overtime, while learning what the child needs to avoid the issue in the first place. Perhaps they need more stimulation and to stay busier. Perhaps they need clearer direction. There are ways to pre-teach our children so these issues don’t necessarily arise. This is of course, an art, and not a science, so give you and your children grace in the process. An example of this with our herd is our little pony, Spirit. This guy can sometimes nip and push and be a bit bossy. However, if you over-respond to his naughty behavior, it will not go away. Instead, if you keep him busy and engaged, telling him WHAT to do not WHAT NOT to do, it gets better over time.
Stay tuned for our next blog to see how this topic works within marriage.