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Setting Boundaries


This week, in my Bahá’í-inspired life coaching practice, I was working with a woman who felt taken advantage of by her 3 teenagers and husband, in their seemingly endless demands on her time and energy, to the point that she was feeling angry and resentful and didn’t know what to do. She asked about setting boundaries. Was there guidance from the Writings on this topic?

She knew about the principles of the oneness of humanity and the quotes that talked about being loving, selfless and long-suffering, but wondered if there were any quotes to support setting up boundaries, to prevent people from walking all over her and so that she could stop feeling like a doormat. What was she supposed to do?

If we’re all one, where are the lines between where one person stops and another starts? Perhaps the key is in frank and loving consultation. The proponents of “tough love” tell us that loving someone doesn’t always feel good, and speaking our truth frankly takes many of us outside our comfort zones.

Like most women, she’s uncomfortable expressing anger – she doesn’t like how it makes her feel. She’s afraid of being not loved or being too self-centred for wanting some time to herself. She feels that if she gets angry, she will somehow come across as “holier than thou”. She wonders that if she looks at their good qualities and overlooks their faults, is she being stupid or spiritually healthy?

We spoke about ‘Abdul-Bahá’s comment:

When Christ’s said; “Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the left one also,” it was for the purpose of teaching men not to take personal revenge.
‘Abdul-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 270

Revenge wasn’t what she was after; she just was tired of being taken advantage of: a common refrain of most women!

She was trying to be selfless and sacrificial but wondered if doing things for them all the time was exceeding the bounds of moderation, especially if she was doing things they could and should be doing for themselves.

If the reality of man is his thoughts, then perhaps it’s a matter of how we think about the actions we choose. For example, if we see ourselves as putting up with whatever other’s ask of us, we’re being a victim and if we deliberately choose to develop the virtue of being long suffering, we’re being virtuous. If we dwell on the unpleasant things of life, we make them bigger and our resentment grows, when instead we can choose to focus our thoughts on love and unity.

So then we looked at:

If one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him.
‘Abdul-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 270

She was willing to forgive. That wasn’t the issue. We remembered the story of a time when someone took advantage of ‘Abdul-Bahá for 25 years, and all the time, ‘Abdul-Bahá would pay his medical bills and make sure his family had something to eat. Here was a time when ‘Abdul-Bahá didn’t throw up His hands and say He’d had enough. He just kept being patient, loving and forgiving.

Sometimes it’s easy to look to the idea of boundary setting rather than to focus on love and unity but if we truly want to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, we have to start somewhere.

What are your thoughts on boundary setting? Post your comments here.