As a people-pleasing first born who hates conflict, giving in has always been easy for me. It’s only later that I wish I hadn’t.
So for most of my life, setting personal boundaries has been challenging.
But in the aftermath of child loss, healthy boundaries are no longer optional, they are necessary for survival.
So what are healthy boundaries?
- Saying “no” without guilt
- Asking for what you want or need
- Taking care of yourself
- Saying “yes” because you want to, not out of obligation or to please others
- Behaving according to your own values and beliefs
- Feeling safe to express difficult emotions and to have disagreements
- Feeling supported to pursue your own goals
- Being treated as an equal
- Taking responsibilty for your own emotions
- Not feeling responsible for someone else’s emotions
- Being in tune with your own feelings
- Knowing who you are, what you believe, what you like
What does this look like in real life?
- Not being “guilted” into engaging in social/family/church activities before I am ready
- Letting family and friends know when I need encouragement, companionship, solitude, help or space
- Keeping or making doctor’s appointments and staying on top of my physical well-being by sleeping/eating/taking medication/exercising as best I can
- Participating in what is helpful and life-giving to me when I want to and not because I feel like I have to.
- Giving myself space and time to figure out how losing a child impacts my beliefs, my sense of self, my understanding of the world-being honest about questions and about struggles. If I have to take a break from church for awhile, that’s OK.
- Expecting support from friends and family to do the work grief requires. If some in my circle can’t do this, then I’ll put those relationships on hold until I feel stronger. I am not required to live up to other people’s standards.
- Embracing and acknowledging my own emotions. Not expecting someone else to “make me better”. No one can take away the sorrow and pain of child loss. It is excruciating. There is no way through but THROUGH. Face the feelings. Get help from a counselor if necessary. Join a support group. Find safe friends. But I will not be able to distract myself or ignore the heartache forever.
- Understand that though I share the loss with others-a spouse, my surviving children, my child’s grandparents, etc-I am not responsible for how they are dealing with loss. I may offer help, may arrange counseling (especially for children), should strive toward an environment where feelings can be expressed-but I can’t work through their loss experience for them.
- Pay attention to my own feelings and what triggers grief attacks. When I can, plan around the triggers. When I can’t, accept the feelings and go with them. If I need to leave a venue, leave.
What it doesn’t look like:
Healthy personal boundaries are not an excuse for bad behavior. They are not to be used as blunt instruments to bully others into submission or to advance my own agenda against theirs.
My boundaries don’t give me the right to be hateful, hurtful or unkind. They are not permission to pitch fits, make public displays or belittle others.
And they are absolutely NOT a reason to plaster hate speech across social media. If I have a personal relationship issue then it needs to be handled personally and privately not publicly. Vague Facebook statuses that suggest I’ve been offended by half my friend list are off limits.
Establishing healthy personal boundaries is work.
Already exhausted from grief, the last thing I want is more work.
But if I don’t defend the space and time I need to do the work grief requires I cannot make progress toward healing.
If I don’t limit my interaction with those who are unhelpful or downright hurtful, I will be dragged down further in the mire of sorrow and sadness.
If I don’t purposely pursue physical, emotional and psychological health, grief will kill me.