For a long time, I believed that being close to someone and developing a healthy relationship required one to be entirely and thoroughly engrossed in their lives. I thought that the strongest relationships were formed on the grounds of being perpetually involved, providing constant support and criticism, and continually solving their personal life struggles. I believed that relationships existed on a binary scale, either deep and meaningful, or utterly purposeless. I could not have been more wrong.
Many of us live this way. We pry into others’ lives with the conviction that being involved in their functioning somehow makes us morally upright. We are ready to judge, prepared to prove to people how wrong their ways of living are, and ready to jump in and help, even when that help is uncalled for.
Ironically, the reality of the situation is that strong, effective relationships are built on space, understanding, and mutual trust. The process is counter-intuitive. Getting too close to a person violates one’s sense of self and personal boundaries. Maintaining too much of a distance from them causes feelings of loneliness, unimportance, and resentment. The sweet spot lies somewhere along that spectrum.
I follow three simple rules for maintaining healthy personal boundaries and forming the most meaningful relationships.
1. I will not be personally responsible for the actions of another: Actions come with consequences. I will not be personally responsible for the results of anyone else’s actions, no matter how much I care about their safety and well being. Suppose an adult makes a decision to consume drugs, for example. In that case, no matter how much I care about them, I will not hold myself accountable for the consequences of their decision. I will not blame myself for being unable to help or change them.
2. I will not be personally involved in another’s actions: I will not be so engaged in someone else’s life that my own life is affected by that involvement.
This rule has more to do with emotional involvement than material involvement. While being financially and materially involved in someone else’s life definitely violates this rule, this point refers more to the emotional baggage that comes with being personally involved. The key here is to be sympathetic and not empathetic in most situations.
3. I will not be personally attached to another: People do not belong to me. I will not expect exclusivity from people. I cannot control who anyone else interacts with, or how much time they spend with me. I cannot control how they look at other people or at me. I cannot control how they feel, especially concerning me.
I believe that there is a substantial distinction between taking part in another’s life and being personally involved in writing their story. While one must not be personally responsible for anyone else, it is imperative for us to be responsible citizens and human beings. While being personally involved in someone else’s life is unhealthy, being a socially concerned and genuinely caring individual is necessary. While attachment adds beauty and flavor to life, being personally attached can be destructive and toxic. The keyword here is personal. While the exact point of personal involvement may be ambiguous and vary depending upon the relationship, you know that you have reached the point of personal involvement when someone tells you that they do not want you to help them with their problems, if you are continually feeling hurt by their actions, or if their burdens become your burdens as well. You know you have reached the threshold when you start losing your sense of identity in the relationship.
And this situation can be detrimental to both parties individually and to the relationship as a whole. It goes without saying that the strongest relationships have the strongest boundaries.