Back in the 1930s, not every household had a telephone. My great-grandmother’s neighbor, we’ll call her Mabel, didn’t have a phone. So she was constantly running over to Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa’s house, hanging on the phone with her friends. This got to be quite tiresome and intrusive, especially during family meals.
Worse yet, she flirted with Great-Grandpa, a very happily married man.
So one day, Great-Grandpa got to work. He gathered wood, nails and hammer and began building a fence. Naturally Mabel came flying out of her house to investigate. “Whatcha ya doin’, Harold?” Mabel said coyly, batting her eyelashes at him.
“I’m building a fence,” said my Great-Grandpa around a mouthful of nails.
“Why ya building a fence, Harold?”
“Well, Mabel, I’ll tell ya. This fence is to keep some chickens in and some chickens out.”
Without a word, Mabel turned on her heel and flounced back into her own house! And my great-grandparents never had a problem with Mabel using their phone ever again.
Boundaries are terribly important to narcissism survivors for one simple reason: we were never allowed any. Whether it was our bathroom time, our bedroom, our finances, our relationships or our faith in God, our narcissists waltzed into the most private, intimate areas of our lives and meddled.
But we oft forget that boundaries are also supposed to keep some chickens in. That particular chicken is us.
How many times have you kicked yourself squarely in the ass for not taking care of yourself. For driving yourself unmercifully to facilitate others’ needs and desires. Those are examples of times when we needed a boundary to keep ourselves in line.
My life is one long litany of regret for making this exact mistake. And guess what!?! I married a man who’s exactly the same way. We two Thompson chickens have a propensity to run, run, run, busting our ass to please so-called friends, when we should have stayed quietly inside our own little farmyard and “attended to our own knittin’ ” as my Grandmother puts it.
Okay. You twisted my arm. I’ll give you an example.
A few years ago, a friend decided he wanted to make apple cider from our big old crabapple tree. This required the tree to be picked, the apples sorted, poured into a hopper, crushed, the juice strained into jars and boiled in a waterbath to seal. It was a long, exhausting, laborious, humid, sticky process. (I hate stickiness!)
Many hands did not make light work. My husband sat at the picnic table keeping the hopper full, but I could tell his chronic back pain was killing him. I begged him to go into the house. I begged him to rest. He refused. His face was ashen. Literally gray…but he’s no quitter. Our friend wanted cider and Michael was determined to help because “that’s what good friends do.”
To this day, I get so angry that our friend came up with that cockamamie cider idea. But I get even angrier thinking of how Michael didn’t protect himself and I didn’t protect him. That chicken badly needed to retired to the coop for some R & R. Instead, he ran amok and for what!? Some stupid apple juice!?!
That same year, I ran amok myself. It was THE garden planting day. I don’t mean ten rows either. More like thirty rows. So there I was, hot, sweat streaming down my face, exhausted and smeared with dirt from stem to stern when my friend called. She wanted to go shopping and didn’t have a car that day.
Did I say “no, I’m busy” like any decent, normal, self-respecting person would do?
Of course not!
I dropped trowel and hoe and took her shopping. Then I returned, planted the rest of the damn garden, came in, cooked Michael a huge supper, showered and was up at the crack of dawn to accompany Michael to his MRI where his back pain would finally be officially diagnosed. (As if it’s not real til you can see the brokenness and bulges on a scan!)
Just revealing my lack-of-boundaries is both embarrassing and infuriating. How badly I needed a fence that day. To protect me from myself. This chicken should have stayed at home and let other perfectly capable adult human beings fend for themselves. But oh no! This boundaryless chicken ran amok.
I always thought of “boundaries” as a protection against use and abuse by other people. That’s only half the picture. We need boundaries to keep us in. To protect us from ourselves. To protect us from the best part of us: our generosity, our giving, our kindness and yes, our people-pleasing. We’re our own worst enemy.
For you who learned your generosity, giving and kindness in Church, you may be thinking, “But what about James 4:17? ‘Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.‘ Huh, huh, huh. What about that, Lenora!? We’re supposed to do every good thing that needs doing.”
Or are you?
When J. B. Phillips translated the New Testament from the Greek, this is how he translated that particular verse: “Remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.” It’s not about busting your ass taking care of everyone else at all. It’s not about baking cookies for a neighbor just because the idea might’ve occurred to you. The verse is merely about right vs wrong. Morality. The Ten Commandments. Isn’t that good news!?
Not convinced yet? Okay. Consider Galations 6:5: “ For every man shall bear his own burden.” Or as Phillips translated it, “For every man must ‘shoulder his own pack.’ ”
That verse is never preached on in churches. It means that the moochers and takers need to man up and take care of themselves! They’re perfectly capable of doing so, but they chose not to because it was easier to use us. They are doing wrong by not shouldering their own pack and we are doing wrong by enabling their victimhood. Galations 6:5 is all about having boundaries! See? It’s Scriptural!
My Great-Grandpa was full of homespun wisdom and colorful clichés. Two of his sayings that have come down through the generations are “Shit or get off the pot” and “He’s slicker than snot on a doorknob.” Not sophisticated perhaps, but certainly accurate and memorable! Even his death was memorable: he was hit by lightning in the 1950s, fire shot out of his mouth and he was never the same again. He died a few years later from cancer, much beloved and never forgotten.
But maybe Great-Granda’s best line ever was, “Well, Mabel, I’ll tell ya. This fence is to keep some chickens in and some chickens out.”
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