A former therapist explained boundaries this way: Imagine yourself as a house. If the house across the street burns down, you feel bad, but you have not burned down. But if your roof leaks that is your issue. Similarly, if the house next door gets remodeled, you can be happy, but that’s not yours to brag about or take credit for. Similarly you get to decide who gets to come into your yard, who gets to sit in your living room and who gets to see the bedroom. Having good boundaries means having people where you want them and not where they want to be.
You get the idea.
It also applies to emotions.
For years I kept a sticky note on my calendar that said: “If it doesn’t have your name on it, don’t pick it up.” In early recovery that meant don’t snoop in other people’s medicine cabinets or file drawers. But later, and still now, it means that I should not pick up other people’s fears, worries, or emotions of any kind if they don’t have my name on them. And almost none do. I don’t have to fix anyone’s life, and I can’t fix anyone’s problems. If someone has an addiction or a problem behavior, that is his or her property, not mine. Yes, this takes discernment. I can care, and I can offer resources, and I can always offer my experience, strength and hope, but other people’s emotions are not mine to fix.
Good boundaries are the best way to prevent resentment.
Recently I heard a spiritual teacher say: “Being compassionate requires strong boundaries.” It makes sense. When a person has good boundaries you know that their “Yes” is really a yes, and their “No” is really a no. That makes it possible to ask them for help, because you can be sure that if they give it there are no strings --and no guilt --attached.