What do you first think of when you hear the word “boundaries?” Lines? Fences? Walls? As a helper and recovering people pleaser that word tends to feel cold and mean to me. I visualize separation and loneliness. My whole life I’ve struggled with where to put that line with people to be genuine and intimate but also guarded and appropriately cautious. I’ve been guilty of having too many walls which led to loneliness and isolation and I’ve also been guilty of not having enough walls and letting go of too much of myself and being taken advantage of. I’m only just learning how setting proper boundaries with everyone in our lives is not just not mean, it’s the most loving thing we can do for others and ourselves.
We are wired for intimacy, but what is intimacy actually? It’s the knowing and sharing of yourself and receiving that of the other. The only way we can truly know others and ourselves intimately is knowing where we end and where others begin. That line is different for everyone and it can evolve over time. We have to define what makes us who we are, who we are uniquely called and created to be by God, what our identity is, what’s ok and not ok; defining where our control lies and doesn’t and what our choices are. By knowing how separate we are from others, we are then able to see where we fit with others.
Reading the book “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend was the first step to me truly having my eyes opened to this concept. My mind was opened to the concept that having appropriate and responsible boundaries with others and myself is the most loving and freeing thing. It allowed me to find true intimacy with others and also to stand up for what’s not ok. Boundaries also led to opportunities to teach others how to be in relationship with me, equipping them to know me more.
I learned to assess my thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviors, choices, desires and values and see what belonged to me and what didn’t. I learned that I was not responsible for others’ thoughts and feelings and they are not responsible for mine. Understanding that took so much pressure off of so many confusing interactions and took away the guilt and turmoil I felt when I owned too much. I realized when I take ownership of someone else’s thoughts or feelings, I’m actually crossing their boundaries.
Sometimes, when a friend asked something of me, I would said yes begrudgingly because I felt responsible for the disappointment I anticipated I would cause them to feel if I said no. This would only lead to frustration and resentment on my part, while my friend was left thinking that all was well. In so doing, I would cheat both myself and them of a more honest interaction. I would miss an opportunity to show that person what I’m actually able to do or not do and equip them to know what to ask of me in the future. And if that person felt upset that I said no, then that is their issue to grapple with, not mine.
When I thought about boundaries initially, it seemed like the opposite of the way we’re called to be as Christians. It seemed unkind and selfish. But the more I dove in, the more I realized it’s the best way to be a Christ-like example. We demonstrate loving ourselves and others properly and honestly, when we stand up for what’s ok and not ok, we keep our word and speak clearly, we equip others to connect to us, we do not take control of something that is not ours to control and we are not slaves to the fear, guilt and anger that comes when we are irresponsible with boundaries.
When is a time where your boundaries were crossed?
Where have you crossed someone else’s without realizing it? How did it feel to discover it later?
Why is it so hard to say no and be honest with what’s ok and not ok?
How can you grow in being more free and honest with others and yourself?