I had a problem. I didn’t even realize it was a problem until I had reached my limit. I felt so bad that I spent every afternoon when I was stuck in traffic crying. I knew something was really wrong, but I had no idea what it was. I went to a couple of counselors but nothing really hit home until a friend told me that I needed better boundaries.
But what are boundaries? What do they look like? How do they help relationships? I had always thought that saying no or not doing 110% for everyone around me meant that I was being selfish and not loving them right. However I got a book titled “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend that was recommended to me in several places online and off. As I read through this Christian based book, I understood where many of my problems originated and it helped to dispel some of the myths about relationships that I had learned in my life.
I was glad to read that I was not the only person to feel guilty and selfish when I thought about setting boundaries. In fact, that was boundary myth number one! Here are some of the myths that we often live with as part of our lives:
- Boundaries are Selfish – While we are supposed to love others, having no boundaries is actually not loving. When we take care of ourselves we can actually love others better, without resentment. There is a difference between selfishness and stewardship. Selfishness is putting your desires and wished before your responsibility to others. Stewardship is taking care of your needs, your body and emotions that God gave you, so that you are better equipped to help others. You are essentially taking care of yourself not because you love yourself more than others but because God expects you to take care of the body He gave you and to live the life He made you to live.
- Boundaries are Disobedient – Falling into line with others is not always a good thing. It is what is inside that counts so doing things ‘good’ on the outside and hating it or resenting it on the inside is not only useless, it is truly disobedient. If you agree to something just to go along with it then you are really lying. Doing things out of fear, fear of loss or pain or disappointing others, is not being obedient.
- Boundaries Make Others Hurt Me – While setting boundaries can cause others to draw back at first, in the long run you will actually have deeper relationships. Telling the truth and setting boundaries helps people to really relate to YOU and not to the person you were trying to be for them. Yes, sometimes people will leave altogether, but was it worth having them there if they only loved you when you couldn’t say no? Keep in mind that you shouldn’t burn all your bridges at once. Make sure you have a solid foundation of friends to rely on while you are making changes.
- Boundaries Hurt Others – Yes people will be hurt when you set boundaries with them. But they will not be harmed. The difference between this is very significant. Harm implies that you do not care about them and are trying to hurt them. Hurt means that although you are saying something that is unpleasant, you are keeping their emotions and feelings in mind. You can’t control their reaction, but you can set boundaries in a firm and loving way that will hurt but not harm.
- Boundaries Equal Anger – While you can become angry when you first realize you have had few boundaries (like I did), boundaries do not produce anger. In fact they do the opposite. You can be calmer and more focused once you have strong boundaries in paces as you are not full of resentment and confusion. Once you get angry at the damages your lack of boundaries had on your history you can work to heal it and move past your anger.
- Boundaries From Others Hurt Me – It is hard to take no from someone, but if you want them to respect your boundaries then you need to respect theirs. This is why it is important to have many people you can go to in a time of need. Do not put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Instead if one friend is too busy to help you can go to another. It is important not to rely too much on any one person. You will end up hurt. You shouldn’t project your issues on others either. Although you may have been hurt when your parents told you no in the past, that doesn’t mean you can’t say no to others now. A respectful relationship can handle boundaries.
- Boundaries Cause Guilt – Many of us feel guilty when we say no to others, especially people who have helped us in the path. But that guilt stems from the fact that we feel like we owe them something. If they gave us a gift, like their time or money, then we shouldn’t feel guilty. We owe them thanks, but not our lives. We can move on, say no, and have boundaries without feeling guilty.
- Boundaries are Forever – Last but not least, boundaries feel like they are so permanent. They are not. Boundaries can change over time. As your thinking or relationships with others change your boundaries can too. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are burning your bridges when you set boundaries. You may have to be very tough at first but as respect is show you can relax a bit. Life is full of changes and that includes boundaries.
One thing I really liked about this concept is the difference between helping people with their burdens rather than their loads. Burdens are the really heavy things in life that weigh us down; things that are too big to carry alone. Loads are everyday things of life that we all have and are responsible for. While we do need to help each other with the burdens, the loads are our own to carry. By relieving someone of their load, you take away their chance to grow and mature and take on more responsibility than the Lord wanted you to have.
Something that really helped me was the idea that doing everything for everybody helped no one. As I tried my hardest I was actually making everything worse. The people around me did not respect me, I was not getting the love and attention I needed, and they were becoming more and more dependent on me and less dependent on themselves and God. I was hurting them in the long run and hurting myself every day.
I am still working on changing my life little by little. It started with small things like not jumping in to help at every opportunity. Then I started to say no when they asked me to do things I didn’t want to do. Although I sometimes got manipulated into doing things anyway, I was more aware of the patterns I fell into and could work on breaking them. It is still a journey I am on to truly break away from the pattern that not having boundaries has brought into my life, but I am looking forward to equal, loving relationships with people who respect my boundaries.