A definition of boundaries.
The term was popularized in 1992 as a result of the bestseller, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. According to the authors: "A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not."
Recognize your limits.
We are all human and we all have limits, and we need to know when we've reached those limits. We need to protect our space, our time, and our emotional energy from being taken advantage of by others. So how do boundaries play out in real life? Here are some examples:
- When we try to take responsibility for other people, we need to set boundaries.
- When we've been pulled into the middle of other people's problems, we need to set boundaries.
- When we feel controlled or mistreated by others, we need to set boundaries.
- When we overcommit or feel dominated by our schedule, we need to set boundaries.
- When we feel burnt out, we need to set boundaries.
Many Christians feel a burden to help others, but when helping starts to hurt us, we need to reevaluate our priorities. The Bible is clear about helping others, but it refers to assisting those who cannot help themselves. Even in those instances, God calls every person toward personal responsibility.
The process of setting boundaries.
So how do you actually set boundaries? With love and understanding. Many people mistakingly believe boundaries are meant to shut people out. That's not the case. They can actually improve relationships, families, and whole communities. The Apostle Paul reminds us in one of his letters:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. --Ephesians 4:15
Steps to keep in mind.
When we set boundaries, we have to speak the truth in love. Here is a short step-by-step process I recommend to my clients:
1. Go through with it. Show up and follow through.
2. Tell the truth. Be upfront, state what needs to change, and don't apologize.
3. Affirm the relationship. Couch your statement with affirmation, showing that you still care. Encourage the other person's ability to take personal responsibility.
4. Let go of the outcome. The person may get upset or not understand—don't let this affect you to the point of doubting yourself again.
5. Hold on to your own reality. Don't back down, or change your mind. Remind yourself of how beneficial this will be.
What does this sound like in a real conversation? Remember, speaking the truth in love is key:
- "Susan, I'd really like to be involved in your class at church, and your friendship means a lot to me, but I can't commit to it at this time. I hope it goes well."
- "Honey, when you talk to me like that, I can't respond calmly and appropriately. Our marriage means a lot, and I want to come back to this once we've both calmed down."
- "I can't help you in your relationship with Ted. You need to talk together one-on-one. I want what's best for both of you, so I can't let myself be the middleman."
- "Jared, you are our son, we love you and want to see you succeed. But you can't stay in our home if you decide to use drugs. "
If you are taking on the responsibilities of other people, you are preventing them from taking responsibility for themselves. You aren't allowing them to grow. Boundaries are not limits you impose on other people—they are resolutions you place on yourself. They are preventative steps you take to protect yourself so you can stay healthy emotionally, and ultimately relate to others in a healthier manner.
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Tres Adames, MDiv, BCPC provides Christian counseling in Peoria, Arizona for adults, teens, couples, and families. He specializes in helping those struggling with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, anger, addiction, codependency, and relationship issues. If you would like to contact Tres or set up an appointment, visit his contact page.