Do you feel like you are a house with a picket fence around the whole yard that people keep stepping over or knocking down? Then you may need help setting healthy boundaries, so your personal property is better protected. With better boundaries, you’ll feel stronger in your self-esteem, relationship with God, and in your relationships with others.
What is a Boundary?
Let’s return to the picture of a house with a surrounding picket fence. This fence line defines the limits of your property. The property belongs to you alone. You are responsible for maintaining it and protecting it from intruders.
A picket fence is a visual sign of a border. From the street, it represents a stopping point from where your property ends. It signals that no person, animal, or thing is allowed in your yard without your permission. As the property owner, you hold the power to open the gate to let others in or keep them out.
However, if you leave the front gate wide open and unattended, people may assume you are okay with them entering your property. If you keep the gate shut, they must gain your permission for entry. Reasonable people understand these social rules. But other people who aren’t as reasonable may try to break down the fence, hop over it, or sneak under it against your will.
You have the power to control who enters your property by strengthening the fence and monitoring it more carefully. It’s important to not let the front gate stay open all the time, so you have a chance to relax indoors without standing guard at the gate. If you have particularly aggressive people in your neighborhood, you may need to upgrade your picket fence to a chain link or iron fence, which bullies will find much harder to break down.
This word picture describes the process of setting boundaries. It’s your responsibility to manage your thoughts, words, and behaviors, putting fences around them with healthy boundaries. Then you’ll be better protected against people who disrespect your property lines and better equipped to let reasonable people enter your gate with your permission.
Boundaries in relationships aren’t as easy to see as picket fences. However, you can learn to see them when you view your relationship problems through the lens of boundary problems.
For example, you may need to stand at the gate for a while as you consistently share with your mother that her unsolicited advice is unwelcome. You may need to build a stronger fence against the coworker who pushes work onto your plate, then takes credit for your hard work. You may even need to call for extra backup against people who trample your fence with bullying behaviors.
Healthy boundaries protect you. They give you a safe space in which to preserve your mental, emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual health. Whether you let people mow down your fence, or constantly stand at the front gate resisting their entry, you deprive yourself of the abundant life God wants to provide for you. He wants you to enjoy the way he created you to live and grow within your property lines.
False guilt is often an enemy of healthy boundaries. For example, people may misapply Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek, and assume they have no recourse against bullying behavior. However, Scripture teaches us that God wants us to carry our loads (Gal. 6:5) and work to please God more than other people (Gal. 1:10). God desires that we live in freedom rather than bondage (Gal. 5:1). Jesus promised us the abundant life that includes boundaries (John 10:9-10).
Jesus used two powerful words to set boundaries: Yes and No. In Matthew 5:37 “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” A simple “Yes” or “No” can define many boundaries in your life, creating healthy spaces in which you can thrive.
You need boundaries around yourself just as much as you need to set boundaries against others. In their book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend list boundaries such as time, energy, personal space, spending, and more. God grants you power over all these boundaries. But you also have the choice to give power away to others, and if you do this, they will take advantage of you.
Many people did not grow up with a healthy sense of boundaries. The adults in your life may not have been emotionally supportive, so you may seek to merge yourself with others for strength. But these dynamics invite selfish people to take advantage of you. The good news is that you can learn to repair and rebuild personal boundaries with a counselor’s help.
Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
Every one of your relationships is affected by boundaries. If boundaries aren’t strong enough, they can wreak havoc in your relationships at home, school, work, church, and in your extended family. You can learn to protect your boundaries to have a healthy sense of self-esteem in all your relationships.
Here are a few boundary problems in relationships:
- Your boss keeps piling more work on you without adjusting your pay.
- An adult son listens to his mother’s guilt trips and reluctantly visits when he would prefer to be with friends.
- A son-in-law feels angry but says nothing when his mother-in-law criticizes him.
- A grown son continues to live in his parents’ home without seeking employment.
- Your adult sister asks you for small loans but doesn’t pay you back.
A caring Christian counselor can help you set boundaries against relationship problems like these. You’ll gain confidence as you learn how to set and strengthen necessary boundaries.
Healthy Boundaries in Marriage
Since married people live in such proximity to one another, occasional boundary violations are inevitable. But if boundary problems start to form long-standing patterns, you can get help from a qualified counselor.
Here are a few examples of boundary violations in marriage:
- A wife consistently overspends and hides credit card statements from her husband.
- A husband is more interested in watching sports than connecting with his wife.
- A wife spends so much time caring for children that she neglects her husband.
- A wife criticizes her husband when they are in front of friends.
- A husband complains and fumes about helping his wife with household tasks.
Boundary violations in marriage vary in degree of severity. However, each violation can break down the marriage over time if not addressed. In each example above, one spouse selfishly puts his or her agenda over the spouse’s needs. With coaching from a Christian counselor, married couples can learn how to set proper biblical boundaries for greater marital satisfaction.
Healthy Boundaries Are Necessary
Setting boundaries is hard work. It will require courage, commitment, and support from others. There is no guarantee that the person who is violating your boundaries will stop even if you set boundaries. But nothing is likely to change unless you take that first step of setting firm yet loving boundaries in all your relationships.
People who regularly violate your boundaries will not usually change unless or until they face consequences. A caring Christian counselor can walk you through the steps of setting boundaries and initiating consequences, then standing firm on your decisions.
To help you get stronger in setting boundaries, your counselor will help you look at clues from your childhood that inform your decisions today. You can learn new patterns of relating to others and work from the empowered self that Jesus Christ gives you when you base your identity on him.
Boundary setting can lead to backlash and struggle. That’s why it’s wise to work with a Christian counselor who will offer objective and professional help. Your counselor will pray with you and teach you biblical principles about standing firm in your faith, even when you face boundary violations from others.
If you are ready to learn about setting boundaries for a better life, we are happy to help. Contact us today to learn which boundaries will be most helpful to you.
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