“There is a big difference between hurt and harm. We all hurt sometimes in facing hard truths, but it makes us grow. It can be the source of huge growth. That is not harmful. Harm is when you damage someone. Facing reality is usually not a damaging experience, even though it can hurt.” -Henry Cloud
This month, we are going to focus on the topic of boundaries and explore many questions, misconceptions, and purposes surrounding the topic.
Do you have people in your life who have made decisions that hurt you? The reality is that if we are going to be in relationship and true community with other humans, eventually we will encounter relational distress… some more than others. This can be a sensitive subject, but it is of upmost importance. We have probably all been the one making poor decisions that negatively effect our relationships and the one on the receiving end of this hurt. Sometimes it is necessary to set up well-defined borders, or boundaries, around your relationships with others in order to stay healthy and loving.
Let’s be raw and honest, okay? Here are three initial questions to consider:
1. Do I know why I want there to be a boundary?
2. What is my motivation?
3. How do I involve God in the process?
You may be going through a tough time in your life where you feel that you have been wronged or hurt by the decisions of another person. Consider this statement from one of the top leaders in boundary-education: “When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility,” (Henry Cloud, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No).
There is no better time than when considering the construction of boundaries, to take time do a self-evaluation. Spend time with God and ask questions like: Am I enabling the person that I love to continue in their dysfunction by my actions? Do I have any bitterness or unloving attitudes that I need to deal with before I explore boundary creation (Matthew 7:1-5)? Are there ways that I may be contributing to the distress of the relationship? What do I feel that I need right now? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal anything in you that is in opposition to His love so that these things do not become the motivation behind your need for a boundary.
Usually boundaries are created for protection. But also realize that healthy boundaries are rooted in love, not in fear. If you are afraid for your life, you must remove yourself from these relationships. Forgiveness and healing may come, but do not attempt to negotiate boundaries with an individual who is abusive until there is clear evidence that you will be safe to return to this relationship.**
Implementing boundaries means that we are doing an objective evaluation of reality while still desiring to maintain a certain relationship despite some difficult circumstances. It may mean that there is an “elephant in the room” that must be discussed. It always means having the “hard conversations.” There are people in our lives that make choices that disrupt our expectations of how the relationship should be conducted. It is at these points of disruption that we have an opportunity. We can either feel bitterness and anger towards these individuals, or we can choose to love them. In order to continue to love them, sometimes we need to take a “time-out” to re-evaluate our relationship and adjust the way we interact. Boundaries are for you.
We need to ask ourselves questions like:
What expectations do I have for this relationship? Are they realistic?
How have my expectations been affected?
Did the other person know what my expectations of our relationship were?
How much time do I need to face the reality of the situation and re-adjust my expectations?
How do I clearly and effectively communicate this to the other person?
You have the right to have certain expectations for the relationships that you are in, but it is also important that you are communicating these clearly to your friend, spouse, child, or parent. For example: if you have committed yourself to someone in marriage, you can expect that they will have your best interest in mind, that they will protect you, and that they will remain faithful. Before your wedding day, hopefully you have taken time to discuss these expectations and have developed practical ways to maintain them.
When people make choices that disrupt our expectations, some level of grief is activated. We may find that we vacillate between anger, bargaining, denial, and depression until there is finally some resolution that leads to acceptance. Acceptance of the changes in your relationship is not the same as agreeing with the choices made by the other person. You cannot be forced to agree with the choices of the person you are in relationship with solely because you have chosen to accept the reality of the circumstances.
Let’s get back to the question of how to do this. If healthy boundaries are rooted in, motivated by and derive from love… how do we do this if we feel angry? The fact is that forgiveness needs to be a part of boundary implementation. Set a goal to deal with unresolved resentment and ask God to help you to forgive. Boundaries are about taking responsibility for our own lives. Forgiveness can be a daily process.
God created and promotes boundaries! Jesus set boundaries throughout scripture in order to truly love the people with whom he was interacting.
“Jesus had personal needs that he put priority on — sometimes even over the needs of other people– and he did so without feeling guilty. Primarily his personal soul care had to do with separating himself from people to be alone with God……. Jesus lived in a rhythm of life that not only kept him free from burn out, but far beyond that it kept him full of God, full of grace and truth, and therefore ready and able to be compassionate and generous in his his response to people, their needs, interruptions, and crisis situations.” (Bill Gaultiere).
Jesus shows us the importance of not only setting boundaries for and in reaction to difficult relationships, but also for the care and stewardship of our souls. We must pursue holistic health and part of keeping a holy and “clean” dwelling place for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) is living like Jesus did and taking time to be filled with the presence of God.
All of these elements are important parts to consider when forming boundaries. It is crucial that you communicate your intentions and expectations very clearly to the person you are in relationship with. Healthy boundaries outline expectations and demonstrate respect for others.
**There are people who choose to be abusive (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or sexually) regardless of the actions of the one being victimized. Abusers can be very manipulative and cause their victims to believe that they have done something to merit these traumatizing actions and in some cases, that they deserve the abuse. In dangerous situations like this, it is important to escape the abuse and get to safety. If you are in a situation where you are being harmed by another person in any of the ways listed above, you deserve to be in a safe place. Seek help to get out of these relationships and find safety.