If you can identify a problem in separateness, or in having clear boundaries – being a good steward of your knapsack – you are not alone. No one has perfect boundaries. At times we all take on what’s not ours, or don’t take on what is ours. God has provided help in repairing and developing our broken boundary-setting abilities. His resources involve skillbuilding. Just as we need to exercise and work with an atrophied leg after it comes out of its cast, setting appropriate boundaries is an ability we must learn. Here are some ways to develop boundaries:
- Ask God to help you become a truth-teller, even of negative truth.
Proverbs 10:18 tells us that “He who conceals hatred has lying lips.” Often, people with shaky boundaries may feel resentful about the supposed power of others over them, not realizing that they have given their power to those others. If they begin to feel they don’t have choices they will also feel angry and resentful. Often the first step to reclaiming their “brand” is to admit the anger to themselves, God, and others.
- Find people who celebrate your separateness.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Separateness helps relationships. It isn’t possible to learn to develop boundaries in isolation with unsupportive people. When we try, we repeat our original boundary injury. That is, we find ourselves in a controlling relationship with an unsupportive person and attempt to set a limit on the relationship. The person rejects it, and we find ourselves alone. Most of us would choose being in a bad relationship rather
than no relationship. We need to find maturing, caring people who will love our boundaries just as much as they love our attachment.
- Practice disagreement.
Truth telling always involves differing opinions. You can’t find out who you really are without first knowing who you aren’t. A sign that you’re beginning to set boundaries is that you will rock some boats. There’s most likely a problem if no one ever reacts negatively to you. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). It’s a disconcerting thought that for us to recover spiritually, some people will probably get upset with us! Yet these are usually people who have a difficult time relating to adults with boundaries of their own.
- Take responsibility for your mistakes.
People with boundary problems sometimes see themselves as out of control of their lives. They feel helpless to change their own problems and others’ treatment of them. This can lead to a blaming or rationalizing attitude. “If I can’t control my life, then my problems aren’t my fault,” might go the thinking. Taking stewardship over your life means learning to admit when your problems are the result of your irresponsibility rather than finding excuses. People who “own” their problems tend to mature much faster than those who excuse or transfer blame. The excuser has nothing to fix.
- Learn to respect others’ separateness.
One indication of a boundary deficit is an inability to live with the no of another.
I once worked with a couple who experienced this problem. Every time the wife disagreed with the husband, he would head toward the door exclaiming. “That’s it! – the marriage isn’t going to work out.” Panicked, she would chase after him and apologize for the “sin” of having an opinion.
When we learn to accept another’s boundaries, we are saying, in effect, “If you don’t give me what I want, God and I will find another way to get my need met.” It keeps the other person out of a position of indispensability, which is actually a form of idolatry.
If our needs to be understood, listened to, or loved can’t or won’t be met by the person we’d like, we are to find someone else to help meet that need. That’s why there is a multiplicity of believers in the Body of Christ: when one friend is busy, we are to call another. This allows us to support the boundary-setting freedom of others in the way we’d like to. If we want others to accept our freedom, we must respect theirs.
Excerpted from Hiding From Love by Dr. John Townsend. To order this book or other resources on boundaries, give us a call.