The word “boundaries” brings different thoughts to different people’s minds. Many people think things like “limiting” or “selfish.” The truth of the matter is boundaries are neither! Boundaries encourage love, respect and freedom.
Boundaries are like a fence surrounding your yard. Things that are your responsibility are your feelings, how you believe, and the things you do. Those things are within your fence. This means that those same things are within the fences of other people. Their feelings, beliefs and actions are their responsibility, not yours. Even if they are bad, that is the other person’s business, not yours. You are not responsible for the emotions, beliefs and actions of other people! You do not need to have an opinion on them, or try to change their behavior. It is simply not your business what they think, feel and do! The Bible says we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), so we may speak to someone about their hurtful, dangerous, or self-destructive behavior. However, trying to manipulate someone into changing to suit your ideals is wrong.
Boundaries are learned as children, and some behaviors from parents warp normal boundary development. Some parents treat their children as partners (see: The Emotionally Incestuous Parent), which creates children who grow into adults who feel responsible for the happiness of other people. There are also manipulative parents (see: The Controlling/Manipulative Parent) whose behavior creates children that often grow up to feel responsible for everything. If their friend gets into drugs, they feel they must help her to sober up, or if another friend gets into debt, they want to bail him out financially. There is also a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who has no boundaries and does not respect the boundaries of his or her child. This child grows up allowing others to abuse him or her, and believes he or she has no right to say or do anything about it.
People cannot control someone who has and enforces healthy boundaries. If you have weak boundaries or none at all, then I encourage you to learn about setting boundaries. It will change your life! You will learn to take responsibility for yourself, and encourage others to do the same with your healthy behavior.
In developing and enforcing new boundaries, it is important to have a good support system in place – people around you who have your best interests at heart. People who do not judge or criticize unfairly, people who will support you, and people who respect boundaries themselves. They will help you to learn to set healthy boundaries, and to be confident in this new behavior.
When you first begin to set and enforce boundaries, there will be people in your life who do not like it. They will tell you that you are being selfish, or ask what happened to the “nice guy/girl” you used to be. Do not worry about this! Most reasonable, safe people will accept your new boundaries with no problem. Unsafe people, well, they will not. Setting boundaries is a very good way to learn who is safe and who is unsafe. This information is very valuable, because you learn what kind of boundaries you need to have with whom.
To start on this new journey with boundaries, I strongly suggest you read the book, “Boundaries” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Once you do that, spend some time seriously thinking about things. What boundaries do you need to set in your own life? What things are you no longer willing to tolerate from other people? From there, you need to figure out healthy ways to enforce those boundaries. Some basic tips are:
- If you deal with someone who insists on talking about a subject you are uncomfortable with, such as criticizing other people, that person needs to know that you are not willing to discuss these matters with him or her. Change the subject. If that does not work, tell this person that if he or she does not drop this matter, you will hang up the phone (or leave the room). If that does not work, follow through on your threat! Empty threats do no good to show others you are serious about your new boundaries!
- Learn to use some simple phrases such as:
- “I’m not going to do that.”
- “I won’t discuss this subject with you.”
- “You’re entitled to your opinion, but so am I.”
Some people are going to try to make you feel guilty/selfish/wrong for setting and enforcing boundaries. If others cannot respect your healthy boundaries with your feelings, beliefs or actions, then they are the ones with a problem!
The information above is just some very basic information. You will need to tailor it to your unique situation, but you can do this! Even if you are afraid, as most people learning to set boundaries for the first time are, do it anyway! What is the worst that can happen? Someone who is controlling kicks you out of his or her life? Would that truly be such a great hardship?
I also recommend you look into my free online course based on the book “Boundaries.” This is the link: Boundaries Book Study
The benefits of setting these boundaries certainly outweigh the risks. You will have more inner peace than ever before, you will feel lighter and freer since you do not need to be responsible for some things you once were (such as the happiness and choices of others), and you naturally will begin to attract much healthier, happier people into your life.
May you enjoy your exciting new journey!