References: “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie
(This article is the first in a series about boundaries. This article explores why boundaries are healthy and biblical. The second article offers suggestions to creating healthy boundaries.)
We have no business trying to dictate other people’s lives, but we do have the right to put up a barrier when they way they’re living hurts us. Sometimes we feel guilty for doing this. It feels selfish to tell others, “No.” But asking people to stop subjecting us to hurtful or inappropriate behavior makes our relationships healthier in the long run.
It may seem like the right choice when you bite your tongue and let others take brief advantage of you, but doing this over and over eventually leads to resentment. You don’t want to agree, but do so because you feel like you should. You feel like the person you compromised for should know you don’t want to do this, and you resent them for obligating you. Establishing boundaries is an uncomfortable, but essential, part of life.
Yes, part of life is doing things you don’t want to do, and sometimes giving others the bigger half of the cookie. Otherwise, school children could easily skip their math homework by saying it violates their boundaries. Beattie describes boundaries this way (31):
Boundaries are not
- limits we set because someone told us to
- empty, angry threats
- power plays to control someone
- limits we don’t or can’t enforce
The only nonnegotiable boundaries are
- don’t hurt yourself
- don’t hurt anyone else
- don’t let anyone hurt you
Boundaries are about controlling your own behavior. You do not have the right to tell other people what to do. But, you do have the right to resist harmful behavior. Beattie used the example of a woman who had a friend who liked to call her when he was drunk. The woman decided it was not her right to tell him to quit drinking, but she did have a right to tell him not to call her when he was drunk.
Decide which aspects of your relationships make you resent people because of their inconsiderate behavior. What would change that? For example– do you have a neighbor who likes to borrow things, but isn’t so enthusiastic about returning them? This is one place where you can practice establishing a boundary. It is only your neighbor, so it is not as awkward as if you were dealing with a family member or close friend.
But establishing boundaries isn’t always as cut and dry as, “The next time I see them, I’ll lay down the law.” It involves drawing lines in the sand dozens of times each day. Maybe you have a tendency to take on more responsibilities than you can handle. You do not have to turn into a “no” machine to fix this. Instead, get into the habit of asking if you can get back to them later.
Boundaries in the Bible
Scripture gives us many examples of healthy boundaries. Jesus took breaks from the tumult of his ministry for peace and rest. Luke 15:16 tells us, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (NIV) God even set a standard for us of resting at least one day a week. Christians often feel as though their commitment to Christ is best demonstrated through sacrifice. And while believers are called to make difficult choices in order to keep the Lord in his rightful place, they are also reminded to take care of themselves. Recall the passage in Ephesians describing how spouses ought to honor and care for one another, “After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” (Eph. 5:29 NIV)
Christian Counseling about Boundaries
If you struggle with setting appropriate boundaries with others, consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor. Believers often feel guilty for telling others “no.” A professional Christian counselor can help you figure out what Scripture says about balancing serving others and looking after yourself.
Bible-verses-boundaries Flickr user Rob the moment
Establish-healthy-boundaries Freedigitalphotos.net user Ambro