Sue Bohlin based this seven-lesson series on the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Her lectures, handouts, and student questions follow Scriptural principles of interpersonal relationships. Sue explores how to set and maintain appropriate personal boundaries, how to allow others to bear the consequences of their own behavior, and how to counter others' resistance to the boundaries one has set.
Story, p. 27-28.
This is where my property begins.
Boundaries in the spiritual world are just as real but harder to see
Boundaries define your soul and help you to guard it and maintain it.
Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins.
Boundaries show us what we are responsible for, and they help us define what we are NOT responsible for. Like other people.
We are responsible TO others and FOR ourselves.
Gal 6:22 (NIV): “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” = Responsibility TO one another. Helping someone who has a burden too heavy to bear. Not enough strength, resources or knowledge to carry the load.
Gal 6:5: “Each one should carry his own load.” Everyone should carry his or her own responsibilities.
Greek word for burden = “excess burdens.” Like boulders. Need help.
Load = “cargo,” or “the burden of daily toil.” Like knapsacks. Carry our own.
Problems arise when people act as if their boulders are daily loads, and refuse help. . . or as if their daily loads are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry.
Results: either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.
Boundaries help us distinguish our own property lines so we can take care of ourselves and be good stewards of who we are.
Boundaries are like fences to keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures so people will not steal them. (Saying no to premarital sex so no one takes one’s virginity, which is a treasure.)
Sometimes we have bad on the inside and good on the outside. So our fences need gates in them.
Bad inside: I need to open up to confess sin and pain so I can be forgiven and healed.
Good outside: open gates to let Jesus in, let other people into our hearts.
So. . . boundaries are not walls. They need to be somewhat permeable.
Concept of boundaries is rooted in the nature of God Himself.
God defines Himself as a distinct, separate being, and He is responsible for Himself. He defines and takes responsibility for His personality by telling us what He thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes.
He defines Himself as separate from His creation and from us. He says, I am who I am and there is no other God but me. He says he is love and he is not darkness.
God limits what He will allow in His yard. He confronts sin and allows consequences for behavior. He guards His house and will not allow evil things to go on there. He invites people in who will love Him, and He lets His love flow out to them at the same time. His gates open and close appropriately.
God made us in His image and likeness. We are also to take personal responsibility.
Boundaries are anything that helps to differentiate you from someone else, and show where you begin and end.
Our skin tells us where our bodies end. Victims of physical and sexual abuse often have poor boundaries because they were violated. They were taught early that their property did not really begin at their skin. Others could invade their property and do whatever they wanted. As a result, they have trouble establishing boundaries later in life.
The most basic boundary-setting word is NO.
Being clear about your no—and your yes—is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. Let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matt 5:7).
The Bible says we are to confront people we love saying, “No, that behavior is not okay. I will not participate in that.” The word NO is also important in setting limits on abuse. Many passages of Scripture urge us to say no to others’ sinful treatment of us. Matt. 18:15-20 tells you what to do when someone sins against you—how to confront them.
Our words let people know where we stand and give them a sense of our “edges” that help say, “This is where I end.”
“I don’t like it when you yell at me!” gives people a clear message about how you conduct relationships and lets them know the “rules” of your yard.
Mom: “If you whine and beg and plead, the answer is automatically no.”
The word NO helps children separate from what they don’t like. It gives them the power to make choices. It protects them. Learning to deal with a child’s no is crucial to that child’s development.
Parents have two tasks associated with no.
1. They need to help their child feel safe enough to say no, thereby encouraging his or her own boundaries.
2. Helping the child respect others’ boundaries. They need to not only give a no, but take a no.
This means not giving in to temper tantrums in a store.
It means time-outs, appropriate confrontations, and spanking, when necessary.
When kids set boundaries, it’s essential that they be honored. “I know, you don’t want to take a nap right now.”
And it’s crucial that their NO’s not result in a withdrawal of love. Parents need to stay attached to their children even when they disagree with them. When parents detach from a misbehaving young child instead of staying connected and dealing with the problem, they tell a lie about God’s constant love. When parents pull away in hurt, disappointment, or rage, they send this message to the child: “You’re lovable when you behave. You aren’t lovable when you don’t behave.”
The child translates that message something like this: “When I’m good, I am loved. When I’m bad, I am cut off.”
Parents who pull away from their child are practicing spiritual and emotional blackmail.
Parents who tell their children, “It hurts us when you’re angry” make the child responsible for the emotional health of the parent. In effect, the child has just been made the parent of the parent—sometimes at two or three years old. It’s far, far better to say, “I know you’re angry, but you still can’t have that toy.”
Sometimes physically removing yourself from a situation helps maintains boundaries. Or you can remove yourself to get away from danger and put limits on evil. “Flee youthful lusts.”
The Bible urges us to separate from those who continue to hurt us and to create a safe place for ourselves. Removing yourself from the situation will also cause the one who is left behind to experience a loss of fellowship that may lead to changed behavior.
When a relationship is abusive, many times the only way to finally show the other person that your boundaries are real is to create space until they are ready to deal with the problem. The Bible supports the idea of limiting togetherness for the sake of binding evil.
Time off from a person or a project can be a way to regain ownership over some out-of-control aspect of your life where boundaries need to be set.
Adult children who have never spiritually and emotionally separated from parents often need time away.
This is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never intended to be a permanent way of living.
If you have been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe to go back, after patterns of real change have been established and demonstrated. We should look for “fruit in keeping with repentance” and not return too quickly.
Biblical principle: trespassing on other people’s property carries consequences. Just as the Bible sets consequences for certain behaviors, we need to back up our boundaries with consequences.
How many marriages would have been saved if one spouse had followed through with the threat of “If you don’t stop drinking/coming home at midnight/hitting me/yelling at the kids, I will leave until you get help!”
How many young people’s lives would have been turned around if their parents had followed through with their threat of “No more money if you quit another job without having another one lined up,” or “You can’t live here if you continue to smoke marijuana in my house.”
2 Thess 3:10: “If one will not work, neither let him eat.” God does not enable irresponsible behavior. Hunger is a consequence of laziness. (Prov 16:26: “A worker’s appetite works for him, For his hunger urges him on.”)
Consequences give some good “barbs” to fences. They let people know the seriousness of the trespass and the seriousness of our respect for ourselves.
P. 38-39 Good Samaritan Story
You feel your feelings, and they are yours, and you have the right to feel what you feel.
Feelings are like the light on a car’s dashboard: they tell us that something needs attention. Anger is a hot feeling that says, “My boundary has been violated.”
“You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “Oh, you don’t feel that!” is disrespectful.
Behaviors have consequences. “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7-8).
Natural consequences of our behavior.
The problem comes when someone interrupts the law of sowing and reaping in another’s life. A person’s drinking or abuse or irresponsibility SHOULD have consequences for him.
To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behavior is to render them powerless and keeps them immature.
Parenting with love and limits, with warmth and consequences, produces confident children who have a sense of control over their lives. “Bummer! What are you going to do about that?”
We need to take responsibility for our choices. This leads to the fruit of self-control. A common boundary problem is disowning our choices and trying to lay the responsibility for them on someone else. “I had to,” or “She made me,” or “See what you made me do?” . . . “I had no other choice.” Oh yes you did, but you didn’t like the other choices.
Two aspects of limits:
1. Setting limits on others. Really, a misnomer: we can’t do that. What we CAN do is let limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right. Our model is God. He doesn’t set limits on people to make them behave. He sets standards, but He lets people be who they are and then separates Himself from them when they misbehave: “You can be that way if you choose, but you cannot come into My house.” God limits His exposure to evil, unrepentant people, and so should we. The Bible says to separate ourselves from people who act in destructive ways. We are not being unloving. Separating ourselves protects love, because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love.
2. Setting our own internal limits. We need to have spaces inside ourselves where we can have a feeling, an impulse, a desire, without acting on it. We need self-control without repression. We own our feelings and we own the decision to NOT act on them. We need to be able to say no to ourselves, to destructive desires, and to good ones that are not for right now.
When parents teach children that setting boundaries or saying no is bad, they are teaching them that others can do with them as they wish. They are sending their children defenseless into an evil world.
To feel safe in an evil world, children need to have the power to say things like:
· I disagree.
· I will not.
· I choose not to.
· Stop that.
· It hurts.
· It’s wrong.
· That’s bad.
· I don’t like it when you touch me there.
These are all ways to guard our hearts by setting boundaries against evil.
Blocking a child’s ability to say no handicaps that child for life.
The inability to say no to the bad is pervasive. Not only does it keep us from refusing evil in our lives, it often keeps us from RECOGNIZING evil. We can have broken spiritual and emotional “radar.” No ability to guard our hearts.
Boundaries with fences that have no gates. Unable to open up and share with people, to allow love to come in.
God designed our personal boundaries to have gates. We should have the freedom to enjoy safe relationships and to avoid destructive ones. God even gave us the freedom to let Him in or close Him off:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
God has no interest in violating our boundaries so that He can relate to us. It’s our responsibility to open up to Him.
People who say no to the good find it impossible to ask for what they need.
They have a problem hearing and accepting others’ boundaries. No is simply a challenge to change the other person’s mind. Controllers can’t respect others’ limits. They resist taking responsibility for their own lives, so they need to control others.
Controllers believe the old jokes about training top sales people: no means maybe, and maybe means yes. It may help with sales, but it wreaks havoc in relationships. Controllers are perceived as bullies, manipulative and aggressive.
They tend to project responsibility for their lives onto others. They use various means of control to motivate others to carry the load intended by God to be theirs alone.
Boulder/knapsack: They look for someone to carry their knapsacks in addition to their boulders.
They come in 2 types:
1. Aggressive controllers. Steamrollers. They live in a world of yes. Think of Peter in Mark 8: Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v.31). Peter rebuked Him. Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (v.33). Peter didn’t want to accept the Lord’s boundaries. Jesus immediately confronted Peter’s violation of his boundaries.
2. Manipulative controllers. Less honest than aggressive controllers, they try to persuade people out of their boundaries. They talk others into yes. They indirectly manipulate circumstances to get their way. They seduce others into carrying their burdens. They use guilt messages.
· Tom Sawyer tricking his playmates into whitewashing the fence for him: he made it seem like such a privilege that kids were lined up to paint!
· Isaac’s son Jacob finagled Esau into giving up his birthright. With his mother’s help, deceived his father into bestowing Esau’s blessing on him. Jacob’s name means “deceiver.” God confronted Jacob’s manipulative boundarylessness by wrestling with him all night and left Jacob with a dislocated hip.
Only when the manipulative controller is confronted with her dishonesty can she take responsibility for it, repent of it, and accept her and others’ limits.
Those who say yes to the bad and no to the good can also be controllers. They tend to be more manipulative than aggressive. When they need emotional support, they may do a favor for a friend. They hope that by being loving, they’ll receive love. So then they wait, anticipating the return of the favor. And sometimes they wait for years. Especially if they performed the favor for someone who can’t read minds.
What’s wrong with this picture? It’s not a picture of love. Godly love doesn’t seek a return on its investment: “It is not self-seeking,” (1 Cor. 13:5). Caring for someone so they’ll care back for us is simply an indirect means of controlling someone else. If you’ve ever been on the “receiving” end of that kind of maneuver, you’ll understand. One minute you’ve taken the compliment, or favor—the next minute you’ve hurt someone’s feelings by not figuring out the price tag attached.
A boundary is your personal "property line."
It defines who you are, where you end, and where others begin.
When we know what we want and do not want, what we are for and against, what we love and hate, what is "me" and what is "not me," we are setting boundaries.
1. Thelma's neighbor: "Where is your bathroom? Where is your walk-in closet? I see your lights and want to know what you're doing." Thelma put in blinds. (Setting a boundary.) "Why did you install blinds?" (Boundary violation.) Good response: "Why ever would you ask such a personal question?"
2. Curt: "If one will not work, neither let him eat."
3. Same-sex "commitment ceremony." I'm sorry, I'm not available for that. It goes against my beliefs.
4. Gene Herr: "I'm sorry, I can't fill your prescription for an abortifacient drug. It goes against my morals."
5. Girlfriends plan a vacation. One says, "I hate to do this to y'all, but I really do not have a peace about going. I don't know what that's about, but I need to bow out of our plans."
6. "I'm glad to wash your dirty clothes, but I'm asking you to turn your socks right side out. From now on, however they go into the hamper is how they're going to be washed and dried."
7. "I respect myself too much to let you be disrespectful toward me. If you start being critical, I will hang up/ leave the room. If you follow me around to keep haranguing me, I will leave the house."
When God tells us that we will reap what we saw, he is not punishing us; he's telling us how things really are.
Sometimes we DON'T reap what we sow because someone steps in and reaps the consequences for us. Children who wait to the last minute to do their projects which the parents take over. What are they learning? People who keep calling parents to bail them out of jail: what are they learning?
Just as we can interfere with the law of gravity by catching a glass tumbling off the table, people can interfere with the Law of Cause and Effect by stepping in and rescuing irresponsible people. Rescuing a person from the natural consequences of his behavior enables him to continue in irresponsible behavior.
Establishing boundaries helps people stop interrupting the Law of Sowing and Reaping. Boundaries force the person who is doing the sowing to also do the reaping.
Just confronting someone doesn't help. Telling them what we think about their behavior and that they need to change is only NAGGING. They don't feel the need to change because their behavior is not causing them any pain. Confronting an irresponsible person is not painful to him; only consequences are.
If a person is wise, confronting them may change their behavior. But people caught in destructive patterns are usually not wise. They need to suffer consequences before they change their behavior. The Bible tells us it is worthless to confront foolish people: "Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you." (Prov. 9:8)
Examples of confronting:
2. Give "I messages."
3. Rebuke in love:
With foolish people (Prov 22:15: foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline removes it far from him.) we need to use reality consequences.
Life works on reality consequences.
Psychological and negative relational consequences, such as
usually do not motivate people to change. If they do, the change is short-lived, directed only at getting the person to lighten up on the psychological pressure. True change usually comes only when someone's behavior pattern causes him to encounter reality consequences like
When we are allowed to pay for our mistakes, we learn from them. Reality losses cause us to change our behavior.
Consequences transfer the need to be responsible to the person who makes the choices. Consequences make it the other person's problem.
I was at a friend's house one day when I asked their 9-year-old son to go outside and shoot some baskets with me.
"I can't. I have to stay inside," he said.
"My mom was talking on the phone and I kept interrupting her. Too bad for me." This is the lesson consequences teach a child. "My behavior becomes a problem for ME." Too many times, children's behavior does not become a problem for them. It does not coast them things they value. Instead parents allow the problem to become a problem for them instead of their children.
What does God do when we make bad choices? He gives us His love and presence and comfort as we live the consequences. He doesn't condemn us and say, "You're such an idiot. I told you that was going to happen. Now look at the mess you've made."
He says, "I love you and I'll walk through this with you."
Empathize with their loss. Avoid saying "I told you so." (Nanci: "Too bad you don't like jail. I told you when you were in Juvie that you really, really wouldn't like jail, but you wouldn't listen.")
What empathy sounds like:
Instead of this:
Empathy sounds like:
Instead of this:
Empathy sounds like:
Instead of this:
Empathy sounds like:
The goal is not to control people and make them do what you want. The goal is to give the choice to do what they want, and make it so painful to do the wrong thing that they will not want to.
Children and immature adults want two incompatible things:
They want to do what they want and not have to pay for it.
Real life says, you can have one or the other, but not both. Freedom means understanding this truth and making our own choices. That's how God arranges the universe: He gives us the gift of choice, and if no one interferes with the law of sowing and reaping, we learn to make wise choices.
Parents have difficulty allowing their children to suffer consequences. The natural tendency is to bail them out. Here is a test for you: How many late nights have you spent helping with a school project that was due the next morning, but was also sprung on you the night before? The scene usually goes like this:
"Mom, I need some glue for my project."
"Sorry, dear. We don't have any."
"But I have to have it. The project is due tomorrow."
"When did you know about this assignment?"
"Two weeks ago."
"Why didn't you get the glue before now?"
"The nearest store open this late is twenty minutes away. How could you do this to me?"
"I'm sorry, Mom. But I have to have it done, or I will get a bad grade."
"Okay, get in the car."
(Sometimes Mom is frustrated and angry, but sometimes Mom might not mind at all.)
Compare this with the Mom who has an eye on the future:
"Mom, I need some glue for my project."
"Sorry, dear, I don't have any."
"But I have to have it. The project's due tomorrow."
"What teacher would call and give you an assignment at this hour without enough time to get the supplies?"
"Come on, Mom. She gave it to us at school."
"Two weeks ago."
"Oh. So you have had two weeks to get glue and your other supplies?"
"Yes, but I thought we had them."
"Oh. That's sad. Seems like I remember this happening with the felt you needed for your last project. Well, I don't have any, and it is past my bedtime. So I hope you can figure out something to make that does not require glue. Good night, honey. I'm pulling for you."
Mom number two looked into the future to see what character lesson she could teach her child today that would ensure a better future for him. She saw a pattern developing. This was not the first time her son had made a last-minute request for material. We would not have a problem with a mom helping out in a pinch with a child who normally thinks ahead, plans responsibly, and gets assignments done on time. But Mom number two was not dealing with a child like that. She saw a character pattern developing that would make life difficult for her child:
• Last minute attempts to get projects done for a boss and losing jobs
• Getting in trouble with the IRS for not having taxes done or information intact
• Destroying relationships because of the tendency to not pull one's weight and depending on others to always be responsible
So she decided not to interfere with the Law of Sowing and Reaping and allowed the law to do its work. The child sowed to procrastination and would have to pay the penalty for his lack of planning. The consequences would teach him a lesson far more cheaply than learning it later in life. Whatever school privilege he was going to lose was a lot less than the adult version resulting from the same behavior.
Parents often resist allowing the consequences of the Law of Sowing and Reaping because they overidentify with the child's pain. Let children suffer the sorrow now instead of later. Suffering is inevitable. Make sure it happens when the consequences of irresponsibility are a loss of privileges, not the loss of a career or marriage.
Recent cartoon: "Mom, where are my shoes? I can't find them?"
Mom: "Well, let's see. . . the last time I wore your shoes was. . . NEVER! I didn't wear them, so I didn't leave them anywhere!"
When to step in and make our children's problems our problems:
1. Make the consequences a natural outflow of the crime.
2. Give immediate consequences.
The younger the child, the more immediate they need to be.
3. Stay away from emotional consequences: use reality consequences instead.
Anger, guilt and shame do not help people be better. Feeling the pain of loss of TV privileges, money or computer time teach them much better.
4. Use relational consequences only if they concern your own feelings.
5. Think of consequences as protecting yourself and the rest of the family from the behavior of the person who is doing the offending.
6. Offer a choice whenever possible, even when there's only one course of action available:
7. Make sure there's a good reason someone is having behavior problems before invoking consequences.
Next lesson: Boundary Myths
"How do we get people to do what we want without being controlling and manipulative?"
Answer is in the first word of Matt 7:7—ASK.
If they say no, don't come back with:
None of these reactions give freedom to people to say no to you.
If I set boundaries, doesn't that mean I'm being self-centered, interested only in my concerns and not those of others?
It is absolutely true that we are to be loving, concerned for the welfare of others. Jesus said our #1 hallmark of being Christians is that we love one another.
Appropriate boundaries actually increase our ability to care about others. How?
Make a distinction between selfishness and stewardship. Selfishness means we're fixated on our own wishes and desires, ignoring our responsibility to love others.
Stewardship means understanding that God gives us a limited amount of personal resources to manage: time, energy, feelings, thoughts, behaviors. We are responsible before God for how we spend them and how we develop them. When we say NO to people and activities that are hurtful to us, we are protecting what belongs to God.
Helpful: playing "Go Fish."
No shame, no condemnation.
As a polio survivor, I have a limited number of steps available to me in any given day and in my life. How do I want to spend them? Doesn't it make sense to ask for help and accept help so that I can be a better steward of my limited resources?
Many Christians fear that setting and keeping limits equals rebellion, or disobedience. In some religious circles you'll hear statements such as, "Your unwillingness to go along with our program shows an unresponsive heart." Because of this myth, countless people remain trapped in endless activities of no genuine spiritual and emotional value.
"Abusive Churches" article at Probe.org
This truth is life-changing: a LACK of boundaries is often a sign of disobedience. People who have shaky limits are often compliant on the outside, but rebellious and resentful on the inside.
Little boy: "I'm sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside!"
Sometimes people can pressure us into doing something we don’t want to do, but we're afraid of what they'll think if we say no.
Fear is a terrible reason to let our boundaries be trampled. 1 John 4:18—"Fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." If we say yes out of fear, we are not doing it out of love, and God wants us to be able to say yes out of love.
The Bible tells us how to be obedient: "Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor. 9:7) RELUCTANTLY and UNDER COMPULSION both involve fear, either of a person or of a guilty conscience. Fear and love are on opposite ends of the spectrum. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) When we're afraid to say no, our yes is compromised.
Biblical principle: an internal no nullifies an external yes. God is more concerned with our hearts than he is with our outward compliance. Remember the gospel story of the father who asked his son to do something and he said no, but then changed his mind and did what his father wanted, and his brother said 'OK, Dad,' but didn't do what his father wanted? It's what's in our hearts that matters. Our insides and our outsides should match when it comes to boundaries.
We should own our yesses and our nos. "Let your yes be yes and your no be no." (Matt. 5:37)
If we say yes to God or anyone else when we really mean no, we're being compliant, and that's the same thing as lying.
Now, this is different than obeying from the heart when our feelings are telling us one thing and we know the right thing to do and we freely choose to do it out of obedience. We CHOOSE to obey even if we don't feel like it, but we own our yes—it's just not clothed in enthusiasm. Learning to give thanks for polio.
Disobedience to parents: children obey, adults honor.
Some people genuinely believe in boundaries, but they are terrified of their consequences.
Is it possible that others will become angry at our boundaries and attack or withdraw from us? Absolutely. We can't control how others respond to our no. Some will welcome it; some will hate it.
Jesus told the rich young ruler a hard truth, set a hard boundary: sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. He rejected Jesus' boundary. "He went away sad, because he had great wealth."
Jesus could have manipulated the situation so that it was easier to swallow. He could have said, "Well, how about 90%?" After all, He's God, and He makes up the rules! But He didn't. He knew that it was a heart issue and the young man had to freely choose whom to worship, Jesus or money. So He let him walk away.
We should do the same thing. We can't manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a "litmus test" for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can't respect our boundaries are telling us that they don't love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. "I only like it when you do what I want."
Setting limits has to do with telling the truth. One of the primary boundary verses: "Speak the truth in love." The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who love the truth and those who don't. First, there is the person who welcomes your boundaries. Who accepts them. Who listens to them. Who says, "I'm glad you have a separate opinion. I honor the fact that you're you and not me." This person is called wise or righteous.
I REALLY want to be a wise person. I've learned how to honor other people's boundaries. I asked an executive’s admin about him joining the board of a ministry. "You're not going to like this, but I won't let him be on any more boards." No, I respect and honor a no because I want others to respect and honor my nos. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"—the Golden Rule.
The second type hates limits. Resents your differences. Tries to manipulate you into giving up the treasures of your heart. Try the "litmus test" experiment with your significant relationships. Tell them no in some area. You'll either come out with increased intimacy—or learn that there was very little to begin with.
Recognize a hard truth: you can't make anyone stay with or love you. That's up to the other person in the relationship. Sometimes setting boundaries clarifies that the other person left the relationship a long time ago—in every way except physically. When one person starts setting boundaries by telling the truth about themselves, it causes a crisis. Hopefully, they can reconcile and change the relationship into a healthier one. The problem is brought out in the open so it can be addressed. You cannot change or heal that which you don't acknowledge.
Will some people abandon or attack us for having boundaries? Yes. Better to learn about their character and take steps to fix the problem than never to know.
One couple: after 27 years, he was honest about his struggle with homosexuality. Once it was out in the open, she was able to deal with the truth. She started setting boundaries, and getting healthier, he didn't like it, they divorced. The marriage was based on a lie, and once the lie was exposed, they couldn't live with it anymore.
Another couple: he was a procrastinator, she was punctual. They were always late for church. It made her mad. A couple of times she said, "If you're going to dawdle, then I'm going to leave without you. I'll see you at church." And she went without him. He got mad and accused her of being disrespectful. So she stopped doing that and just let the anger build.
What if she had said, "I'm sorry you see it that way (me being disrespectful). I'm really respecting your choice to be late, and I'm respecting myself in my desire to be on time. I would love to go to church with you, but I also would love not to feel torn up and resentful inside. Can we negotiate a way where we can both be happy?"
Secret: set boundaries while remaining loving and cheerful. No edge to your voice. "Speak the truth in love."
A few times he understood that it was a problem, and he worked at being punctual, but after a few weeks he fell back into his old pattern. She didn't stay with the boundary-setting program, she just let her resentment build. She could have said, "For a few weeks you worked really hard at being on time, and I really appreciate that. It seems we're slipping back into the old rut of you being late and me being resentful, and I don't want this to be a problem in our relationship. What can we do?"
We need to be patient when people are learning new behaviors.
What if there weren't two cars? What if the late person forces the on-time person to suffer? What if they were leaving on a trip and they HAD to go together?
"Help me understand something. It seems that whenever we leave for a trip, you have all kinds of things to do before we leave the house, and not all of them are necessary. And then we're late leaving. It's a real pattern, and it's a real problem. What can I do to help you get things done so we can leave on time, or what can I do to help you discern between the things you have to do and the things you don't have to do? It's causing me a lot of frustration and anger toward you and I don't like feeling this way."
Tell the truth. "Speak the truth in love." Say that you're frustrated and it's impacting the relationship.
If you set boundaries, you fear that your limits will injure someone else:
The problem is that sometimes you see boundaries as an offensive weapon. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Boundaries are a defensive tool. Appropriate boundaries don't control, attack, or hurt anyone. They simply prevent your treasures from being taken at the wrong time. Saying no to adults, who are responsible for getting their own needs met, may cause some discomfort. They may have to look elsewhere. But it doesn't cause injury.
Difference between hurting and harming. Can we hurt someone's feelings when we set a boundary? Sure. But hurting feelings are different from HARMING the other person. We take kids for shots, and it hurts them, but it doesn't HARM them. In fact, if we prevent them from experiencing the hurt, we DO harm them.
This principle of setting boundaries isn't just about those who would like to control or manipulate us. It also applies to the legitimate needs of others. Even when someone has a valid problem, there are times when we can't sacrifice for some reason or another. Jesus left the multitudes who had real needs for Him, to be alone with His Father. When we remember we need to be good stewards of our time and energies, when we live before the Lord, we can distinguish between the important and the urgent.
That's why it's important to be in community.
It's important to have a group of supportive relationships. The reason is simple: having more than one person in our lives allows our friends to be human. To be busy. To be unavailable at times. To hurt and have problems of their own. To have time alone.
Then, when one person can't be there for us, there's another phone number to call. Another person who may have something to offer.
When we have taken the responsibility to develop several supportive relationships, we can take someone else's no. Why? Because we have somewhere else to go.
Do you have a friendship with another lady where you're the only person she calls for help or to vent or to cry on your shoulder? What if you got caller ID and didn't answer the phone? What if you were unavailable and she panicked? She would come right up against her wrong belief that you are all she needs. It would cause some pain, because she needs other people besides you, and your unavailability would be the best way for her to see that. She may feel hurt, but she's not HARMED.
Lots of us are uncomfortable with anger. But anger is an emotion that is God's gift to us. All of our negative emotions are God's gift to us; they are like warning lights on the dashboard of a car. They are a signal of something going on "under the hood" that needs attention.
Like fear, anger signals danger. But instead of withdrawing, which is what fear tells us to do, anger is a sign we need for move forward to confront the threat. Anger is emotional energy to deal with a problem that needs to be dealt with. Anger gives us a sense of power to solve a problem. It energizes us to protect ourselves, those we love, and our principles.
Let me say it again: If you're angry, it means your boundaries have been violated. ("Oh, THAT'S why I'm angry!")
Ever find yourself feeling hostile with pushy salespeople? They can't or won’t hear your no. They are attempting to get inside your financial boundaries, and God's gift of anger is doing its job.
As with all emotions, anger doesn't understand time. Anger doesn't dissipate automatically if the boundary violation occurred two minutes ago—or twenty years ago! It has to be worked through appropriately. Otherwise, anger simply lives inside the heart.
That's why people with injured boundaries are often shocked by the rage they feel when they start setting limits. It's not new anger, it's old anger. Years of no's that were never voiced, never respected, never listened to. The protests against all the evil and violation of our souls sit inside us, waiting to tell their truths.
That's why people in counseling for abuse issues have to go through a time of being angry. It's not being fleshly, it's getting healthy.
Ex.: My friend throwing plates.
It's very common for boundary-injured people to do some "catching up" with anger. They may have a season of looking at boundary violations of the past they never realized existed.
If this kind of person is in your life, give them grace. It's a season, not the rest of their life.
As you develop better boundaries, you have less need for anger. Once you have your NO intact, you no longer need to "rage signal." You can see evil coming your way and prevent it from harming you by setting your boundaries.
An important point about anger: The better our boundaries are, the less anger we experience. Individuals with mature boundaries are the least angry people in the world. If you can prevent boundary violation in the first place, you don't need the anger. You are more in control of your life and values.
Tina resented her husband's coming home 45 minutes late to dinner every night. She had a hard time keeping the food hot; the kids were hungry and crabby, and their evening study schedule was thrown off. Things changed, however, when she began serving dinner on time, with or without her husband. He came home to refrigerated leftovers that he had to reheat and eat alone. Three or four "sessions" like this prompted Tina's husband to tear himself away from work earlier! Tina's boundary (eating with the kids on time) kept her from feeling violated and victimized. She got her needs met, the kids' needs met, and she didn't feel angry anymore.
The old saying "Don't get mad, get even" isn't accurate. It's far better to say, "Don't get mad. Set a limit!"
Someone who gets a job opportunity across the country, and suddenly their parents start telling them about their poor health and their loneliness. And all the sacrifices they'd made for them.
What do we owe our parents and anyone else who's been loving toward us? What's appropriate and biblical, and what isn't?
Some people solve this dilemma by never setting a boundary. They never leave home, they never change schools or churches, they never switch jobs or friends. Even when it would be an otherwise mature and wise move.
They believe that because we have received something, we owe something. The problem is the nonexistent debt. The love we receive, or money, or time—should be accepted as a gift. "Gift" implies no strings attached. All that's really needed is gratitude.
"Mom and Dad, I am so grateful for all you've done for me. Nothing will ever come close to the sacrifices you've made. Thank you for investing in my life the way you have."
With parents, we don't ask permission, we inform about what we're doing. When we're children, we ask permission because we are under their authority and we need to learn to obey and submit. When we're adults, we ask permission of GOD, not our parents. That authority relationship is over. We honor them by listening to them and considering their input, then we do what God wants us to do.
We need to distinguish between those who "give to get" and those who truly give selflessly. It's generally easy to tell the difference. If the giver is hurt or angered by a sincere thanks, the gift was probably a loan. If the gratitude is enough, you probably received a legitimate gift with no feelings of guilt attached.
If the person gave you a loan instead of a gift, then recognize that the problem is about them, not you.
No one can make you feel guilty without your permission.
Sometimes we think we're feeling guilty when what we're feeling is discomfort over the other person's withdrawal of approval and affection. If I set a boundary and the other person doesn't accept it and withdraws or gets angry, then that person is not respecting me. God calls us to respect one another. Instead of camping on "I feel awful because of the disruption in the relationship," think about it this way: "The other person is not respecting me. It's about them, not me."
Next lesson: Boundaries with Family
Susie had a problem that I had seen countless times before. This thirty-year-old woman would return from a visit to her parents' home and suffer a deep depression.
When she described her problem to me, I asked her if she noticed that every time she went home to visit, she came back extremely depressed.
"Why that's ridiculous," she said. "I don't live there anymore. How could the trip affect me this way?"
When I asked her to describe the trip, Susie told of social gatherings with old friends and family times around the dinner table. These were fun, she said, especially when it was only family.
"What do you mean 'only family'?" I asked.
"Well, other times my parents would invite some of my friends over, and I didn't like those dinners as well."
"Why was that?"
Susie thought for a minute and then replied, "I guess I start to feel guilty." She began to recount the subtle remarks her parents would make comparing her friends' lives to hers. They would talk of how wonderful it is for grandparents to have a "hands on" role in raising the children. They would talk of the community activities her friends were doing and how wonderful she would be at those activities if she only lived there. The list went on and on.
Susie soon discovered that, when she returned home, she felt as if she were bad for living where she lived. She had a nagging sense that she really should do what her parents wanted her to do.
Susie had a common problem.
She had made choices on the OUTSIDE.
She had moved away from the family she grew up in to pursue a career on her own.
She had been paying her own bills.
She had even gotten married and had a child.
But on the INSIDE, things were different.
She did not have emotional permission to be a separate person,
make free choices about her life,
and not feel guilty when she did not do what her parents wanted.
She could still yield to pressure.
The real problem is on the inside.
Remember, boundaries define someone's property.
Susie, and others like her, do not really "own" themselves.
People who own their lives do not feel guilty when they make choices about where they are going.
They take other people into consideration, but when they make choices for the wishes of others, they are choosing out of love, not guilt; to advance a good, not to avoid being bad.
When you feel guilty for being different from what your parents or your family want you to be or do, that is a sign of boundary problems. It DOESN'T mean you're a bad daughter or sister or grandmother.
Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."
"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.
When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.
After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions.
Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."
"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"
But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
John 2 Wedding in Cana
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there,
and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."
"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet."
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside
and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."
This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son,"
and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Catching the Virus
When our family of origin has the power to affect our new family in a trickle-down effect. One sure sign of boundary problems is when your relationship with one person has the power to affect your relationships with others. You are giving one person way too much power in your life.
You can tell when a person has not left his/her father and mother by whether or not they are a different person around their parents than they are with their new family.
One young woman made steady gains in therapy until she talked to her mother, when she would withdraw for three weeks. She would say things like, "I'm not changing at all. I'm not getting any better." Fusing with many of her mother's ideas about her, she wasn't able to stay separate. This fusion with her mother affected her other relationships. She virtually shut everyone out of her life after an interaction with her mother. Her mother owned her life; she was not her own.
1 Cor 6:19-20 says, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." The Father bought us with the price of the Son's blood. If we have boundary problems with our family, we are acting as if we are owned by people, when we are owned by God.
"You wouldn't believe how she is with him," Dan said. "She totally focuses on his every wish. When he criticizes her, she tries harder. And she practically ignores me. I'm tired of being the 'second man' in her life."
Dan wasn't talking about Jane's lover. He was talking about her father. Dan was tired of feeling like Jane cared more about her father's wishes than his.
This is a common sign of a lack of boundaries with the family of origin: the spouse feels like he gets leftovers. The feels as if his mate's real allegiance is to her parents. This spouse hasn't completed the "leaving before cleaving" process; she has a boundary problem.
The Hebrew word for "leave" comes from a root work that means to "loosen," or to relinquish or forsake. For marriage to work, the spouse needs to loosen her ties with her family of origin and forge new ones with the new family she is creating through marriage.
One woman is struggling in her marriage because her husband's first allegiance is to his mother. Mom makes decisions for her son and his wife—major life decisions—and son happily goes along with it. This man's teenage daughter got pregnant and decided to keep the baby even though she had no ability to do so. Grandma says, "I will help raise the baby" and carries the brunt of the responsibility. She tells son and his wife, "I'll raise the baby till I'm too old, then you will." Grandma experiences some unexpected physical problems that land her in the hospital, and informs the son and his wife that they will have to care for the baby. Then she calls about every 15 minutes asking about what she ate and if she napped, micromanaging the baby's caretaking. Can you see a boundary problem?
This doesn't mean that husbands and wives shouldn't have a relationship with their extended families. But they do need to set clear boundaries with their families of origin. Many marriages fail because one partner fails to set clear boundaries with the family of origin, and the spouse and children get leftovers.
May I Have My Allowance, Please?
Mom and Dad want their married children to have all the good stuff they enjoy, so they pump money into their lives. While it allows the couple to have things they couldn't have otherwise, it cost them dearly.
Bailouts from Mom and Dad cut into a husband's self-respect. The wife feels she can't spend any money without consulting her in-laws, since they contributed the funds.
Common boundary problem for young adults today, both married and single: they are not yet adults financially.
Being a grownup means you provide for yourself and do not depend on Mom and Dad to provide for you.
Kids want freedom and privileges: we can tell them, "When you're an adult, that means you are on your own, earning your own way and paying all your own bills, completely separated from us. Then you can make all your own life decisions."
Problem comes when kids want to have the privileges of making adult decisions without the responsibility of paying one's own way, which leads to the "I'm in trouble" side of financial boundary problems.
Many adult children perpetually get into financial messes because of irresponsibility, drug or alcohol use, out-of-control spending, or the modern "I haven't found my niche" syndrome. Their parents continue to finance this road of failure and irresponsibility, thinking "this time they'll do better." In reality, they are crippling their children for life, preventing them from achieving independence.
An adult who does not stand on his own financially is still a child. To be an adult, you must live within your means and pay for your own failures.
Mom, Where Are My Socks?
In the perpetual child syndrome, a person may be financially on his own, but allows his family of origin to perform certain life management functions.
Hangs out at Mom and Dad's house
Vacations with them
Drops off laundry
Eats many meals there
Mom or Dad's closest confidante
At thirtysomething, he hasn't found his career niche
has no savings
no retirement plan
no health insurance.
On the surface, these things don't appear to be serious problems.
But often, Mom and Dad are symbolically keeping their adult child from emotionally leaving home.
This is essentially an adolescent financial life.
Adolescents make enough money to buy a surfboard, stereo, or outfit, but do not think past the immediate present to the future.
Did I make enough money for the pleasures of this weekend?
Adolescents—and adult children who have not separated from their parents—are still under parental protection, and it's a parent's job to think about the future.
What if you're the parent?
"Son/daughter, we've made a mistake in enabling you to not grow up. We're going to draw some boundaries to encourage you to be a grownup. We will no longer ________. I'm sure it will be uncomfortable for you, and it will be for us too, but we're doing this because we love you."
Three's a Crowd
Dysfunctional families are known for a certain type of boundary problem called triangulation.
Person A, B and C:
A is mad at B.
A doesn't tell B.
A calls C and gripes about B.
C enjoys A's confidence and listens whenever A wants to play the triangle game.
By this time, B, feeling lonely, calls C, and in passing, mentions the conflict with A.
C becomes the confidante of B as well as A.
A and B have not resolved their conflict, and C has two "friends."
Triangulation is the failure to resolve a conflict between two persons and the pulling in of a third to take sides. This is a boundary problem because the third person has no business in the conflict, but is used for comfort and validation by the ones who are afraid to confront each other. The third person functions as a stabilizer in the relationship between the other two.
This is how
people don't change,
and enemies are made unnecessarily.
What happens in the triangle is that people speak falsely, covering up their negative emotions with nice words and flattery. A is usually very cordial, nice and even complimentary to B in person, but when A talks to C, the anger comes out.
This is a clear lack of boundaries because Person A is not "owning" his anger. The person with whom A is angry deserves to hear it straight from her. How many times have you been hurt by a "Do you know what John said about you?" And the last time you talked to John things were fine.
In addition, Person C is being drawn into the conflict, and her knowledge of the conflict gets in the way of her relationship with Person B. Gossip gets between people. It affects our opinions of the people being gossiped about without them having a chance to defend themselves. Many times what we hear from a third person is inaccurate. That's why the Bible commands us to listen to at least two or three witnesses, not just one.
You can triangulate in a group: sharing prayer requests or burdens. If you are giving enough information that they will align with you against the other person, you are triangulating, and it's gossip.
The scripture is very serious about dealing with conflict DIRECTLY with the one you are angry with:
These scriptures show that a simple way to avoid triangulation is to always talk to the person with whom you have a conflict first. Never say to a 3rd party something about someone that you do not plan to say to the person herself.
Some of the wisest counsel I ever received was about my behavior as Curt turned 18. Someone with “eyes to see” pointed out that I was still trying to control my son, even though that didn’t work anymore. And when I couldn’t control him directly, I tried to control him indirectly, by getting other people to give him messages he wouldn’t receive from me.
This person said, "I refuse to be triangulated into your relationship with Curt. Indirect communication is both manipulative and deceptive, as well as ineffective. The problem is that you are feeling powerless, and you truly are, because your son is now an adult and he is not only capable of but supposed to make, and bear, the consequences of his own choices.
"Powerlessness is one of the most difficult experiences to embrace in our relationships and in our spiritual journey. Paradoxically, it is the key to unlocking both relational and spiritual effectiveness. That’s hard to hear, since we usually resort to being controlling when we’re feeling the most out of control. Your responsibility is to control yourself, and when it comes to other people, love them and leave them in God’s hands, acknowledging your powerlessness and yielding to His power and sovereignty."
But I'm Your Brother
Grown sibling relationship: An irresponsible adult child depends on a responsible adult sibling to avoid growing up and leaving the family.
The tough issue here is the guilt and pressure you feel because it is your brother or sister. Sometimes people do totally crazy and unhelpful things for a brother or sister that they would never do for their closest friend. Our families can tear down our best-built fences because they are "family."
Ask yourself, "If she/he weren't family, how would I handle this?"
"What is in his/her best interest?" (to grow up, to take responsibility for self)
If we don’t learn about boundary-setting in our family of origin, our adult boundary problems are just continuations of old boundary problems that have been there since childhood.
"If you only do the things you've always done, all you'll ever have is what you've got."
The first step is identifying these rules of the family and turn from them. You have to become aware of old family patterns that continue into today. It helps to go through the laws of boundaries and see what's being broken, in order to fix things.
Boundaries are an essential aspect of growing up. One step in growing up is coming out from under parental authority and putting yourself under God's authority.
The Bible says that children are under the authority of their parents until they become adults. But when adulthood comes, that person comes out from under guardians and managers and becomes responsible for him or herself.
Christians move into another parental relationship with God as Father. God adopts us into His family.
Numerous NT passages teach that we need to forsake our allegiance to our original family and become adopted by God. God commands us to look to Him as Father and have no parental intermediaries. Adults who are still holding an allegiance to early parents have not realized their new adoptive status.
Many times we don't obey the Word of God because we have not spiritually left home. We feel we still need to please our parents and their traditional ways of doing things rather than obey our new Father.
When we become part of God's family, obeying His ways will sometimes cause conflict in our families and sometimes separate us.
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
Ray and I were the first Christ-followers in our families, and it caused conflict. Ray married me instead of becoming a priest. When we joined Probe, we became missionaries. (Catholics didn't do that.) We went to a Bible church. We didn't baptize our children. Our parents didn't understand these choices, and it caused conflict. But because our first allegiance was to God and to each other, the boundary lines were clearly drawn in our heads and hearts. "I'm sorry you don't understand what we're doing, but it's a matter of listening to and obeying God." We heard what our parents said, we acknowledged what they were saying, we affirmed them and loved them, and then we did what we knew God was telling us to do.
Jesus says that our spiritual ties are the closest and most important. Our true family is the family of God:
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.
Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."
He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"
Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
This doesn't mean we are to cut other ties. We are to have friends outside of God's family and strong ties with our family of origin. But we need to ask two questions:
1. Love and honor your parents.
All communication needs to be done in love so the other person can hear the truth and take it in without feeling bad or defensive.
When we honor our parents, we acknowledge their previous role in our lives.
We express gratitude for what they did for us.
We live in grace, so we can extend it to our family.
If you find you can't love and honor your parents, get into God's healing process: Find a trusted friend, a support group, or a counselor to help you deal with the wounds your parents caused. This will help you come to love and honor them.
God's healing process: 1) grieve the pain and the loss, 2) forgive the person who hurt you.
2. Do not obey your parents.
Loving and honoring do not equal obeying.
God placed you with your parents for a season of time to help you grow into a mature adult.
At some point this season ends, and your relationship with your mom and dad changes from child-to-parent to adult-to-adult.
The roles change from dependency and authority to mutuality.
While you are to respect and care for your parents, you are not longer under their protection and tutelage.
Children are to obey their parents; adult children are to love and honor them.
Therefore, sometimes you will need to confront parents, disobeying their desire for you to agree with them or go along with a bad situation.
3. When dealing with a sibling, remember it's adult-to-adult, and distance yourself from your childhood ways of relating.
Reprogram the jukebox, so when they hit your button, it no longer plays B-17. Respond, don't react. CHOOSE the way you will deal with what they say and do. You are not in bondage to childhood ways of relating.
Sometimes when you insist on maintaining your boundaries (for example, “I’m sorry, I can’t be your child’s afterschool babysitter”), people will try to trample those boundaries through guilt (“I can’t believe you call yourself a friend and you would deny me this simple need”) or manipulation (“If you don’t do this for me, I’ll lose my job and we’ll go hungry and it’ll be your fault”) or other less-than-honorable motives. When you continue to stand your ground, other people may get their feelings hurt because they couldn’t make you do what they wanted you to do. In that case, remember that some people choose to get their feelings hurt, and that’s OK. It’s not wise to honor others’ self-centeredness, which is what’s happening when they get their feelings hurt because they wanted their agenda instead of honoring yours.
Next Lesson: Setting Boundaries
Boundaries Face to Face, p. 29
As a youth, I was a Boy Scout. Scouting was a big part of my life, and Troop 4 was a very active troop, with lots of camping and activities. During the latter years of my scouting experience, I was in my teens and getting close to earning my Eagle rank. As a teen, however, I was also experimenting with becoming an individual, which involved some rebellious attitudes. During one weekend campout, when we were putting up our tents, I used some pretty rough language to make my buddies laugh. It was the wrong time to do this, as our scoutmaster, Mr. DeKeyser—whom we called "DK"—was walking by.
DK pulled me aside, looked at me, and quietly said, "You're too close. Don't mess up."
That was all it took.
DK's six words were enough. I knew what he meant. He knew I knew. No more was needed. He never brought it up again. From then on, I curbed my tongue-as much as a teenager can anyway-and stayed pretty much on track until I got the Eagle.
Being emotionally present and connected while we are confronting another person is the first essential of a good conversation. It truly requires a work of grace in us.
A boundary conversation is very difficult because it feels unnatural—and it IS unnatural, in that the natural person within us does not think this way.
Ways to help you "be there" in your boundary conversation:
1. Be warm
Remember that although confrontations can be uncomfortable, this does not mean you need to be angry, detached, or distant from the other person. As much as you are able, be warm and available to them. If you are warm, the other person is much more likely to receive what you have to say.
2. Be in a conversation, not a lecture
Let the other person respond. Listen to her heart even if you don't agree with her position.
3. Discomfort versus injury
Be willing to suffer discomfort—to a point. The point is the line where you pass from discomfort to the place where you're actually getting hurt. Not let the person in too deeply, or end the conversation until a better time to protect yourself. But if the talk is more about being uncomfortable than being injured, keep on pressing through to reconciliation.
Boundary setting takes into account that two people are involved. There can be problems when you don't clearly distinguish your feelings and opinions from the other person's. The process of problem solving and reconciliation can quickly get bogged down. You see this when people say things like "You need to change this" rather than "I need for you to change this." There is an "I" who has a desire and a request, and there is a "you" who is being asked to change something.
If you are not clear about "you" and "I" in your confrontation, the other person:
Some suggestions to clarify your communication:
Do you like it when people try to put words in your mouth? Do you connect with another person when she tells you what you are feeling when it is really what she WANTS you to feel? No, you disconnect. Remember that though boundary-setting is hard, so is receiving a boundary-setting. So allow the other person the grace to have their own responses to your opinions.
The more clear you are ahead of time about what you want in this relationship and what you are asking the other person to do, the better things will go. Write out, or talk through with a friend, exactly what the "I" and "you" parts are. Many conversations have broken down when the other person says, "So what do you really want?" and the confronter gets flustered.
Dr Phil: "What I want from you that I'm not getting is_____"
Tell the other person, "I really need more help from you around the house, or I don't think I can be as close and loving to you as I want to be." This is much better than, "You need to do more around the house." He may not experience that need, and he is likely to resent you for telling him what he needs.
When people say, "We need to talk," they are confusing their wishes with that of the other person. It's much better to say, "I need to talk to you."
Small details? Yes, but words matter. In Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray says to ask, "Will you take out the trash?" rather than "Can you take out the trash?" One appeals to the person's will, the other questions his ability.
Another boundary violation: "Oh, you shouldn't feel that way." Don't tell another person how they should be feeling!
Another: "It's stupid to think that way."
You have no control over the person you are confronting. More than that, you are asking for something you need from him. This is a humble position, and it helps to accept it. Saying "I want" and "I need" is a way of letting the other person know that he is important to you, that you do need him, and that you are aware he might see things differently. It's not a comfortable position, but it's the best position to take-the other person is free to choose is he is not controlled by you.
As much as possible, stay away from the "we need to" and "you need to" traps. Speak from your own experience, your own heart, your own needs. This increases the likelihood that your side will be heard, because you have clearly identified it as YOUR side. No one likes to be told who he is or what he should think.
Don't lose focus and end up going over a whole list of offenses that overwhelms the person being confronted.
Don't start with "It seems you don't pick up after yourself as regularly as you should" and end up with "What about the time you forgot the kids at the mall last year?" DON'T GET HISTORICAL! You may have so many unconfessed issues with the other person that in the momentum of the conversation, you bring up everything else you have a problem with.
Look at 3 important elements of the problem itself and what you would like to see happen:
Be clear and focused on what the problem is really about.
This step may have more than one level to it. For example, a husband might say to his mother, "Mom I've noticed that you are pretty critical of Laurie's cooking and parenting. You put her down a couple of times in front of everyone at the party last week. I don't know what this is about, but it seems you are seldom pleased with how she does things." Notice the two levels: the specifics, and then an observation about the nature of the specifics. This gives the other person clear information about what you are concerned about.
Include not only the facts and realities about the problem, but also what it does to you and the relationship.
The husband talking to his mother might say, "Laurie gets discouraged, because she knocks herself out for you. The kids are confused about why you are so mean to their mom. I'm embarrassed because I feel caught in the middle. And you and I get disconnected, because even though I love you, Laurie is my wife and she's getting hurt. So it makes things worse for me, you, and all of us."
Avoid the mistake of stopping with the negative aspects of the problem. Doing that can make the person feel:
Instead, let her know what you would like to see that would change the situation and solve the problem. This gives her hope, a structure, and a chance to do something to make the relationship better.
The husband might say, "Here's what I would like you to do. If it's a small matter, drop it. I don't bring up little things you do. If it's a big thing, pull Laurie aside quietly and tell her your concerns. She is very open to constructive feedback. And finally, notice the good things she does, and talk about them in front of everyone. I would really appreciate it. It would bring me closer to you, and I think the whole family would be happier."
Jesus was the perfect combination of grace and truth. John 1:17—"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." People need both grace and truth in relationships with God and with each other.
Think about a time when someone told you the truth without love. You probably felt attacked, judged, or condemned. No matter how accurate the truth, it hardly mattered, because the hurtful feelings erased the truth in the confrontation. In good boundary conversations, truth needs grace for the person to safely receive and digest the information.
Now reflect on a time you received grace without any truth. Grace comforts us and keeps us safe and loved, but it doesn't provide reality, structure, direction, or correction. You may have come away from that encounter feeling refreshed and encouraged, but without the path or insight to know what to do next.
Lead with Grace
It's always best to start with grace, as it sets the stage for the other person to be able to tolerate the truth. Tell the person, "Before we get into the topic, I want you to know I really care about you and about us. I want us to be better, and I want us to be on the same team. I hope I can convey that to you even when we talk about the problem."
Don't assume that the other person automatically knows these things. In fact, in a boundary conversation the other person often needs more reassurance of the grace.
When in doubt, go for grace. The damage done by a lack of grace is more severe than what's done by a lack of truth. With grace alone, you stand a chance of being able to have another conversation later. With truth alone, the judgment could possibly rupture the safety of the relationship so much that things fall apart.
P. 45-46, Boundaries Face to Face
Here is a common crazy-making script on confrontations:
You: "Sharon, I'd like to talk about a problem in our relationship."
Sharon: "Well, what about all the things you do?"
You: "Like what?"
Sharon: "You never call when you're going to be late, you work too much on the weekends, you don't spend enough time with the kids, you don't help around the house. . ."
This little script illustrates a common problem in having the talk: the inability to stay on track and on task. A good confrontation has a specific and clear focus. It can be reduced to one or both of two things: You want the other person to start doing something you want or to stop doing something you don't want. If all goes well, each of you understands he other's view and feelings, and you agree on how things will change. This is how the conversation above could be kept on track.
You: "Sharon, I'd like to talk about a problem in our relationship."
Sharon: "Well, what about all the things you do?"
You: "I know I do things that irritate you, but I want to focus on my concern right now."
Sharon: "Sure, it's always about you."
You: "I'll be glad to talk later about want you want to talk about, but for now, I'd like to talk about how we can stay within our budget."
Often, what complicates things is the other person's defensiveness. In other words, the other person doesn't want to be faced with either the problem or the problem's effects on you.
Chuck Lynch, in You Can Work It Out, says that often when he starts laying out areas of personal responsibility, someone says, "I feel like you're picking on me." This is often the first time the person has been forced to face the x-ray of their relationship and it's ugly!
Very often, people who have longstanding patterns of negative behavior and attitudes have also developed character patterns that help maintain those problems. They have some internal resistance to seeing themselves as wrong, flawed, or responsible. So, in the face of all reality, feedback, and circumstances, they turn a blind eye to their immaturity or hurtfulness. The problem either
The other person wants to deflect and divert the attention anywhere away from what she is doing. Then you find yourself sidetracked and lost.
Don't be surprised or upset. Accept this as part of that person for now until they decide to change.
It's always best to give the person a chance to be heard and understood. You cannot go wrong with that position, as you're giving grace before moving in with truth. You might say, "I didn't realize that you feel so nagged by me. I really want to look at that, and if I am doing that, I want to change it."
Note, however, that we said "to a point." When a person is open to feedback, she needs her point to be heard, and then she is ready to hear yours. When you are dealing with a character problem, it is different. After you have heard her out, she may still not be open to hearing you. She always has another excuse, or she blames you again. It is not good for either of you for this to go on indefinitely.
Again, giving grace, simply listen, empathize, and get back to the issue at hand. Say things like, "I really will take a look at my part there; I don't want to make the problem worse. But I'd like to get back to what I was saying about your drinking. . ."
Don't give up quickly on this. Many people try to stay on topic, but then feel it is hopeless and they shut down. The message they are sending to the other person is that a little resistance will end things. Be persistent and let him know you will keep bringing this up because it is important to you and the relationship!
If the person has a pattern of diverting things, bring that into the light. Don't keep getting sidetracked by excuses. Say, "I have noticed that every time I talk about our problem of how to allocate the chores, it seems you get angry or change the subject. I really do want to own my part, and I will be glad to when we deal with your part. But it's hard for me because you keep diverting things. Can you tell me what is going on when I bring up problems, or how can I give you feedback in a better way?"
Don't blame; inquire. The person may be feeling judged or put down, and simply reassuring him that you are on his side will be enough to get back on track.
With Ray: "How would you like me to point things out to you so you don't get defensive?"
One of the most powerful and effective ingredients of a good boundary conversation is explaining to a person how her attitudes or actions influence you: "When you do 'A,' I feel 'B'." In other words, you show how what another person does affects your emotions.
Opening your heart can often get through to another person, because it connects to the love and care he or she has for you. It helps them move away from winning an argument and into being involved in the relationship.
This ingredient is also very important because it avoids blame and assault. Telling how you feel describes an internal reality that the other person might not be aware of. This is the opposite of the "blame barrage," where someone runs through a list of the all the other's infractions. Not many people can remain open and undefensive when hit with that. They become more invested in protecting themselves from all the badness, guilt, and condemnation being thrown at them.
Keep the following in mind as you bring your feelings into the boundary conversation:
This is hard; it is easy to use the word feel and then say a thought. "When you negate my words, I feel like I shouldn't say anything." It would be better to say, "When you negate my words, I feel hurt and disconnected from you."
See "Why Marriages Fail" at Probe.org:
This may take work. Know the difference between being
One mistake many people make is identifying angry feelings as hurt feelings. Have friends help you know when you are hurt and when you're angry.
Not what you think the other person is doing. Instead of "When you negate my words, I feel like you don't care about me," say, "When you negate my words, I feel alone and unloved."
Though it is true that the other person highly influences you emotionally, convey to her that this is about your reaction to her rather than about her power and control over you. If you avoid this kind of blaming statement, it keeps the other person from reacting to being blamed: "I made you frustrated? How can I do that? Those are your feelings. I can't control what you feel." Making an association for the other person solves a lot of problems. Instead of saying, "You frustrate me," say, "When you are constantly late, I feel frustrated and unimportant."
You are not ascribing fault as much as opening a window into your heart so the other person has access to your world. "I know sometimes I get hurt too easily, and that's not you, that's me. But last night, when you made fun of my dress at the party, I really felt attacked and embarrassed."
Give the other person a description of what he really said or did, or what tone of voice he used, so that he has a picture of the situation. "When you teased me about my weight at the dinner table tonight, I felt hurt."
Saying "When you do 'A,' I feel 'B'" is, at heart, not only a way of confronting, but also a way of reaching out to the other person. Allow yourself, as much as it is safe, to let him or her see this part of your heart.
Next Lesson: Setting Boundaries, Part 2
Be on the other person's side.
It's grace before truth. Grace means "favor." Establish your favor, care, and belief in the person before "facing the issue."
1. In ongoing problem solving where there is no big issue, you need not utter some big proclamation of your love and commitment. You are merely correcting a problem.
"Sara, I love going to the movies with you. I really enjoy our time together. One thing that would make it better for me would be if we could leave on time. When we are late, I feel rushed, and I want to enjoy the time we have together."
"Joey, I like how you have been trying to do your chores. Would you look a little harder at the way you leave the den before you go outside to play? I end up picking up some things for you, I don't want to do that. Thanks."
Validate other people with language that lets them know you are with them and not against them.
2. In situations other than the moment-by-moment corrections, where you want to sit down and talk through a problem, a little more proclamation is needed.
"Sara, you know that I am your friend and that I am with you 100%. You know how much I value our relationship. Because of that, I need to share something with you that would make things better for me. You are late a lot. The time we have together means a lot to me, and your lateness robs me of what I really desire-to have good time with you. So I wanted to talk about it."
"Jay, I like how much you care about the work we are doing. It is really contagious, and it helps me. But I want to make sure we look at an issue that is getting in the way of our working together effectively."
"Joe, you know how much I love you and how you are the most important person on the earth to me. I am your biggest cheerleader. But something you do sometimes makes my heart sort of go away, and I want to talk with you about it."
"Sam, I want you to know that the reason I'm bringing this up is because I love you and am committed to our relationship. I love and value so many things about you. In fact, that is why I have to talk about this. I miss seeing those things because your drinking is getting serious, and we have to do something."
With significant confrontations, it is really important to firmly declare your favor, or grace, for the people you are confronting. It reestablishes that you are for rather than against them, and it establishes the connection that serves as the bridge for the truth to pass over to their heart and mind.
Do you see how this helps us carry out the second greatest commandment, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself"?
One of the most powerful things ever said on confronting someone's problems came from Jesus. This message should be in every psychiatry and psychology book ever written about relationships: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matt. 7:3-5)
This passage speaks to another important dynamic in confrontation:
The principle is this: When confronting, don't confront someone if you owe her an apology first.
If she is aware of how you have hurt and failed her, she may have thoughts like, "Well, how can you judge? You do such and so. . ." It is easier for her to be defensive, and she may actually have some evidence to back that up.
But if you begin with owning and apologizing for ways you have failed her, or for poor ways you have dealt with this failure, your humility paves the way. Here is what it does:
If you have so much to apologize for that you cannot do it in the same conversation as the confrontation, delay the confrontation and just have an apology session first. Bring up your issue at a later time.
It is very common for an apology to open the door for the other person to see what she has done.
"Mary, I want to talk to you about the argument we had the other day. I did not like how it went, and I thought I needed to begin by telling you that I'm sorry. As I thought about it after I cooled off, I could see I was way out of line in the way I responded. It was wrong, and I'm sorry for how I behaved, and also for how that must have felt to you. Will you forgive me?"
"Joe, I want to talk about what's been going on between us. I want us to look at the ways we have been interacting and at some things that have happened, but I want to begin by telling you that I've reacted to you in very hurtful and inappropriate ways. I've been angry and judgmental much more than I've been helpful. I've nagged, been bitter, and even punished you for some things. I was wrong. I'm sorry for how that must have felt to you. Will you please forgive me?"
"Sam, as you know, I've been upset by some things you've done, and I want to talk about them. But I want you to know something first. I'm just as wrong as I've said you are. I've not held up my side of our relationship in some ways. I've come down on you way too hard and not really been your friend or ally in trying to resolve things. I lose it, and I'm not very helpful. I want to be more helpful and loving, and let you know that I'm on your side. But I can see how you could not feel that way at times because of how I have acted, and I want to apologize for my behavior and my failure to be what you need."
There is no hard and fast rule on how to do this. You can apologize and then go right into your issue. You can tell the other person you want to talk about the issue right up front, and then say, "But first I have to apologize for some things."
You don't have to begin every boundary conversation with an apology; if one is not needed, don't apologize.
Women tend to be apologetic because we learn early that it soothes ruffled feathers. . . but we can go too far and apologize for things we didn't do.
But if you are aware of ways that you have failed the person, deal with that first. It will do a lot of good, and it may give the confrontation an entirely different tone.
About apologizing: If we owe someone an apology, that's the next thing to do.
Matt. 5:23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
"You should have thought about this beforehand, because then this never would have happened."
"You should plan better."
"You should write it all down. Then we wouldn't be in messes like this."
When you hear these statements, how do you feel? Guilty? Ashamed? Angry? Or do you think, "Wow! What helpful input. I wish that person could follow me around and evaluate everything I do"?
The word should feels very parental and judgmental to people.
If you're talking about the past, saying "You should have" doesn't give the other person many options other than to see how he blew it. He will often feel, "Okay, fine! Now I feel awful. What do you want me to do about it? It's done! I should have done better, but I didn't. So you are right; I am pond scum." That might be extreme, but you get the idea. It reinforces his feelings of failure and shame.
It's much more helpful to put it in question form, "If you had to do it over again, what would you do different?" That's a better way of asking, "What should you have done?" If the other person is stuck, you can say, "May I offer some feedback?" "May I make a suggestion?"
When someone says "You should," people feel their choices going away. Instead, you want the other person to freely choose to do what you are suggesting, to feel good about it, not forced into it.
That's what God does: He brings us to the point where we freely choose to do what is right because the alternative is such a bad idea.
Joshua preserved the freedom of the people of Israel when he said, "If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living" (24:15)
Joshua told them to serve God and be faithful to Him, but he also said that if it were disagreeable to them to serve the Lord, then they were free to choose whom they would serve. He preserved their choice. He was clear about what he thought was the right choice: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." But he did not try to force them to choose what he had chosen.
In good relationships, where it does not get in the way, using should is fine. "You should do it this way, and it would work better" can sound like, "Here, let me help you get out of that bind. Turn the handle to the right, and you can get out of that basement you're locked in."
But it can also sound like, "You idiot! If you were turning the handle the right way, you wouldn't be stuck down there in the dark." To the pure, all things are pure. (Tit 1:15)
How to say it better:
Not so good: "You should have called me and told me you were going to be late. Now you have ruined the whole night for me. I could have used the time to do something constructive instead of waiting for you."
Better: "It would have really helped me if you had called when you knew you were going to be late. Please do that next time so I can make use of the time."
Not so good: "You should get up early, read the paper about new jobs, and get ahead of the game. You should also be making more calls. You are sitting around so much that you are never going to get a job. You should have been out there looking all this time, and you have just wasted your time."
Better: "Things would go better if you made some changes. You would have more success, I think, by getting an early start and using the days to find the work you agreed to seek. It seems as if you are letting really valuable time slip by."
Not so good: "You shouldn't hang around with those kids. You should be finding better friends, and you should not be out anyway. You should be here doing your homework."
Better: "I don't think that that group of friends is good for you. Some of the things they are into are things I don't want you doing, and it is tough to avoid falling into things when you are around kids who are doing them. Let's talk about what is going on, why you are there, and what you think about it all. Also, I want you to do your homework first before going out, no matter who you are with. So finish that, and then let's talk."
Not so good: "You shouldn't be drinking so much. You should focus more on me and the family. You like your beer better than us."
Better: "I am concerned about your drinking. It is becoming a problem, and we miss you. When you drink, the kids and I lose you, and we don't want that."
Watch your use of should to make sure that it is being heard correctly, as helpful. If it is used or heard as punitive, condemning, or controlling, you might want to find another word.
Remember Ray's professor who wouldn't tell him what she wanted in his dissertation?
We need to tell people exactly what we want them to do and what we want them to change.
Instead of "I want you to connect more with me,"
How to Be Specific
Global: "You are so irresponsible. I need for you to be more responsible around here."
Specific: "I feel as if there are a lot of times when you leave things undone. I want to talk about your paying the Visa bill on time and taking care of the car insurance payment like you promised. Let's talk about how to resolve this."
Global: "I want to feel more loved."
Specific: "I wish you would tell me you love me at times other than when we have sex."
Global: "You're so mean to me. I am tired of your verbal abuse."
Specific: "When you get angry at me and yell like you did last night, it hurts. I want to know that you can see how hurtful that is."
Global: "You treat me like an idiot. You act like I am so stupid."
Specific: "When you don't talk to me about our finances, like the refinance application the other day, I feel as if you think I'm too dumb to understand. And when I don't understand something and ask you a question, like about the insurance claim, you didn't answer me. You grabbed it out of my hand and said I was dense. I want you to talk to me about specifics, and if I don't understand something, answer my questions without putting me down. Please treat me like a partner, even when I don't know everything you do."
Global: "You always do this. You promise me you are going to do something, and then you forget about it and leave me hanging. This happens every time I try to depend on you."
Specific: "I need to know that if you tell me you're going to do something, it will get done. Yesterday you promised me you would get my prescription filled, and you didn't. Now I am without my antibiotic, and I'm afraid I'm not going to get over this infection before our vacation. It also happened the other day with the form I asked you to mail. I want to talk about what we can do to make this better. I love you, and I want to trust that you will do what you say you will do."
Boundary-setting is hard because IT'S WAR. There will be skirmishes and battles. There will be disputes. There will be losses.
The battles fall into two categories: outside resistance (from others) and inside resistance (from ourselves).
Outside resistance, from others
The most common resistance you get from other people is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. They are self-centered. They think the world should revolve around them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves.
Proverbs 19:19 A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.
The chronically angry person has a character problem. If you reinforce this character problem, it will return tomorrow and the next day in other situations. It is not the situation that's making the person angry, but the feeling that they are entitled to things from others.
Some lessons about dealing with an angry person:
1. The person who is mad at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem. If you don't realize this, you may think YOU'RE the one with the problem. Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn life lessons they should have learned from their original family.
2. You must view anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot jump across the room and hurt you. It cannot "get inside" you unless you allow it. Staying separate from another person's anger is vitally important. Let the anger be in the other person. If you either rescue him from his anger, or take it on yourself, the angry person will not get better and you will be in bondage.
Two companies were working together on a project. The president of one company got very angry with 3 men from the other company because they wouldn't do something he wanted them to do. 2 of the 3 partners lost sleep, worried and fretted about it. They wondered what they would do if the president didn't like them anymore. They finally called a meeting with #3 guy to talk strategy. They were prepared to change all their plans to appease Mr. Angry. When the two told the third partner of their plans to give away the store, he just looked at them and said, "What's the big deal? So he's angry. What else is on the agenda?"
They all began to laugh as they saw how silly they were being. They were acting like kids with an angry parent, as if their psychological survival depended on this president's being happy. The two both came from homes where anger was used to control, where they were children dependent on an angry parent whose anger frightened them. The third guy saw it from an adult's perspective, and he knew that if this man couldn't get his act together, they could move on. So they had him meet with the president. He confronted the man, saying that if he was able to get over his anger and wanted to work with them, fine. But if not, they would go somewhere else.
3. Don't let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, they seek approval, or they get angry themselves. There is great power in doing nothing. Don't let an out-of-control person be the cue for you to change your course. Just let them be angry and decide for yourself what you need to do.
2-year-olds with temper tantrums expect that their anger will push their parents' buttons and the parents will capitulate and give them what they want. It's best to think, "Your anger is about YOU. Get over it. I ain't giving in." Sometimes grownups with anger problems are 2-year-olds in big bodies, but the best reaction is the same.
4. Be sure to have your support system in place. If you're going to set limits with a person with an anger problem, talk to the people in your support system first and make a plan. Know what you'll say. Anticipate the other person's anger. "Here comes the anger, just as I expected" takes (some of) the sting out it. Role-play the situation.
5. Don't allow the angry person to get you angry. Keep a loving position while speaking the truth in love. Don't let their fleshly anger be contagious and infect YOU.
6. Be prepared to use physical distance and other limits that enforce consequences. One woman's life was changed when she realized she could say, "I will not allow myself to be yelled at. I will go into the other room until you decide you can talk about this without attacking me. When you can do that, I will talk to you."
These are serious steps, and they don't need to be taken with anger. You can empathize lovingly and stay in the conversation, without giving in or being controlled. "I understand that you are upset that I will not do that for you. I'm sorry you feel that way. How can I help?"
Just remember that helping does not include changing your NO to a YES. Offer other options.
If you keep your boundaries, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time, instead of "other control." When they discover they can't control you any more, they will find a different way to relate. But, as long as they can control you with their anger, they will not change.
The reason we get ourselves in the place where we can be controlled by another person's anger is that we are dependent on that person. Lots of women are financially dependent on their husbands, so the husband can control them. The one with the power is the one with the control. But sometimes we are controlled because we have unhealthy relationships with other people.
We confuse people with God. What is healthy with people is unhealthy with God. What is unhealthy with people is healthy with God. Healthy human relationships: "I care for you, but I don't need you to survive." Healthy relationship with God: "I need you desperately." Unhealthy human relationship: "I need you desperately." Unhealthy relationship with God: "I care for you, but I don't need you to survive."
Sometimes, the hard truth is that they will not talk to you anymore, or they will leave the relationship if they can't control you anymore. This is a true risk. God does this every day. He says He will only do things the right way and that He will not participate in evil. And when people choose their own ways, He lets them go. Sometimes we have to do the same.
Reminder: people who get angry when others set boundaries have a character problem. This could be you. If you realize this, confess it as sin and invite the Lord to transform your heart. If you feel "How dare you!" whenever anyone sets a boundary with you. . . you have a character problem.
A man called his mother, and she answered the phone very weakly, with hardly any voice at all. The man thought she was sick and asked, "Mom, what's wrong?"
"I guess my voice doesn't work very well anymore. . . No one ever calls me since you children left home. . . "
No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt messages. People with poor boundaries almost always internalize guilt messages leveled at them; they obey guilt-inducing statements that try to make them feel bad.
Sometimes guilt manipulation comes dressed up in God talk:
People who say these things are trying to make you feel guilty about your choices. They are trying to make you feel bad:
1. Recognize guilt messages. They are not sent for your growth and your good. They are given to manipulate and control.
2. Guilt messages are really anger in disguise. The guilt senders are failing to openly admit their anger at you for what you're doing, probably because that would expose how controlling they really are.
3. Guilt messages hide sadness and hurt. Instead of expressing and owning these feelings, people try to steer the focus onto you and what you're doing. Recognize that guilt messages are sometimes an expression of a person's sadness, hurt, or need. The guy who called his mother
4. If guilt works on you, recognize that this is your problem and not theirs. If you continue to blame other people for "making" you feel guilty, they still have power over you, and you are saying that you will only feel good if they stop doing that. You are giving them control over your life. Stop blaming other people. Think of guilt messages as slime. "Ooooh, I got slimed again." Don't let it stay there, wash it off. How? Call it what it is: She's using guilt on me and I choose to not let it stick.
Another powerful defense against being slimed by guilt messages is to remember the appropriate response to "all that I've done for you": GRATITUDE. Period.
5. Don't explain or justify. Only guilty children do that. You don't owe guilt senders an explanation. Just tell them what you have chosen to do. If you freely chose to tell them WHY you made a certain decision, that's OK. But you don't owe them an explanation. Notice how God doesn't think He owes us an explanation for His actions.
Mary and Martha both played the guilt card on Jesus when Lazarus died: "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." Jesus didn't accept the guilt message.
To Martha: "Your brother will rise again."
To Mary: "Where have you laid him?"
6. Be assertive and interpret their messages as being about THEIR feelings.
The main principle is this: Empathize with the distress people are feeling, but make it clear that it is THEIR distress.
Remember, if you react, you have lost your boundaries.
"Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man without self-control." Prov. 25:28
Curt: "Every time I made you mad, I won."
If other people have the power to get you to react, they are inside your walls, inside your boundaries. Stop reacting. Be proactive. Give empathy. "Sounds like life is hard right now. Tell me about it." Sometimes people who give guilt messages just want to tell someone how hard it is. Be a listener, but don't take the blame.
Remember the mother who tried to make her son feel guilty? A man with good boundaries would empathize with his mother: "Sounds like you're feeling lonely, Mom." Look for the heart issue underlying the guilt message, and respond to THAT.
Controlling parents will often react to boundary setting by cutting off resources. They will lavish goodies on siblings to punish the one who is setting limits. They will be available to others who play according to their rules, but not the limit-setter.
The consequences of setting boundaries will be countermoves by controlling people. They will react to your boundary-setting.
1. Figure out what it is you're getting for your lack of boundaries and what you stand to lose by setting boundaries. It may be money. It may be a relationship.
You face a risk in setting boundaries and gaining control of your life. In most instances, the results are not drastic. . . as soon as the other person finds out you're serious, they start to change. They find the limit-setting to be something good for them. As Jesus says, you have "won them."
Prov 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
The rebuke of a friend turns out to be good medicine.
Good, honest people need discipline, and they respond to limits. Even if reluctantly. Others have what psychologists call "Character disorders"; they don't want to take responsibility for their own lives and actions. When their friends and spouses and family members refuse to take responsibility for them, they move on to find other "marks."
When you count the cost of the consequences, as difficult or as costly as they seem, they hardly compare to the loss of your "very self." The message of the Bible is clear: Know the risk and prepare.
2. Decide if you are willing to risk loss. For some, the price is too high. Intervention specialists caution the family to think hard about whether they are ready to enforce the consequences they agreed on if the alcoholic does not get treatment. You must decide if you are willing to enforce the consequences before you set the boundaries.
3. Be diligent about making up for what you have lost. You may have to find a way to make money a different way. You may need to find new child care arrangements, make new friends, or learn to deal with loneliness.
4. Do it. When you have a plan, be like Peter: Get out of the boat and make your way to Jesus. The first step will be the hardest.
5. Realize that the hard part is just beginning. Setting the limit is not the end of the battle, but the beginning. Go back to your support group and allow them to nourish you spiritually and emotionally. Don't be a Lone Ranger.
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 hard to watch. 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.
Blamers will act as though your saying no is killing them, and they will react with a "How could you do this to me?" message. They are like to cry, pout, or get angry.
Remember that blamers have a character problem. If they make it sound as though their misery is because you are not giving something to them, they are blaming and demanding what is yours.
This is very different from a humble person asking for what they need. Listen to what the other person is saying; if they're trying to blame you for something they should take responsibility for, confront them.
People often hit up siblings for a "loan." "You're lucky and I'm unlucky, so you need to help me out." (My luck looks like hard work and responsibility to me!) When someone says no, their blaming message can sound like, "I can't get a job without a car and it's your fault. I can't get dates without a decent car, so my loneliness is your fault. It's all because of you."
Response: "I'm sorry your career isn't going well but your career is your problem. I hope things work out for you."