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[Boundaries 7] Resistance to Boundaries

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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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

Angry Reactions

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.

Guilt Messages

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.

  • "How could you do this to me after all I've done for you?"
  • "It seems that you could think about someone other than yourself for once."
  • "If you really loved me, you would make this telephone call for me."
  • "It seems like you would care enough about the family to do this one thing."
  • "How can you abandon the family like this?"
  • "You know how it's turned out in the past when you haven't listened to me."
  • "After all, you never had to lift a finger around here. It seems like it's time you did."
  • "You know that if I had it, I would give it to you."
  • "You have no idea how much we sacrificed for you."
  • "Maybe after I'm dead and gone, you'll be sorry."

Sometimes guilt manipulation comes dressed up in God talk:

  • "How can you call yourself a Christian?"
  • "Doesn't the Bible say 'Honor your parents'?"
  • "You're not being very submissive. I'm sure that grieves the Lord."
  • "I thought Christians were supposed to think of others."
  • "What kind of religion would teach you to abandon your own family?"
  • "You must really have a spiritual problem to be acting this way."

People who say these things are trying to make you feel guilty about your choices. They are trying to make you feel bad:

  • about deciding how you will spend your own time or resources
  • about growing up and separating from your parents
  • about having a life separate from a friend or spiritual leader.

Dealing with Guilt

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.

  • "It sounds like you are angry that I chose to. . ."
  • "It understand that you are very unhappy about what I have decided to do. I'm sorry you feel that way."
  • "I realize this is disappointing to you. How can I help?"
  • "It's hard for you when I have other things to do, isn't it?"

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.

Consequences and Countermoves

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.

Physical Resistance

  • Find other people to help you set limits on the abuse.
  • Find a counselor who has dealt with abusive spouses before.
  • Arrange to call people in your church if your spouse or friend gets violent. One pastor has his elder visit an abusive man and say, "Usually after a confrontation like this, the abuser makes his spouse suffer. I will be calling your wife tomorrow to find out how you acted after I left."
  • Arrange for a place to stay overnight if you are threatened, no matter what the hour.
  • Call the police and get an attorney.
  • Get a restraining order on the person if he won't respect any other limit.
  • Do it for yourself and for your children.
  • Don't allow this to go on. Seek help.

Pain of Others

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

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."

Related Topics: Boundaries, Women's Articles