Modern culture loves the word “boundaries.” It is the subject of hashtags and coaching programs and books and movements. It has become popular to talk about, but it seems many do not understand what the concept entails.People often believe boundaries are important because they are a form of self-love. Though this is true, it does not embody the fullness of why people need boundaries in their lives. Others create boundaries that are too rigid, never leaving room for forgiveness, reconciliation, or selflessness.
People say, “screw you… I’m done” or “I’m going to do what is right for me” without considering others’ needs too. Boundaries have become another form of selfishness or self-centeredness.
Those are not the boundaries needed. Those boundaries are too rigid, not leaving any room for movement in a different direction. The boundaries people do need are kind. They are warm, respectful, gentle, or firm when needed. The boundaries people need are more flexible, willing to change as seasons and situations change, as people change.
The boundaries people need are not selfish, nor selfless, but somewhere in between. Boundaries aren’t meant to push everyone away who has ever said or done anything hurtful. Then a person would have no one because everyone hurts another at some point. Boundaries are meant to be a form of self-love, and love for others.
What are boundaries?
Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe boundaries as “when I end, and another begins.” They define what is a person and what isn’t, what is someone’s responsibility and what isn’t. They are limits. All human beings have limits, and boundaries help them know and honor those limits.
There are several types of boundaries:
- material (one’s time, spaces, resources)
- sexual (one’s level of sexual comfort and/or convictions)
- emotional (knowing one’s feelings and needs and handling them, not taking the blame for someone else’s)
- physical (personal space, touch, geographical distance)
- spiritual (knowing and living what one believes, not forcing beliefs on another, respecting different value systems).
Why do people need healthy, balanced boundaries?
People can’t be healthy, balanced people without having healthy boundaries.
Whole living is one thing that modern culture promotes and celebrates. The powers that be encourage people every day, multiple times a day online, to be physically healthy, mentally healthy, emotionally healthy, even spiritually healthy. A person cannot be truly healthy if some personal boundaries are not in place.
For example, if a person does not prioritize exercise by carving out time in her week, she will not exercise. She does not realize how much her body needs exercise, so her time is used up on other things. If she does not understand her needs – namely exercise – then she most likely won’t prioritize exercise. This is a boundary issue specifically centered around time.
Another example might be if a person understands his need for friendship, but he gets off work so late every day that there is no time left to spend time with friends. This is a boundary issue. Healthy boundaries lead to healthier lives. People must be able to understand what they need and work to make sure those needs are met.
Boundaries are self-respect.
Understanding one’s limits and needs is a way to show self-love and self-respect. Many times, those with boundary problems are also those in unhealthy and even toxic relationships. They find themselves around people who put them down, treat them as less than, expect them to come every time the other calls. Setting and maintaining one’s boundaries communicates the opposite of that message – it says, “I am here. I matter, too. I will be heard.”It is giving one’s voice a seat at the table, allowing others to see that this person is willing to take care of herself, is willing to speak up for herself. An example could be saying no to staying late every day after work is over. “I can’t stay late here every day anymore. My relationships, mental health, and physical health are suffering because of that, and I need to take care of myself so that I can give my best here.”
Another example could be standing up for oneself when someone else belittles her. Another could be allowing someone else to experience the natural consequences of their actions, not taking that on oneself.
They help promote change.
Rigid, cold, dismissive, vengeful boundaries do not (usually) promote change unless the situation is dire and there must be a wake-up call to all parties involved. Healthier, more balanced boundaries do promote change.
People fear setting boundaries for several reasons, but one fear is that the boundary will make the situation worse. Another person could respond badly to someone’s boundaries, but that defensiveness and lack of humility and empathy are on them, not on the one setting the boundary. Healthy boundaries are meant to promote much-needed change.
- A mom finally tells her adult son no when he asks for money. This can help the son become more responsible and stop the cycle of enabling and codependent behavior.
- A person tells a church leader “I can’t this time” when he asks him to serve again. This can help the leader find more volunteers instead of only relying on one person.
- A wife tells her husband that she is uncomfortable with a specific sexual activity. This can lead to a deeper conversation about what she is comfortable with and can be helpful for their sex life in the years to come.
- A woman tells her friend that she hurt her feelings. This can lead to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Boundaries are meant to change the situation in a way that makes it healthier.
They show love.Many do not see how this statement could be true, but it is. It is not only a way to show oneself love, but to also show it to others. A mother stops taking in her addict son because she knows he needs to be in a rehab program. The son may accuse her of abandonment, and he may feel abandoned, but he does not see that his mom is letting him go as an act of love, showing him that he needs something she can no longer provide.
A wife tells her husband she needs more date nights, that it hurts her when they don’t do anything together unless she plans it. She is telling him because she loves him and wants him to understand her hurt and to do what is in his power to change the situation.
Healthy boundaries are loving. They may be tough love, sometimes really tough love, but they are loving. They help another person become what they were meant to be.
Relationships will be healthier.
The person setting the boundaries will be healthier, but his relationships will be, too. Boundaries can bring the necessary change about. They can create distance when distance is needed, closeness when closeness is needed. They can help a person understand who is safe and who isn’t, who is toxic, and who isn’t. They can even lead to forgiveness and reconciliation in some cases. Healthy boundaries create healthy relationships.
Though this article does not go into more detail on boundaries themselves, the “why” is just as important. It is important to reflect on one’s own life. What do you need? Are those needs being met? Why or why not? Where are the boundary problems in your life? What new boundaries need to be in place, and when in place, how could they do more good than harm?
“Boundary Line”, Courtesy of Erin Larson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coffee”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Running Across a Field”, Courtesy of sept commercial, Unsplash.com, CC0 License