We have heard the word. Perhaps, we have even engaged in setting some relational boundaries. But many of us are not entirely sure what is appropriate when it comes to setting boundaries with other people. Or what boundaries actually are…
Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others.
The word boundary, in the context of relationships, is not explicitly stated in scripture anywhere. Yet, we have made a point to fold it into curriculums within and outside of faith communities. And for good reason. Our world is broken. Brokenness is most painfully manifested and multiplied in relationships. We have a need to learn about boundaries and establish them for the sake of truly loving other people and ourselves.
As humans, we are created for intimacy. We naturally gravitate toward having spoken and unspoken, conscious and subconscious needs met by people. Without friendship with God, our default is to lean into our world for healing and wholeness. And the results are disappointing.
Perhaps the concept of boundaries has become a bit abused and misused in some sense. We are called by God to give our lives away. We cannot create comfortable spaces where we hide and do not generously give of ourselves. If we do that, we would limit our ability to know God through other people and we would also limit our ability for God to use us. God calls us to be his hands and feet. We also can’t limit the depths to which we invest in people out of fear. Proper boundaries are not motivated by fear, but by love.
It helps to have a high level of discernment when serving people. One default boundary I have is “I will not do for other (adults) what they can do for themselves” and “I will not work harder for other (adults) than they are working for themselves” – I carry these default boundaries into the presence of God and ask for His direction and guidance in when to bend these, because obviously serving others is our calling. We do not want to create a cycle of dependency or find our value from “helping” others when, actually, we are hurting ourselves and friends or stunting growth.
God calls on us to guard our hearts and to respect one another. I have learned that the best way to love those around us is to have appropriate boundaries. By creating and upholding these boundaries, we position one another to rely on God and we limit unnecessary conflict and confusion.
10 Ways to Uphold Boundaries
- Know and communicate your perceived role. There needs to be a mutual understanding of both roles. Do one of you perceive your a mentor but the other person has no clue? That’s weird.
- Communicate expectations.
- Avoid the god-complex. You are not the answer to their problems. And He/she is not the answer to yours. Point one another toward answers but do not pretend to be the answer.
- Know and accept your limits. You simply cannot be best friends with everyone. If you’re tapped out, you need to be honest and express that.
- Allow hardship. Do not jump to conclusions about the relationship because of a bump in the road. Engage in healthy confrontation and support one another appropriately.
- Say no. If you feel violated or extended beyond God’s invitation, say no. If you allow an inch often a mile will go quickly. It’s important to be comfortable saying no upfront, otherwise you may set a standard you’re unable to keep up with.
- Be honest. If you feel overextended in a relationship and do not feel it is God’s desire and design for the season you are in, be honest. Honesty is more loving than faking it and causing ultimate heartache.
- People aren’t projects. It’s not healthy to view people as projects. God wants us to engage in transformative relationships, not assignments.
- Be a responsible gate-keeper of conversations. Only you know what is appropriate topics for conversation given the relationship. Is it appropriate to discuss intimate issues? Probably not if we just met yesterday.
- Frequency of communication should match depth of intimacy/closeness. The foundation of the relationship needs to adequately support the weight of the relationship. Building a foundation takes time.