In the past few weeks - between home, Europe and home again - I have had several conversations with people who are struggling with a relationship. Kids. Bosses. Church buddies. Friends. Spouses. Neighbors. The bus driver. There's a better than 75% chance that most trouble can be traced directly to a boundary, whether that's due to not having one, or to having one constructed of gossamer.
For the sake of this post, I'm looking at the footings & pickets that comprise the boundaries in my own life. Some I've constructed well. They hold firm. Others - a bit more rickety - sometimes give way to heavy winds. Those heavy winds might come with the force of dissent, a challenge, a judgement, a slight or rejection, a controlling manipulation (or outright aggression).
Why is it so hard to set healthy boundaries? I say "healthy" because some use a boundary to avoid any form of conflict altogether, crumble when challenged, or look for an easy out. Those aren't really boundaries at all, but avoidance strategies. They don't typically build relationships, respect or understanding but, unfortunately, more often result in the exact opposite.
I believe one reason it's so hard to set & maintain boundaries is because we wrongly conclude we need to be harsh, or mean in order to establish them. Another reason I believe it's hard is because we also wrongly conclude that Christians cannot/should not ever say "halt!"
Whatever the reason ... to change the way we relate to boundaries - our own or those set by others - requires no little courage. The minute one is established, watch the bus driver, teen, spouse or self shove extra hard for a prolonged period in order to return to what's typical/comfortable.
I think I know why ranchers & farmers in both Scotland & Ireland use rocks & mortar as fence lines. Even after hundreds of years they still stand. It helps to have a good plumb line too.
"Who despises the day of small things?
Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line
in the hand of Zerubbabel. "
(These seven are the eyes of the LORD,
which range throughout the earth.)"
~ Zechariah 4:10
If boundary-settting troubles you like it does me, you might profit from this great material by Drs. Cloud & & Townsend, "The Simple Scoop on Boundaries".
Also, here's a fairly comprehensive list of what poor (gossamer) boundaries look like:
Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries
Carol Ann Worthing, PhD
- The family of origin is allowed to negatively affect your new family
- You play second fiddle to someone or something else; you feel like you get the ‘leftovers’
- An adult who doesn’t stand on their own financially
- An adult who is a perpetual child
- Triangulation instead of one-to-one communication
- A child is overly responsible for his/her parents
- An individual is overly responsible for another person
- Working too much overtime
- Taking work-related stress home
- Expecting too much of work
- Conflicts with authority or the law
- Trying to change or control other people
- Misplaced priorities
- Minimizing stress caused by others
- Inability to delay gratification
- Inability to follow-through
- Goal-setting that is not value-driven
- Isolating from friends, family, or the world
- Non-stop talk; dominating a conversation
- Not owning one’s own behavior or consequences
- Unrealistic or grandiose expectations of ourselves or others
- Excessive fear, anger, anxiety, passivity, or over-involvement
- Making decisions for people who should be making their own decisions
- Frequent phone calling, tracking another, phoning another at unwanted times of the day or night
- Out-of-control eating, drinking, spending, use of time; drug use; or inappropriate sexual activity