Sarah heaved a long sigh. She`d been working on major boundary issues in her therapy for a while now. She was seeing progress in resolving responsibility conflicts with her parents, her husband, and her kids. Yet today she introduced a new issue.
€œI haven`t told you about this relationship before, though I guess I should have. I have tremendous boundary problems with this woman. She eats too much, and has an attacking tongue. She`s undependable€”lets me down all the time. And she`s spent money of mine and hasn`t paid me back in years.
€œWhy haven`t you mentioned her before? I asked.
€œBecause she`s me, Sarah replied.
Sarah was echoing the conflict most of us have. We learn that boundaries are biblical. We begin setting limits on others. We begin moving from taking too much responsibility to taking just enough. But how do we begin to set limits on ourselves? As Pogo Possum, cartoonist Walt Kelly`s popular swamp character, says, €œWe have met the enemy, and he is us.
In this chapter, instead of looking at the control and manipulation of others, we`ll be looking at our responsibility to control our own bodies (1 Thess. 4:4). Instead of examining outer boundary conflicts with other people, we will be looking at our own internal boundary conflicts. This can get a little touchy. As the disgruntled country church member told his pastor as he left after the Sunday sermon, €œYou done stopped preachin`, and you done started meddlin`!
Instead of this defensive posture, we are much better off to look humbly at ourselves. To ask for feedback from others. To listen to people we trust. And to confess, €œI was wrong.
Our Out-of-Control Soul
Teresa`s secret shame was becoming more difficult to keep a secret. Her five-foot-four frame could hide a little extra weight, but over the past few months she`d gradually moved into the mid-hundred mark. She hated it. Her dating life, her stamina, and her attitude toward herself were all affected.
She was out of control. In her successful but stressful career as an attorney, cookies and candy were the only place she could go when everything was falling down around her. Twelve-hour days meant lots of isolation, and absolutely nothing filled the void like fatty foods. No wonder they call it comfort food, Teresa would think.
What makes overeating especially painful is that overweight is visible to others. The overweight person feels enormous self-hate and shame about her condition. And, like others who suffer from out-of-control behaviors, the overweight person feels overwhelming shame for her behavior, which drives her away from relationship and back to food.
Both chronic and bingeing overeaters suffer from an internal self-boundary problem. For overeaters, food serves as a false boundary. They might use food to avoid intimacy by gaining weight and becoming less attractive. Or they might binge as a way to get false closeness. For bingers, the might binge as a way to get false closeness. For bingers, the €œcomfort from food is less scary than the prospect of real relationships, where boundaries would be necessary.
A now-famous bumper sticker reads, €œI can`t be overdrawn€”I still have checks left! People have tremendous problems in many different areas dealing with money, including the following:
€¢ impulse spending
€¢ careless budgeting
€¢ living beyond one`s means
€¢ credit problems
€¢ chronically borrowing from friends
€¢ ineffectual savings plans
€¢ working more to pay all the bills
€¢ enabling others
God intended for money to be a blessing to us and others: €œGive, and it will be given to you (Luke 6:38). In fact, the Bible says that the problem isn`t money, it`s the love of money that is €œa root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10).
Most of us would certainly agree that we need to be in control of our finances. Saving money, keeping costs down, and shopping for discounts are all good things. It`s tempting to see money problems as simply a need for more income; however, the problem often isn`t the high cost of living€”it`s the cost of high living.
The problem of our financial outgo exceeding our input is a self-boundary issue. When we have difficulty saying no to spending more than we should, we run the risk of becoming someone else`s servant: €œThe rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender (Prov. 22:7).
Many people feel that their time is out of control. They are €œeleventh-hour people, constantly on the edge of deadlines. Try as they might, they find the day€”every day€” getting away from them. There just aren`t enough hours to accomplish their tasks. The word early doesn`t seem to be part of their personal experience. Some of the time binds these strugglers deal with are these:
€¢ business meetings
€¢ luncheon appointments
€¢ project deadlines
€¢ church and school activities
€¢ holiday mailings
These people breeze into meetings fifteen minutes late and breathlessly apologize, talking about traffic, overwhelming job responsibilities, or kid emergencies.
People whose time is out of control inconvenience others whether they mean to or not. The problem often stems from one or more of the following causes:
1. Omnipotence. These people have unrealistic, somewhat grandiose expectations of what they can accomplish in a given amount of time. €œNo problem€”I`ll do it is their motto.
2. Over-responsibility for the feelings of others. They think that leaving a party too early will cause the host to feel abandoned.
3. Lack of realistic anxiety. They live so much in the present that they neglect to plan ahead for traffic, parking the car, or dressing for an outing.
4. Rationalization. They minimize the distress and inconvenience that others must put up with because of their lateness. They think, €œThey`re my friends€”they`ll understand.
The person with undeveloped time sell-boundaries ends up frustrating not only others, but himself. He ends the day without the sense that a €œdesire realized is sweet to the soul` (Prov. 13:19 NASB). Instead, he is left with unrealized desires, half-baked projects, and the realization that tomorrow will begin with him running behind schedule.
A first cousin to the time boundary problem, task completion deals with €œfinishing well. Most of us have goals in the love and work areas of life. We may wish to be a veterinarian or a lawyer. We may wish to own our own business or own a home in the country. We may wish to start a Bible study program or an exercise regimen.
We all would like to say about our tasks, whether large or small, what Paul said: €œI have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8). More eloquent in their simplicity are Jesus` words on the cross: €œIt is finished (John 19:30).
Though they may be great starters, many Christians find themselves unable to be good finishers. For one reason or another, creative ideas don`t pan out. A regular schedule of operations becomes bogged down. Success looms, then is suddenly snatched away.
The problem with many poor finishers lies in one of the following causes:
1. Resistance to structure. Poor finishers feel that submitting to the discipline of a plan is a putdown.
2. Fear of success. Poor finishers are over-concerned that success will cause others to envy and criticize them. Better to shoot themselves in the foot than to lose their buddies.
3. Lack of follow-through. Poor finishers have an aversion to the boring €œnuts and bolts of turning the crank on a project. They are much more excited about birthing the idea, then turning it over to other people to execute it.
4. Distractibility. Poor finishers are unable to focus on a project until it`s done. They have often never developed competent concentration skills.
5. Inability to delay gratification. Poor finishers are unable to work through the pain of a project to experience the satisfaction of a job well done. They want to go directly to the pleasure. They are like children who want to eat dessert before they eat the well-balanced meal.
6. Inability to say no to other pressures. Poor finishers are unable to say no to other people and projects. They don`t have time to finish any job well.
Those with task completion problems often feel like two-year-olds in their favorite toy area. They`ll bang a hammer for a bit, vroom with a toy car, talk to a puppet, and then pick up a book. All in two minutes or less. It`s easy to see the boundary problems inherent in those with task completion problems. Their internal no hasn`t been developed enough to keep them focused on finishing things.
In a therapy group I was leading, a man held the floor for some time. He`d go off on tangents, change the subject, and spend inordinate amounts of time on irrelevant details. He couldn`t seem to get to the point. Other members were spacing out, dozing off, or becoming restless. Just as I was to speak to the man`s struggle with getting to the point, a woman in the group spoke up, saying bluntly, €œbill, talk net, willya?
€œTalking net, putting a net or boundary on their words, can be a struggle for many. How we use language can deeply affect the quality of our relationships. The tongue can be a source of both blessing and curse (James 3:9-10). It can be a blessing when we use our tongue to empathize, identify, encourage, confront, and exhort others. It can be a curse when we use it to:
€¢ Talk nonstop to hide from intimacy
€¢ Dominate conversations to control others
€¢ Gossip sarcastic remarks, expressing indirect hostility
€¢ Threaten someone, expressing direct hostility
€¢ Flatter, instead of authentically praise
Many people who have difficulty setting verbal boundaries on themselves aren`t really aware of their problem. They are often genuinely surprised when a friend says to them, €œSometimes it seems like you interpret my commas as periods.
I knew a woman who was desperately afraid that others would get to know her. She asked questions and talked quickly so that no one could turn the conversation toward her. She had only one problem: she had to take breaths to continue talking, and the breath created a space for someone else to say something. The woman resolved her problem, however, in an ingenious way; she drew her breaths in the middle of her sentences, rather than at the end. That kept people sufficiently off-balance so that she was rarely interrupted. An effective strategy, with only one problem: she had to keep finding new people to talk to. After a few rounds with her, people disappeared.
The Scriptures tell us to treat our words carefully: €œWhen words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise (Prov. 10:19). €œA man of knowledge uses words with restraint (Prov. 17:27). According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for €œrestrain refers to €œthe free action of holding back something or someone. The actor has the power over the object. It`s a boundary-laden term. We have the power to set boundaries on what comes out of our mouths.
When we can`t hold back, or set boundaries, on what comes from our lips, our words are in charge€”not us. But we are still responsible for those words. Our words do not come from somewhere outside of us, as if we were a ventriloquist`s dummy. They are the product of our hearts. Our saying, €œI didn`t mean that, is probably better translated, €œI didn`t want you to know I thought that about you. We need to take responsibility for our words. €œBut I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt. 12:36).
As Christians are finding more safe places in the church to be honest about spiritual and emotional conflicts, sexual problems, especially for men, have emerged as a major issue. Such problems include compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual or homosexual relationships, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, indecent liberties, child molestation, incest, and rape.
The individual caught up in an out-of-control sexual behavior generally feels deeply isolated and shameful. This keeps what is broken in the soul sequestered in the darkness€”out of the light of relationship with God and darkness€”out of the light of relationship with God and others, where there can be neither help nor resolution. His sexuality takes on a life of its own, unreal and fantasy-driven. One man described it as a €œnot-me experience. It was for him, as if the real him was watching his sexual actions from across the room. Others may feel so dead and detached that sexuality is the only way they feel alive.
The problem, however, is that, as in most internal boundary conflicts, sexual boundarylessness becomes a tyrant, demanding and insatiable. No matter how many orgasms are reached, the desire only deepens, and the inability to say no to one`s lusts drives one deeper into despair and hopelessness.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Probably the clearest examples of internal boundary problems, alcohol problems, alcohol and drug dependencies create devastation in the lives of addicts. Divorce, job loss, financial havoc, medical problems, and death are the fruits of the inability to set limits in these areas.
Most tragic are the increasingly younger children who are experimenting with drugs. Drug addiction is difficult for adults, who have some semblance of character and boundaries; for the child whose boundaries are delicate and forming, the results are often lifelong and debilitating.
Why Doesn`t My €œNo Work?
€œI`m throwing my no away, Burt told me. €œIt works fine for setting limits on other people, but every time I try to complete my tasks on time, it breaks down. Where can I trade it in?
Where indeed? As you read about the out-of-control areas above, you may have felt defeated and frustrated with yourself. You probably could identify with one or more of the problem areas, and you probably are no stranger to the discouragement of not having mature boundaries in these internal areas. What`s the problem? Why doesn`t our no work on ourselves?
There are at least three reasons for this.
1. We are our own worst enemies. An external problem is easier to deal with than an internal one. When we switch our focus from setting limits on other people to setting limits on ourselves, we make a major shift in responsibility. Previously, we were only responsible to, not for, the other party. Now we have a great deal more involvement€”we are the other party. We are responsible for ourselves.
When you are around a critical person, the kind who finds fault with everything, you can set limits on your exposure to this person`s constant criticism. You can change subjects, rooms, houses, or continents. You can leave. But what if this critical person is in your own head? What if you are the person with the problem? What if you have met the enemy, and he is you?
2. We withdraw from relationship when we most need it. Jessica came to me for treatment of an eating disorder. She was thirty years old, and she had been bingeing since she was a teenager. I asked her about her previous attempts to solve this internal boundary problem.
€œI try to work out and eat right, she said. €œBut I always fall back.
€œWho do you talk to about this? I asked.
€œWhat do you mean? Jessica looked confused.
€œWho do you tell about your eating problem when you can`t take it anymore?
Tears welled up in Jessica`s eyes. €œYou`re asking too much. This is a private problem. Can`t I do this without anyone knowing?
Since the Fall, our instincts have been to withdraw from relationship when we`re in trouble, when we most need other people. (Remember how Adam and Eve hid from God after they ate the forbidden fruit?) Due to our lack of security, our loss of grace, our shame, and our pride, we turn inward, rather than outward, when we`re in trouble. And that`s a problem. As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes puts it: €œWoe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help (4:10 NRSV).
Such withdrawal happens in our hospital program time after time. Hurting people will begin to make attachments with staff or other patients. For the first time, they begin coming forth with their need for connection. Like a rose lifting its petals after a hard rain, they begin to relate and connect in the light of the grace of God and his people.
Then an unexpected difficulty will occur. Sometimes their depression will temporarily worsen as their pain inside is exposed. Sometimes traumatic memories will surface. Sometimes severe conflict will occur with family members. Instead of bringing these painful and frightening feelings and problems to their newfound relationships, these people will often retreat to their rooms to work out the problem. They`ll spend several hours or a day doing everything to get back under control. They`ll talk positively to themselves or read Scriptures compulsively to try to make themselves €œfeel better.
It is only when this attempt at a solution breaks down that they finally realize that these spiritual pains and burdens need to be brought out of themselves to the body of Christ. To the isolated person, nothing feels more frightening, unsafe, or unwise. Such a person needs to feel very secure before she will risk taking her spiritual and emotional problems to other people.
And yet the Bible doesn`t recognize any other answer to our problems. Grace must come from the outside of ourselves to be useful and healing. Just as the branch withers without the vine (John 15:1-6), we can sustain neither life without the vine (John 15:1-6), we can sustain neither life nor emotional repair without bonding to God and others. God and his people are the fuel, the energy source from any problem is addressed. We need to be €œjoined and held together by every supporting ligament (Eph. 4:16) of the body of Christ to heal and to grow up.
Whether our boundary issue is food, substances, sex, time, projects, the tongue, or money, we can`t solve it in a vacuum. If we could, we would. But the more we isolate ourselves, the harder our struggle becomes. Just like an untreated cancer can become life-threatening in a short time, self-boundary problems will worsen with increased aloneness.
3. We try to use willpower to solve our boundary problems. €œI`ve got it solved! Pete was excited about his newfound victory over his overspending. A dedicated Christian and a leader in his church, he was intensely concerned about his out-of-control finances. €œI made a vow to God and myself that I`ll never spend beyond my budget again! It`s so simple, but so true!
Not wanting to burst Pete`s bubble, I adopted a wait-and-see attitude. I didn`t have to wait long. The next week he came in, feeling discouraged and hopeless.
€œI just couldn`t stop myself, he lamented. €œI went out and bought sports equipment; then my wife and I purchased new furniture. It was just what we needed. The price was right. The only problem was that we couldn`t afford it. I guess I`m hopeless.
Pete wasn`t hopeless, but his philosophy, popular among Christians, certainly was. He had been trying to use willpower to solve his boundary problems, probably the most common approach to out-of-control behavior.
The willpower approach is simple. Whatever the problem behavior is, just stop doing it. In other words, €œjust say no. Imperatives such as €œChoose to stop, €œDecide to say no, and €œMake a commitment to never do it again abound in this approach.
The problem with this approach is that it makes an idol out of the will, something God never intended. Just as our hearts and minds are distorted by the Fall, so is our power to make right decisions. Will is only strengthened by relationship; we can`t make commitments alone. God told Moses to encourage and strengthen Joshua (Deut. 3:28); he didn`t tell Moses to tell Joshua to €œjust say no.
If we depend on willpower alone, we are guaranteed to fail. We are denying the power of the relationship promised in the cross. If all we need is our will to overcome evil, we certainly don`t need a Savior (1 Cor. 1:17). The truth is, willpower alone is useless against self-boundary struggles:
Why do you submit to [the world`s] rules: €œDo not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:20-23)
The King James Bible translates the Greek word for €œself-imposed worship as €œwill-worship. In other words, these self-denying practices that appear so spiritual don`t stop stop out-of-control behavior. The boundaryless part of the soul simply becomes more resentful under the domination of the will€”and it rebels. Especially after we make statements as, €œI will never and €œI will always, we act out with a vengeance. Jessica`s indulgence in food, Pete`s indulgence in money, someone else`s indulgence in foolish or slanderous conversation, or still another`s determination never to be a project again will not be healed by €œwhite-knuckling it.
Establishing Boundaries with Yourself
Learning to be mature in self-boundaries is not easy. Many obstacles hinder our progress; however, God desires our maturity and self-control even more than we do. He`s on our team as an exhorter, encourager, and implorer (1 Thess. 2:11€”12). One way to begin developing limits on out-of-control behavior is to apply a modified version of the boundary checklist we used in Chapter 8:
1. What are the symptoms? Look at the destructive fruit you may be exhibiting by not being able to say no to yourself. You may be experiencing depression, anxiety, panic, phobias, rage, relationship struggles, isolation, work problems, or psychosomatic problems.
All of these symptoms can be related to a difficulty in setting limits on your own behavior. Use them as a road map to begin identifying the particular boundary problem you`re having.
2. What are the roots? Identifying the causes of your self-boundary problems will assist you in understanding your own contribution to the problem (how you have sinned), your developmental injuries (how you have been sinned against), and the significant relationships that may have contributed to the problem.
Some possible roots of self-boundary conflicts include:
Lack of training. Some people never learned to accept its, to pay the consequences of their actions, or to delay gratification when they were growing up. For example, they may never have experienced any consequences for dawdling as a child.
Rewarded destructiveness. People who come from families which the mom or dad was an alcoholic may have learned that out-of-control behavior brings relationship. The family came together when the alcoholic member drank.
Distorted need. Some boundary problems are legitimate, God-given needs in disguise. God gave us sexual desire both to reproduce ourselves and to enjoy our spouses. The pornography addict has diverted this good desire; he feels real and alive only when acting out.
Fear of relationship. People really want to be loved but their out-of-control behavior (i.e., overeating, overworking) keeps others away. Some people use their tongues to keep other people at bay.
Unmet emotional hungers. We all need love during the first few years of life. If we don`t receive this love, we hunger for it for the rest of our lives. This hunger for love is so powerful that when we don`t find it in relationships with other people, we look for it in other places, such as in food, in work, in sexual activity, or in spending money.
Being under the law. Many Christians raised in legalistic environments were not permitted to make decisions for themselves. When they try to make their own decisions, they feel guilty. This guilt forces them to rebel in destructive ways. Food addictions and compulsive spending are often reactions against strict
Covering emotional hurt. People who are injured emotionally, who were neglected or abused as children, disguise their pain by overeating, drinking too much, or working too much. They may abuse substances to distract from the real pain of being unloved, unwanted, and alone. If they were to stop using these disguises, their isolation would be intolerable.
3. What is the boundary conflict? Take a look at your particular self-boundary problems in relation to eating, money, time, task completion, the tongue, sexuality, alcohol and substance abuse. These seven areas aren`t exhaustive, though they cover a great deal of territory. Ask God for insight into what other areas of your life are out of God for insight into what other areas of your life are out of control.
4. Who needs to take ownership? At this point, take the painful step of taking responsibility for your out-of-control behavior. The behavior pattern may be directly traceable to family problems, neglect, abuse, or trauma. In other words, our boundary conflicts may not be all our fault. They are, however, our responsibility.
5. What do you need? It`s useless to try to deal with your boundary conflicts with yourself until you`re actively developing safe, trusting, grace-and-truth relationships with others. You are severely hampered in gaining either insight into or control over yourself when you are disconnected from God`s source of spiritual and emotional fuel.
Plugging in to other people is often frustrating for €œdo-it-yourself people who would like a how-to manual for solving out-of-control behaviors just as they would buy to teach themselves piano, plumbing, or golf. They wish to get this boundary setting business over with quickly.
The problem is that many people with self-boundary struggle are also quite isolated from deep relationships. They have no €œrootedness in God or others (Eph. 3:17). Thus, they have to take what they think are steps backward to learn to connect with others. Connecting with people is a time consuming, risky, and painful process. Finding the right people, group, or church is hard enough, but after admitting your need for others may be even more difficult.
Do-it-yourself people will often fall back into a cognitive willpower approach, simply because it`s not as slow or as risky. They`ll often say things like, €œAttachment is not what I want. I have an out-of-control behavior, and I need relief from the pain! Though we can certainly understand their dilemma, they`re heading toward another quick-fix dead end. Symptomatic relief€”trying to solve a problem by only dealing with the symptoms€”generally leads to more symptoms. Jesus described this process in a parable:
When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, €œI will return to the house I left. When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-26)
Evil can take over the empty house of our souls. Even when our lives seem to be in order, isolation guarantees spiritual vulnerability. It`s only when our house is full of the love of God and others that we can resist the wiles of the Devil. Plugging in is neither an option, nor a luxury; it is a spiritual and emotional life-and-death issue.
6. How do I begin? Once you have identified your boundary problem and owned it, you can do something about it. Here are some ways to begin practicing setting boundaries on yourself.
Address your real need. Often, out-of-control patterns disguise a need for something else. You need to address the underlying need before you can deal with the out-of-control behavior. For example, impulsive eaters may discover that food is a way to stay separate and safe from romantic and sexual intimacy. Their fear of being faced with those kinds of emotionally laden situations may cause them to use food as a boundary. As their internal boundaries with the opposite sex become firmer, they can give up their destructive food boundary. They learn to ask for help for the real problem€” not just for the symptomatic problem.
Allow yourself to fail. Addressing your real need is no guarantee that your out-of-control behavior will disappear. Many people who address the real issue underneath a self-boundary problem are often disappointed that the problem keeps recurring. They think, €œWell, I joined a support group at church, but I still have problems being on time, or viewing pornography, or spending money, or talking out of turn. Was all this for naught?
No. The recurrence of destructive patterns is evidence of God`s sanctifying, maturing, and preparing us for eternity. We need to continue to practice to learn things. The same process that we use to learn to drive a car, swim, or learn a foreign language is the one we use for learning better self-boundaries.
We need to embrace failure instead of trying to avoid it. Those people who spend their lives trying to avoid failure are also eluding maturity. We are drawn to Jesus because he learned obedience from what he suffered (Heb. 5:8). People who are growing up are also drawn to individuals bear battle scars, worry furrows, and tear marks on their faces. Their lessons can be trusted, much more than the unlined faces of those who have never failed€”and so have never truly lived.
Listen to empathic feedback from others. As you fail in setting boundaries on yourself, you need others who will let you know about it in a caring way. Many times, you are unaware of your own failures. Sometimes you may not truly understand the extent of the damage your lack of boundaries causes in the lives of those you care about. Other believers can provide perspective and support.
Keith had a difficult time returning money to others when they had loaned it to him. He wasn`t broke. He wasn`t selfish. He was just forgetful. He had little awareness of the discomfort he caused those who lent him money.
One afternoon a friend who had loaned him money several months before dropped by his office.
Keith, his friend said, €œSeveral times I`ve asked you about the money I lent you. I still haven`t heard from you. I don`t think you`re intentionally ignoring my requests. At the same time I wanted to let you know that your forgetfulness has been hard on me. I had to cancel a vacation because I didn`t have the money. Your forgetfulness is hurting me, and it`s hurting our friendship.
Keith was astonished. He hadn`t had a clue that such a little thing to him might mean so much to a close friend. Deeply remorseful over the loss his friend had suffered, he wrote a check immediately.
In a non-condemning, non-nagging manner, Keith`s friend had helped him become more aware of his self-boundary problem. He used the empathy Keith felt for him as a close friend. True godly remorse for causing his friend pain was a powerful motivator for Keith to become more responsible. When others in our support system let us know responsible. When others in our support system let us know how our lack of self-boundaries hurts them, we are motivated by love, not by fear.
Biblically based support groups, which provide empathy and clear feedback, keep people responsible by letting them see the effect their actions have on another. When one member tells another, €œYour uncontrolled behavior makes me want to stay away from you. I don`t feel that I can trust you when you act like that, the out-of-control person isn`t being parented or policed. He is hearing truth in love from a peer. He`s hearing how what he does helps or damages those he loves. This kind of confrontation builds an empathy-based morality, a love-based self-control.
Welcome consequences as a teacher. Learning about sowing and reaping is valuable. It teaches us that we suffer losses when we aren`t responsible. The impulsive overeater has medical and social difficulties. The overspender faces bankruptcy court. The chronically late person misses plane flights and important meetings, and loses friendships. The procrastinator faces losses of promotions and bonuses. And on and on.
We need to enter God`s training school of learning to suffer for our irresponsibility. Not all suffering should be embraced; however, when our own lack of love or responsibility causes the suffering, pain becomes our teacher.
Learning how to develop better self-boundaries is an orderly process. First, we are confronted about the destructiveness of our behavior by others. Then consequences will follow if we don`t heed the feedback. Words precede actions and give us a chance to turn from our destructiveness before we have to suffer.
God doesn`t glory in our suffering. Just as a loving father`s heart breaks when he sees his children in pain, God wants to spare us pain. But when his words and the feedback of his other children don`t reach us, consequences are the of his other children don`t reach us, consequences are the only way to keep us from further damage. God is like the parent who warns his teenager that drinking will cause a loss will have bad consequences for you. Then, if it`s not heeded, car privileges are yanked. This painful consequence prevents a possible serious catastrophe: a drunk-driving accident.
Surround yourself with people who are loving and supportive. As you hear feedback and suffer consequences, maintain close contact with your support network. Your difficulties are too much to bear alone. You need others who will be loving and supportive, but who will not rescue.
Generally speaking, friends of people with self-boundary problems make one of two errors:
(1) They become critical and parental. When the person has failed, they adopt an €œI told you so attitude, or say things like, €œNow, what did you learn from your experience? This encourages the person to either look elsewhere for a friend (no one needs more than two parents), or simply avoid the criticism, instead of learning from consequences. €œBrothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently (Gal. 6:1).
(2) They become rescuers. They give in to their impulse to save the person from suffering. They call the boss and tell them their spouse was sick when he or she was drunk. They lend more money when they shouldn`t. They hold up the entire dinner for the latecomer, instead of going ahead with the meal.
Rescuing someone is not loving them. God`s love lets people experience consequences. Rescuers hope that by once again bailing out the out-of-control person, they`ll reap a loving, responsible person. They hope to control the other person.
It`s far better to be empathic, but at the same time refuse to be a safety net: €œI`m sorry you lost another job this year, but I won`t lend you any more money until you`ve paid back the other loan. However, I`m available to talk to for support. This approach will show people how serious you are about developing self-boundaries. The sincere searcher will value this approach and will take you up on your offer of support. The manipulator will resent the limits and quickly look for an easier touch somewhere else.
This five-point formula for developing self-boundaries is cyclical. That is, as you deal with real needs, fail, get empathic feedback, suffer consequences, and are restored, you build stronger internal boundaries each time. As you stay with your goal and with the right people, you will build a sense of self-restraint that can truly become part of your character for life.
If You Are a Victim
Establishing boundaries for yourself is always hard. It will be especially difficult if your boundaries were severely violated in childhood. No one who has avoided childhood through victimization can truly understand what these individuals go through. Of all the injuries that can be endured, this type causes severe spiritual and emotional damage.
A victim is a person who has, while in a helpless state, been injured by the exploitation of another. Some victimization is verbal, some is physical, some is sexual, and some is satanically ritualistic. All cause extreme damage to the character structure of a child, who then grows up to adulthood with spiritual, emotional, and cognitive distortions. In each case, however, three factors remain constant: helplessness, injury, and exploitation.
Some results of victimization are these:
€¢ compulsive disorders
€¢ impulsive disorders
€¢ inability to trust others
€¢ inability to form close attachments
€¢ inability to set limits
€¢ poor judgment in relationships
€¢ further exploitation in relationships
€¢ deep sense of pervasive badness
€¢ chaotic lifestyle
€¢ sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness
€¢ unexplainable terror and panic attacks
€¢ rage attacks
€¢ suicidal feelings and thoughts
Victimization has long-lasting and far-reaching effects on the lives of adult survivors. Healing for victims is difficult because their developmental processes have been damaged or interrupted by abuse. The most primary damage done is the victim loses a sense of trust. Trust, the ability to depend on ourselves and others in times of need, is a basic spiritual and emotional survival need. We need to be able to trust our own perceptions of reality and to be able to let significant people matter to us.
Our ability to trust ourselves is based on our experience of others as trustworthy. People who are €œlike a tree planted by streams of water (Ps. 1:3) feel firm because of the by streams of love coming from God and others in their life.
Victims often lose a sense of trust because the perpetrator was someone they knew as children, someone who was important to them. When the relationship became damaging to them, their sense of trust became broken.
Another damaging effect of abuse or molestation is the destruction of a sense of ownership over the victim`s soul. In fact, victims often feel that they are public property€”that their resources, body, and time should be available to others just for the asking.
Another injury due to victimization is a deep, pervasive sense of being €œall-bad, wrong, dirty, or shameful. No their affirming others are of their loveableness and their attributes, victims are convinced that, underneath it all, there is no good inside themselves. Because of the severity of their injuries, many victims have over-permeable boundaries. They take on badness that isn`t theirs. They begin believing that the way they were treated is the way they should be treated. Many victims think that, since they were they were bad or evil thousands of times, it certainly must be true.
Boundaries as an Aid to the Victim
Boundary work as described in this book can be extremely helpful in moving victims toward restoration and healing. However, in many cases the severe nature of the need is such that the victim will be unable to set boundaries without professional help. We strongly urge abuse victims to seek out a counselor who can guide them in establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries.