Jim had never been able say no to anyone, especially to his supervisors at work. He`d moved up to the position of operations manager in a large firm. His dependability had earned him the reputation of €œMr. Can Do.
But his kids had another name for him: €œThe Phantom. Jim was never home. Being €œMr. Can Do meant late nights at the office. It meant business dinners several nights a week. It meant weekends on the road, even after he`d promised the kids fishing trips and trips to the zoo.
Jim didn`t like being absent so much, but he had justified it to himself, saving, This is my contribution to the kids, my way of giving them the good life. His wife, Alice, had rationalized the €œdadless dinners by telling the children (and herself), €œThis is Dad`s way of telling us he loves us. And she almost believed it.
Finally, however, Alice had had enough. One night she sat Jim down on the couch in the family room and said, €œI feel like a single parent, Jim. I missed you for a while, but now all I feel is nothing.
Jim avoided her eyes. €œHoney, I know, I know, he replied. €œI`d really like to say no to people more, but it`s just so hard to€”
€œI found someone you can say no to, Alice broke in. €œMe and the kids!
That did it. Something broke deep within Jim. A sense of pain, of` guilt and shame, of helplessness and rage.
The words tumbled out of his mouth. €œDo you think I like being like this, always giving in to others? Do you think I enjoy letting family down? Jim paused, struggling for composure. €œAll my life it`s been this way, Alice. I`ve always feared letting people down. I hate this part of me. I hate my life. How did I get like this?
How did Jim €œget like this? He loved his family. The last thing he wanted was to neglect his most precious relationships: his wife and children. Jims problems didn`t start the day he was married. They developed during his early significant relationships. They were already a part of his character structure.
How do boundary abilities develop? That`s the purpose of this chapter. We hope you`ll be able to gain some understanding of where your own boundaries started crumbling or became set in concrete€”and how to repair them.
As you read this section, remember David`s prayer to God about his life and development:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24)
God`s desire is for you to know where your injuries and deficits are, whether self-induced or other-induced. Ask him to shed light on the significant relationships and forces that have contributed to your own boundary struggles. The past is your ally in repairing your present and ensuring a better future.
Remember the old saying, €œInsanity is genetic. You inherit it from your kids? Well, boundaries aren`t inherited. They are built. To be the truth-telling, responsible, free, and loving people God wants us to be we need to learn limits from childhood on. Boundary development is an ongoing process, yet its most crucial stages are in our very early years, where our character is formed.
The Scriptures advise parents to €œtrain a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it (Prov. 22:6). Many parents misunderstand this passage. They think €œthe way he should go means €œthe way we, the parents think he (or she) should go.“ Can you see the boundary conflicts already beginning?
The verse actually means €œthe way God has planned for him (or her) to go. In other words, good parenting isn`t emotionally bludgeoning the child into some clone or ideal of the perfect child. It`s being a partner in helping young ones discover what God intended for them to be and helping them reach that goal.
The Bible teaches that we pass through life in stages. John writes to €œlittle children, €œyoung men, and €œfathers. Each group has distinct tasks to perform (1 John 2:12-13 KJV).
Boundaries also develop in specific, distinct phases that you can perceive. In fact, by noting infants and children in their early parental interactions, child development professionals have able to record the specific phases of boundary development.`
Bonding: The Foundation of Boundary Building
Wendy couldn`t understand it. Something wasn`t jelling. All those codependency books. All those assertiveness tapes. All that self-talk about being more confrontive. And yet, every time she talked to her mother on the phone, all the advice, all the self-help techniques melted away into vague, cloudy memories.
A typical conversation about Wendy`s children would always conclude with her mom`s analysis of Wendy`s imperfect parenting style. €œI`ve been a mother longer than you, Mom would say. €œJust do it my way.
Wendy resented her advice. It wasn`t that she wasn`t open to guidance€”Lord knows she could use it. It was just that her mom thought her way was the only way. Wendy wanted a new relationship with her mom. She wanted to be honest about her mom`s control, her polite put-downs, and her inflexibility. Wendy wanted an adult-to-adult friendship with her mom.
But the words wouldn`t pass her lips. She`d write letters explaining her feelings. She`d rehearse before telephoning. Yet, when the time came, she panicked and remained silent. She well know how to be compliant, appreciative, and childlike with her mom. It was only later, when she became angry, that she knew she`d been taken to task again. She was beginning to give up hope that things would ever change.
Wendy`s struggle illustrates a basic need that we all have in boundary building. No matter how much you talk to yourself, read, study, or practice, you can`t develop or set boundaries a part from supportive relationships with God and others. Don`t even try to start setting limits until you have entered into deep, abiding attachments with people who will love you no matter what.
Our deepest need is to belong, to be in a relationship, to have a spiritual and emotional €œhome. The very nature of God is to be in relationship: €œGod is love, says 1 John 4:16. Love means relationship€”the caring, committed connection of one individual to another.
Like God, our most central need is to be connected. When God said that even in his perfect new universe, it wasn`t €œgood for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), he wasn`t talking about marriage. He was talking about relationship€” other people outside ourselves to bond with, trust, and go to for support.
We are built for relationship. Attachment is the foundation of the soul`s existence. When this foundation is cracked or faulty, boundaries become impossible to develop. Why? Because when we lack relationship, we have nowhere to go in a conflict. When we are not secure that we are loved, we are forced to choose between two bad options:
1. We set limits and risk losing a relationship. This was Wendy`s fear. She was afraid her mother would reject her, and she would be isolated and alone. She still needed Mom`s connection to feel secure.
2. We don`t set limits arid remain a prisoner to the wishes of another. By not setting limits on her mom, Wendy was a prisoner to her mom`s wishes.
So the first developmental task of infants is to bond with their mom and dad. They need to learn that they are welcome and safe in the world. To bond with baby, Mom and Dad need to provide a consistent, warm, loving, and predictable emotional environment for him or her. During this stage, Mom`s job is to woo the child into entering a relationship with the world€” via attachment with her. (Most often, this is Mom`s job, but dad or a caregiver can do this as well.)
Bonding takes place when the mother responds to the needs of the child, the needs for closeness, for being held, for food, and for changing. As baby experiences needs and the mother`s positive response to those needs, he or she begins to internalize, or take in. an emotional picture of a loving, constant mother.
Babies, at this stage, have no sense of self apart from Mother. They think, €œMommy and me are the same. It`s Sometimes called symbiosis, a Sort of €œswimming in closeness with Mother. This symbiotic union is the reason babies panic when Mother isn`t around. No one can comfort them but their mother.
The emotional picture developed by infants forms from thousands of experiences in the first few months of life. The ultimate goal of Mother`s €œbeing there is a state called emotional object constancy. Object constancy refers to the child`s having an internal sense of belonging and safety, even away from the presence of the mother. All those experiences of constant loving pay off in a child`s inner sense of security. It`s been built in.
Object constancy is referred to in the Bible as €œbeing rooted and established in love (Eph. 3:17) and as having been €œrooted and built up in [Christ] (Col. 2:7). It illustrates the principle that God`s plan for us is to be loved enough by him and others, to not feel isolated€”even when we are alone.
Bonding is the prelude. As children learn to feel safe and at home with their primary relationships, they are building good foundations to withstand the separateness and conflict that comes with boundary development.
Separation and Individuation: The Construction of a Soul
€œIt`s like a switch was thrown, said Millie to the friends who made up her church Mom`s Group. The Mom`s Group provided activities and at place to talk for mothers of infants and toddlers. €œOn her first birthday€”to the very day€”my Hillary became the most difficult child I`d ever seen. This is the same baby who, the day before, had eaten her spinach like it was her last meal. The next day, though, it all ended up on the floor!
Millie`s exasperation was met with approving nods and smiles. The mothers all agreed€”their babies had seemed to switch personalities around the same time. Gone were the agreeable, lovable infants. In their places were cranky, demanding toddlers.
What had happened? Any competent pediatrician or child therapist will attest to a shift that begins during the first year of life and continues until about three years. A shift which, though sometimes disruptive and chaotic, is completely normal. And part of God`s plan for the child.
As infants gain a sense of internal safety and attachment, a second need arises. The baby`s need for autonomy, or independence, starts to emerge. Child experts call this separation and individuation. €œSeparation refers to the child`s need to perceive him or herself as distinct from Mother, a €œnot-me experience. €œIndividuation describes the identity the child develops while separating from Mother. It`s a me experience.
You can`t have €œme until you first have a €œnot-me. It`s like trying to build a house on a plot of land filled with trees and wild brush. You must first cut away some space, then begin building your home. You must first determine who you aren`t before you discover the true, authentic aspects of your God-given identity.
The only recorded instance of Jesus` boyhood describes this principle. Remember when Jesus` mother and father left Jerusalem without him? When they went back and found him teaching in the temple, his mother admonished him. Jesus` words to his mother were, €œWhy were you searching for me? Didn`t you know I had to be in my Father`s house? (Luke 2:49). Translation: I have values, thoughts, and opinions that are different from yours, Mother. Jesus knew who he was not, as well as who he was.
The separation-individuation process isn`t a smooth transition into a person. Three phases are critical to developing healthy boundaries in childhood: hatching, practicing, and rapprochement.
Hatching: €œMommy and Me Aren`t the Same
It`s not fair,“ a mother of a five€”month€”old boy told me. €œWe had four months of bliss and closeness. I loved Eric`s helplessness, his dependency. He needed me, and I was enough for him.“
€œAll of a sudden it changed. He got€”I don`t know how to Say it€”more restless, wigglier. He didn`t always want me to hold him. He became more interested in other people, even in brightly colored toys, than me!
€œI`m beginning to get the picture, the woman concluded. €œHe needed me for four months. Now motherhood is spending the next seventeen and half years letting him leave me!
In many ways, this mother got the picture. The first five to ten months of life mark a major shift in infants: from €œMommy and me are the same to €œMommy and me aren`t the same. During this period, babies begin moving out of` their passive union with Mother into an active interest in the outside world. They become aware that there`s a big, exciting world out there€”and they want a piece of the action!
This period is called €œhatching or €œdifferentiation by child researchers. It`s a time of exploration, of touching, of tasting and feeling new things. Though children in this phase are still dependent on Mother, they aren`t wrapped up in closeness with her. The months of nurturing have paid off€”the child feels safe enough to start taking risks. Watch crawlers in full tilt. They don`t want to miss out. This is a geographical boundary in motion€”away from Mother.
Look into the eyes of a baby in the €œhatching phase. You can see Adam`s wide-eyed wonder at the flora, fauna, and majesty of the earth created for him by the Lord. You can see the desire to discover, the drive to learn hinted at in Job 11:7: €œCan you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? No, we can`t. But we are created to discover, to experience the Creation and to know the creator.
This is difficult period for new mothers. As the mom in the beginning of this section described, it can be a letdown. It`s especially hard for women who have never realty €œhatched themselves. They long For nothing but closeness, neediness, and dependency from their baby. These women often conceive lots of children, or find ways to spend time with very young infants. They often with very voting don`t enjoy the €œseparating part of mothering. They don`t like the distance between themselves and baby. It`s a painful boundary for Mother, but a necessary one for the child.
Practicing: €œI Can Do Anything!
But what`s wrong with wanting to have fun? Life wasn`t meant to be boring, protested Derek. In his late forties, Derek dressed like a college student. His face had that tanned, unlined look that appears unnatural on a middle€” aged man.
Something was out of place. Derek was talking to his pastor about switching his membership from the thirty-five-and-older singles group to the twenties and thirties group. €œThey`re just not my speed. I like roller coasters, late nights out, and switching jobs. Keeps me young, you know?“
Derek`s style describes someone still stuck in the second stage of separation€”individuation: practicing. During this period, which usually lasts from age ten months to eighteen months (and then returns later), babies learn to walk and begin to use words.
The difference between hatching and practicing is radical. While the hatching baby is overwhelmed by this new world and still leans a great deal on Mother, the practicing child is trying to leave her behind! The newfound ability to walk opens up a sense of omnipotence. Toddlers feel exhilaration and energy. And they want to try everything, including walking down steep stairs, putting forks into electric sockets, and chasing cats` tails.
People like Derek who are stuck in this stage can be lots of fun. Except when you pop their bubble about their unrealistic grandiosity and their irresponsibility. Then you become a €œwet blanket. It`s revealing to talk to the €œwet blanket who is married to a practicing child. No job is more tiring.
Proverbs 7:7 describes the youth stuck in the practicing stage: I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment.
This Young man had energy, but no impulse control, no boundaries on his passions. He becomes sexually promiscuous, which often happens to adults who are caught in this phase. And he ends up dead: €œtill an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life (Prov. 7:23).
Practicers feel that they`ll never be caught. But life does catch up with them.
What practicing infants (the ones for whom omnipotence is appropriate!) need most from parents is a responsive delight in their delight, exhilaration at their exhilaration, and some safe limits to practice. Good parents have fun with toddlers who jump on the bed. Poor parents either quench their children`s desire by not allowing any jumping, or they set no limits and allow them to jump all over Mom and Dad`s orange juice and coffee. (Derek`s parents were the second type.)
In the practicing phase children learn that aggressiveness and taking initiative are good. Parents who firmly and consistently set realistic boundaries with children in this period, but without spoiling their enthusiasm, help them through the transition.
Have you ever seen the posters depicting €œbaby`s first steps? Some of these portray a wrong notion. They present the child taking hesitant steps toward a waiting mother, arms outstretched. The truth is different. Most mothers report, €œI watched my baby`s first steps from behind! The practicing toddler moves from safety and warmth to excitement and discovery. Physical and geographical boundaries help the child learn action without danger.
The practicing phase provides the child with the energy and drive to make the final step toward becoming an individual, but energetic exhilaration can`t last forever. Cars can`t always run at full speed. Sprinters can`t keep up the pace for miles. And practicing children must give way to the next phase, rapprochement.
Rapprochement: I Can`t Do Everything
Rapprochement, which occurs from around eighteen months to three years, comes from a French word meaning €œa restoration of harmonious relations. In other words, the child comes back to reality. The grandiosity of the past few months slowly gives way to the realization that €œI can`t do everything I want. Children become anxious and aware that the world`s a scary place. They realize that they still need Mother.
The rapprochement phase is a return to connection with Mother, but this time it`s different. This time the child brings a more separate self into the relationship. There are two people now, with differing thoughts and feelings. And the child is ready to relate to the outside world without losing a sense of self.
Typically, this is a difficult period for both children and parents. Rapprochement toddlers are obnoxious, oppositional, temperamental, and downright angry. They can remind you of someone with a chronic toothache.
Let`s look at some of the tools toddlers use to build boundaries in this stage.
Anger. Anger is a friend. It was created by God for a purpose: to tell us that there`s a problem that needs to be confronted. Anger is a way for children to know that their experience is different from someone else`s. The ability to use anger to distinguish between self and others is a boundary. Children who can appropriately express anger are children who will understand, later in life, when someone is trying to control or hurt them.
Ownership. Sometimes misunderstood as simply a €œselfish stage, rapprochement introduces words to the youngster`s vocabulary such as, mine, my, and me. Suzy doesn`t want anyone else to hold her doll. Billy doesn`t want to share his trucks with a visiting toddler. This important part of becoming a self is often quite difficult for Christian parents to understand. €œWell, that old sinful nature is rearing its ugly head in my little girl. the parents will remark while their friends nod sagely. €œWe`re` trying to help her share and love others, but she`s caught up in that selfishness we all have.
This is neither accurate nor biblical. The child`s newfound fondness for €œmine does have roots in our innate self-centeredness€”part of the sinful depravity in all of us that wants to, as did Satan, €œmake myself like the Most High (Isa. 14:14). However, this simplistic understanding of our character doesn`t take into consideration the full picture of what being in the image of God truly is.
Being created in God`s image also means having ownership, or steward ship. As Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth to subdue and rule it, we are also given stewardship over our time, energy, talents, values, feelings, behavior, money, and all the other things mentioned in chapter 2. Without a €œmine, we have no sense of responsibility to develop, nurture, and protect these resources. Without a €œmine, we have no self to give to God and his kingdom.
Children desperately need to know that mine, my, and me aren`t swear words. With correct biblical parenting, they`ll learn sacrifice and develop a giving, loving heart, but not until they have a personality that has been loved enough to give love away: €œWe love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
No: The One-Word Boundary. Toddlers going through rapprochement frequently use one of the most important words in the human language: the word no. While it can emerge during hatching, no is perfected during rapprochement It`s the first verbal boundary children learn.
The word no helps children separate from what they don`t like. It gives them the power to make choices. It protects them. Learning to deal with a child`s no is crucial to that child`s development One couple who didn`t attend to their child`s refusal to eat certain foods found out later that she was allergic to one of them!
Often, children at this age become €œno addicts. They`ll not only refuse vegetables and nap time, but also turn away from Popsicles and favorite toys! It`s worth it for them to have the no. It keeps them from feeling completely helpless and powerless.
Parents have two tasks associated with no. First, they need to help their child feel safe enough to say no, thereby encouraging his or her own boundaries. Though they certainly can`t make all the choices they`d like, young children should be able to have a no that is listened to. Informed parents won`t be insulted or enraged by their child`s resistance. They will help the child feel that his no is just as loveable as his yes. They won`t withdraw emotionally from the child who says no, but will stay connected. One parent must often support another who is being worn down by their baby`s no. This process takes work!
One couple was faced with an aunt whose feelings were hurt by their daughter`s refusal to kiss and hug her upon every visit. Sometimes the child wanted to be close; sometimes she wanted to stand back and watch. The couple responded to the aunt`s complaint by saying, €œWe don`t want Casey to Feel that her affection is something she owes people. We`d like her to be in charge of her life. These parents wanted their daughter`s yes to be yes, and her no to be no (Matt. 5:37). They wanted her to be able to say no, so that in the Future she would have the ability to say no to evil.
The second task facing parents of children in rapprochement is that of helping the child respect others` boundaries. Children need to be able to not only give a no, but also take a no.
Parents need to be able to set and keep age-appropriate boundaries with children. It means not giving in to temper tantrums at the toy shop, though it would be less humiliating to quiet the child by purchasing half of the store. It means time-outs, appropriate confrontations, and spanking, when necessary. €œDiscipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death (Prov. 19:18). In other words, help the child learn to take limits before it`s too late.
Boundary construction is most evident in three-year-olds. By this time, they should have mastered the following tasks:
1. The ability to be emotionally attached to others, yet without giving up a sense of self and one`s freedom to be apart.
2 The ability to say appropriate no`s to others without tear of loss of love
3 The ability to take appropriate no`s from others without withdrawing emotionally.
Noting these tasks, a friend said half-joking, €œThey need to learn this by age three? How about by forty-three? Yes, these are tall orders. But boundary development is essential in the early years of life.
Two additional periods of life focus on boundaries. The first is adolescence. The adolescent years are a reenactment of the first years of life. They involve more mature issues, such as sexuality, gender identity, competition, and adult identity. But the same issues of knowing when to say yes and no and to whom are central during this confusing time.
The second period is young adulthood, the time when children leave home or college and start a career or get married. Young adults suffer a loss of structure during this period. There are no class bells, no schedules imposed by others, and a great deal of very scary freedom and responsibility, as well as the demands of intimacy and commitment. This can often become an intense time of learning more about setting good boundaries.
The earlier the child learns good boundaries, the less turmoil he or she experiences later in life. A successful first three years of life will mean a smoother (but not smooth!) adolescence and a better transition into adulthood. A problematic childhood can be helped greatly by lots of hard work in the family during adolescence. But serious boundary problems during both these periods can be devastating during the adult years.
€œIt helps to know the way it should have been for me, said one woman who attended a talk on child development. €œBut what would really help is to know what went wrong for me. Let`s look next at where our boundary development goes wrong.
Boundaries Injuries: What Goes Wrong?
Boundary problem are rooted in thousands of encounters with others, as well in our own nature and personality. The most important boundary conflicts, however, occur in the crucial first few years of life. They may happen in any or all of the three phases of separation€”individuation: hatching, practicing, or rapprochement. Generally, the earlier and more severe the injury the deeper the boundary problem.
Withdrawal from Boundaries
€œI don`t know why it happens, but it happens, mused Ingrid over coffee with her friend Alice. €œEvery time I disagree with my mother, even on little things, I feel this terrible sense that she`s not there anymore. It`s like she`s hurt and withdrawn, and I can`t get her back. It`s really a horrible feeling to think you`ve lost someone you love.“
Let`s be honest. None of us enjoys being told no. It`s difficult to accept another persons refusal to give support, to be intimate, or to forgive. Yet good relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront: €œAs iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Prov. 27:17).
Not only good relationships but also mature characters are built on appropriate nos. Developing children need to know their boundaries will be honored. It is crucial that their disagreements, their practicing, their experimentation not result in a withdrawal of love.
Please don`t misunderstand this. Parental limits are crucial. Children need to know behavioral lines that should at be crossed. They` need to suffer biblical, age-appropriate consequences for acting out. (In fact, when parents do not set and maintain good boundaries with their children, the children suffer another type of boundary injury, which we will discuss shortly.) What we`re talking about here isn`t allowing the child free rein. Parents need to stay attached and connected to their children even when they disagree with them. That doesn`t mean they shouldn`t get angry. It means they shouldn`t withdraw.
How often do we hear the statement that €œGod loves the sinner, but hates the sin? It`s true. His love is constant and €˜never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). When parents detach from a dealing with the problem, God`s constant love is misrepresented. When parents pull away in hurt, disappointment, or passive rage, they are sending this message to their youngster: You`re loveable when you behave. You aren`t loveable when you don`t behave.
The child translates that message something like this: When I`m good, I am loved. When I`m bad, I am cut off.
Put yourself in the child`s place. What would you do? It`s not a difficult decision. God created people with a need for attachment and relationship. Parents who pull away from their child are, in essence, practicing spiritual and emotional blackmail. The child can either pretend to not disagree and keep the relationship, or he can continue to separate and lose his most important relationship in the world. He will most likely keep quiet.
Children whose parents withdraw when they start setting limits learn to accentuate and develop their compliant, loving, sensitive parts. At the same time, they learn to fear, distrust, and hate their aggressive, truth-telling, and separate parts. If someone they love pulls away when they become angry, cantankerous, or experimental, children learn to hide these parts of themselves.
Parents who tell their children, €œIt hurts us when you`re angry make the child responsible for the emotional health of the parent. In effect, the child has just been made the parent of the parent€”sometimes at two or three years old. It`s far, far better to say, €œI know you`re angry, but you still can`t have that toy. And then to take your hurt feelings to a spouse, friend, or the Lord.
By nature, children are omnipotent. They live in a world where the sun shines because they were good, and it rains because they were naughty. Children will give up this omnipotence gradually over time, as they learn that needs and events besides theirs are important. But during the early years, this omnipotence plays right into boundary injury. When children feel parents withdrawing, they readily believe that they are responsible for Mom and Dad`s feelings. That`s what omnipotent means: €œI am powerful enough to make Mom and Dad pull away. I`d better watch it.“
A parent`s emotional withdrawal can be subtle: A hurt tone of voice. Long silences for no reason. Or it can be overt: Crying spells. Illness. Yelling. Children of parents like these grow up to be adults who are terrified that setting boundaries will cause severe isolation and abandonment.
Hostility Against Boundaries
€œDo I understand why I can`t say no? Larry chuckled. €œWhy don`t you ask me a hard one? I grew up in the military. Dad`s word was law. And disagreeing was always rebellion. I contradicted him once when I was nine. All I remember is waking up on the other side of the room with a whopping headache. And lots of hurt feelings.“
The second boundary injury, easier to spot than the first, is a parents hostility against boundaries. The parent becomes angry at the child`s attempts at separating from him or her. Hostility can emerge in the form of angry words, physical punishment, or inappropriate consequences.
Some parents will say to the child, €œYou`ll do what I say. This is fair enough. God meant for parents to be in charge of children. But then they`ll say, €œAnd you`ll hike doing it. This makes a child crazy, because it`s a denial of the separate soul of the child. To €œmake the child like it is to pressure the child into becoming a €œpeople pleaser, not a €œGod pleaser (Gal. 1:10).
Some parents criticize the boundaries of their children:
€œIf you disagree with me, I`ll€¦
€œYou`ll do it my way or else.
€œDon`t question your mother.
€œYou need an attitude adjustment.
€œYou`ve got no reason to feel bad.
Children need to be under the authority and control of their parents, but when parents punish their child for his growing independence, he will usually retreat into hurt and resentment.
This hostility is a poor counterfeit of God`s program of learning discipline. Discipline is the art of teaching children self-control by using consequences. Irresponsible actions should cause discomfort that motivates us to become more responsible.
The €œmy-way-or-else approach teaches children to pretend to be obedient, at least when the parent is in earshot. The €œyou-have-a-choice approach teaches children to be responsible for their own actions. Instead of saying, €œYou`ll make your bed or you`ll be grounded for a month, the parent says, €œYou have a choice: Make your bed, and I`ll let you play Nintendo; don`t make your bed and you lose your Nintendo privileges for the rest of the day. The child decides how much pain he is willing to endure to be disobedient.
God`s discipline teaches, not punishes:
God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline Seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:10-11)
When parents greet their children`s disagreement, disobedience, or practicing with simple hostility, the children are denied the benefit of being trained. They don`t learn that delaying gratification allot being responsible have benefits. They only learn how to avoid someone`s wrath. Ever wonder some Christians fear an angry God, no matter how much they read about his love?
The results of this hostility are difficult to see because these children quickly learn how to hide under a compliant smile. When these children grow up they suffer depression, anxiety, relationship conflicts, and substance-abuse problems. For the first time in their lives, many boundary-injured individuals realize they have a problem.
Hostility can create problems in both saying and hearing no. Some children become pliably enmeshed with others. But some react outwardly and become controlling people€” just like the hostile parent.
The Bible addresses two distinct reactions to hostility in parents: Fathers are told not to embitter [their] children, or they will become discouraged (Col: 3:21). Some children respond to harshness with compliance and depression. At the same time, fathers are told not to €œexasperate [their] children (Eph. 6:4). Other children react to hostility with rage. Many grow up to be just like the hostile parent who hurt them.
Over control occurs when otherwise loving parents try to protect their children from making mistakes by having too strict rules and limits. For example, they may keep their children from playing with other kids to protect them from being hurt or learning bad habits. They may be so concerned about their children catching a cold that they make them wear galoshes on cloudy days.
The problem with over control is this: while a major responsibility of good parents is certainly to control and protect, they must make room for their children to make mistakes. Remember that we learn maturity €œby constant use (Heb. 5:14). Over controlled children are subject to dependency, enmeshment conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also have problems taking risks and being creative.
Lack of Limits
Eileen sighed. Her husband Bruce was in his twice-a-week mode of throwing fits whenever she €œdropped the ball. This time he was yelling about having to reschedule their night out with the Billingses. Eileen had forgotten to call a baby sitter for the kids until four that afternoon.
She couldn`t understand why Bruce got so wound up about such little things. Maybe he just needed some time off. That was it! Eileen brightened up. We need a vacation! She forgot that they`d had one a month ago.
Eileen had very loving, but very indulgent parents. They couldn`t stand to make her do anything, to discipline her with time-outs, consequences, or spankings. Her folks thought that lots of forgiveness would help her be the adult she needed to be.
So whenever Eileen didn`t pick up after herself, her mother would cover for her. When she wrecked the family car three times, her dad got her her own car. And when she overthrew her checking account, her parents quietly put more money in it. After all, isn`t love patient? they`d say.
Eileen`s parents` lack of limits on her hurt her character development. Though she was a loving wife, mother, and worker, others were constantly frustrated at her undisciplined, careless way of living, it cost others a lot to be in relationship with her. Yet she was so loveable that most of her friends didn`t want to hurt her feelings by confronting her. So the problem remained unsolved.
Lack of parental boundaries is the opposite of hostility. Again, biblical discipline would have provided the necessary structure to help Eileen develop her character.
Sometimes a lack of parental limits, coupled with a lack of connection, can produce an aggressively controlling person. We all know the experience of going into a supermarket and observing a tour€”year€”old in total control of a mother. The mother begs, pleads, and threatens her son to stop having his tantrum. Then, at her wits` end, she gives him the candy bar he`s been screaming for. €œBut that`s the last one, she says, struggling for some control. But by then control is an illusion.
Now imagine that four-year-old as a forty-year-old man. The scenario has changed, but the script is the same. When he is crossed, or when someone sets a limit with him, the same tantrum erupts. And by then, he`s had thirty-six more years of having the world cater to him. His recovery program will need to be very strong and consistent to help him. Sometimes recovery comes in the form of hospitalization, sometimes in divorce, sometimes in jail, and Sometimes in disease. But no one can really escape the disciplines of life. They will always win out. We always reap what we sow. And the later in life it is, the sadder a picture it is, for the stakes are higher.
Obviously, were describing the person who has a difficult time hearing others boundaries and/or needs. These people have been as injured by a lack of boundaries as others are by too-rigid boundaries.
Sometimes, due to their confusion about rearing children or their own injuries, sonic parents combine strict and lax limits, sending conflicting messages to children. The children don`t know what the rules of family and life are.
Alcoholic families often exhibit inconsistent limits. A parent may be loving and kind one day, unreasonably harsh the next. This is particularly true because of the behavior changes brought on by drinking.
Alcoholism causes massive boundary confusion in the child. Adult children of alcoholics never feel safe in relationships. They`re always waiting for the other person to let them down or attack them unexpectedly. They keep their guard up constantly.
Setting limits is traumatic for admit children of alcoholics. Saving no might bring respect, or it might bring rage. They feel like the double-minded person described in James 1:6: €œlike a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. They are uncertain about what they are and aren`t responsible for.
Up until now, we`ve dealt with characteristics of family relating. Withdrawal hostility, and setting inappropriate limits are ways parents act toward their children. Over time, these become ingrained in the soul of the child.
In addition, specific traumas can injure boundary development. A trauma is an intensely painful emotional experience, rather than a character pattern. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are traumatic. Accidents and debilitating illnesses are traumatic. Severe losses such as the death of a parent, divorce, or extreme financial hardship are also traumatic.
A good way to look at the difference between character€” relating patterns, such as withdrawal and hostility, and trauma, is to look at how a tree in a forest can be hurt. It can be fed inappropriately, through bad ingredients in the soil, or it can be given too much or too little sun or water. That`s an illustration of character-pattern problems. Trauma is like lightning hitting the tree.
A trauma can affect boundary development because it shakes up two necessary foundations to children`s growth:
1. The world is reasonably safe.
2. They have control over their lives.
Children who undergo trauma feel these foundations shaken up. They become unsure that they are safe and protected in the world, and they become frightened that they have no say-so in any danger that approaches them.
Jerry had been physically abused by both of his parents for years. He had left home early, joined the Marines, and had several bad marriages. In therapy as an adult in his thirties, he began realizing why, under his tough exterior, he always longed for controlling women. He`d fall madly in love with the fact that they could €œhandle him. Then a pattern (If compliance to) the woman would emerge, with Jerry always on the losing end.
One day in session, Jerry remembered his mother striking him across the face for some small infraction. He vividly remembered his vain attempts to protect himself pleading, €œPlease, Mom€”I`m sorry. I`ll do anything you say. Please, Mom. When he promised unquestioning obedience, the hitting would stop. That memory tied in with his lack of power and self-control with his wives and girlfriends. Their anger always terrified him, and he would instantly comply. Jerry`s boundary development was seriously injured by his mother abuse.
The heart of God seems to beat especially close to the victim of trauma: €œHe has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted (Isa. 61:1). Gold desires the wounds of the traumatized to be bound up by loving people.
Victims of trauma in the family are almost always recipients of poor or sinful character-relating patterns. Withdrawal from our boundaries and hostility toward our boundaries are the ground from which trauma springs.
Our Own Character Traits
Have you ever heard someone described as being that way €œfrom the womb? Perhaps you were always active and confrontative, always exploring new horizons. Or maybe you liked to be quiet and reflective €œsince forever.
We contribute to our boundary issues by our own individual character styles. For example, some people with a constitutionally greater amount of aggression deal with boundary problems more confrontationally. And some with less aggression shy more from boundaries.
Our Own Sinfulness
We also contribute to our own boundary development problems by our own depravity. Depravity is what we inherited from Adam and Eve. It is our resistance to being creatures under God, our resistance to humility. It`s a refusal to accept our position, and a lust for being omnipotent and €œin charge, not needling anyone and not accountable to anyone. Our depravity enslaves us to the law of sin and death, from which only Christ can save us (Rom. 8:2).
By now you should be gaining a clearer picture of what goes into boundary problems and boundary development. It`s time now to look at what the Bible says about how boundaries should operate in our lives, and how they can be developed€”all through our lives.