Ten Laws of Boundaries By Dr Henry Cloud & Dr John Townsend
..Law #6: The Law of Evaluation
€œBut if I told him I wanted to do that, wouldn`t he be hurt? Jason asked. When Jason told me he wished to assume responsibility for tasks his business partner was performing poorly, I encouraged him to talk to his partner.
€œSure he might be hurt, I said, in response to his question. €œSo, what`s your problem?
€œWell, I wouldn`t want to hurt him, Jason said, looking at me as though I should have known that.
€œI`m sure you would not want to hurt him, I said. €œBut what does that have to do with the decision you have to make?
€œWell, I couldn`t just make a decision without taking his feelings into account. That`s cruel.
€œI agree with you. That would be cruel. But, when are you going to tell him?`
€œYou just said that to tell him would hurt him and that would be cruel, Jason said, perplexed.
€œNo, I didn`t, I replied. €œI said to tell him without considering his feelings would be cruel. That is very different from not doing what you need to do.
€œI don`t see any difference. It would still hurt him.
€œBut it would not harm him, and that`s the big difference. If anything, the hurt would help him.
€œNow I`m really confused. How can it possibly help to hurt him?
€œWell, have you ever gone to the dentist? I asked.
€œDid the dentist hurt you when he drilled your tooth to remove the cavity?“
€œDid he harm you?
€œNo, he made me feel better.
€œHurt and harm are different, I pointed out. €œWhen you ate the sugar that gave you the cavity, did that hurt?
No, it tasted good, he said, with a smile that told me he was catching on.
€œDid it harm you?
€œThat`s my point. Things can hurt and not harm us. In fact they can even be good for us. And things that feel good can be very harmful to us.
You need to evaluate the effects of setting boundaries and be responsible to the other person, but that does not mean you should avoid setting boundaries because someone responds with hurt or anger. To have boundaries€”in this instance, Jason`s saying no to his partner€”is to live a purposeful life.
Jesus refers to it as the €œnarrow gate. It is always earlier to go through the €œbroad gate of destruction and continue to not set boundaries where we need to. But, the result is always the same: destruction. Only the honest, purposeful life leads to good fruit. Deciding to set boundaries is difficult because it requires decision making and confrontation, which, in turn, may cause pain to someone you love.
We need to evaluate the pain caused by our making choices and empathize with it. Take Sandy, for example. Sandy chose to go skiing with friends instead of going home for Christmas vacation. Her mother was sad and disappointed, but she was not harmed. Sandy`s decision caused sadness, but her mothers sadness should not cause Sandy to change her mind. A loving response to her mothers hurt would be, €œOh, Mom, I`m sad that we won`t be together too. In looking forward to next summer`s visit.
If Sandy`s mother respected her freedom to make choices, she would say some thing like this: €œI`m so disappointed that you`re not coming home for Christmas, but I hope you all have a great time. She would be owning her disappointment and respecting Sandy`s choice to spend her time with friends.
We cause pain by making choices that others do not like, but we also cause pain by confronting people when they are wrong. But if we do not share our anger with another, bitterness and hatred can set in. We need to be honest with one another about how we are hurt. €œSpeak truthfully to [your] neighbor, for [you] are all members of one body (Eph. 4.25)
As iron sharpens iron, we need confrontation and truth from others to grow. No one likes to hear negative things about him or herself. But in the long run it may be good for us. The Bible says that if we are wise, we will learn from it. Admonition from a friend, while it can hurt, can also help.
We need to evaluate the pain our confrontation causes other people. We need to see how this hurt is helpful to others and sometimes the best thing that we can do for them and the relationship. We need to evaluate the pain in a positive light
Law #7; The Law of Proactivity
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Paul says that wrath and sinful passions are a direct reaction to the severity of the law (Rom. 4:15; 5:20; 7:5). In Ephesians and Colossians he says wrath and disillusionment can be reactions to parental injustice (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).
Many of us have known people who, after years of being passive and compliant, suddenly go ballistic, and we wonder what happened. We blame it on the counselor they are seeing or the company they`ve been keeping.
In reality, they had been complying for years, and their pent-up rage explodes. This reactive phase of boundary creation is helpful, especially for victims. They need to get out of the powerless, victimized place in which they may have been forced by physical and sexual abuse, or by emotional blackmail and manipulation. We should herald their emancipation.
But when is enough enough? Reaction phases are necessary but not sufficient for the establishment of boundaries. It is crucial for the two-year-old to throw the peas at Mommy, but to continue that until forty-three is too much. It is crucial for victims of abuse to feel the rage and hatred of being powerless, but to be screaming €œvictim rights for the rest of their lives is being stuck in a victim mentality.
Emotionally, the reactive stance brings diminishing returns. You must react to find your own boundaries, but having found them, you must €œnot use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature…. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Gal. 5:13, 15). Eventually, you must rejoin the human race you have reacted to, and establish connections as equals, loving your neighbor as yourself.
This is the beginning of the establishment of proactive, instead of reactive, boundaries. This is where you are able to use the freedom you gained through reacting to love, enjoy, and serve one another. Proactive people show you what they love, what they want, what they purpose, and what they stand for. These people are very different from those who are known by what they hate, what they don`t like, what they stand against, and what they will not do.
While reactive victims are primarily known by their €œagainst stances, proactive people do not demand rights, they live them. Power is not something you demand or deserve, it is something you express. The ultimate expression of power is love; it is the ability not to express power, but to restrain it. Proactive people are able to €œlove others as themselves. They have mutual respect. They are able to €œdie to self and not €œreturn evil for evil. They have gotten past the reactive stance of the law and are able to love and not react.
Listen to Jesus compare the reactive person is still controlled by the law and others with the free person: €œYou have heard that it was said, €˜Eve for eye, and tooth for tooth.` But I tell you. Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:38-39).
Do not try to get to freedom without owning your reactive period and feelings. You do not need to act this out, but you do need to express the feelings. You need to practice and gain assertiveness. You need to get far enough away From abusive people to be able to fence your property against further invasion. And then you need to own the treasures you find in your soul.
But, do not stay there. Spiritual adulthood has higher goals than €œfinding yourself. A reactive stage is a stage, not an identity. It is necessary, but not sufficient.
Law #8: The Law of Envy
The New Testament speaks strongly against the envious heart. Consider James: €œYou want something but don`t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight (James 4:2).
What does envy have to do with boundaries? Envy is probably the basest emotion we have. A direct result of the Fall, it was Satan`s sin. The Bible says that he had a wish to €œbe like the Most High. He envied God. In turn, he tempted Adam and Eve with the same idea, telling them that they could be like God also. Satan and our parents, Adam and Eve, were not satisfied with who they were and could rightfully become. They wanted what they did not have, and it destroyed them.
Envy defines €œgood as €œwhat I do not possess, and hates the good that it has. How many times have you heard someone subtly put down the accomplishments of others, somehow robbing them of the goodness they had attained? We all have envious parts to our personalities. But what is so destructive about this particular sin is that it guarantees that we will not get what we want and keeps us perpetually insatiable and dissatisfied.
This is not to say that it is wrong to want things we do not have. God has said that he will give us the desires of our heart. The problem with envy is that it focuses outside our boundaries, onto others. If we are focusing on what others have or have accomplished, we are neglecting our responsibilities and will ultimately have an empty heart. Look at the difference in Galatians 6:4: €œEach one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.
Envy is a self-perpetuating cycle. Boundaryless people feel empty and unfulfilled. They look at another`s sense of fullness and feel envious. This time and energy needs to be spent on taking responsibility for their lack and doing something about it. Taking action is the only way out. €œYou have not because you ask not. And the Bible adds €œbecause you work not. Possessions and accomplishments are not the only things we envy. We can envy a person`s character and personality, instead of developing the gifts God has given us (Rom. 12:6).
Think of these situations:
A lonely person stays isolated and envious of the close relationships others have.
A single woman withdraws from social life, envying the marriages and families of her friends.
A middle-aged woman feels stuck in her career and wants to pursue something she would enjoy, yet always has a €œyes, but €¦ reason why she can`t, resenting and envying those who have €œgone for it.
A person chooses the righteous life, but envies and resents those who seem to be €œhaving all the fun
These people are all negating their own actions (Gal. 6:4) and comparing themselves to others, staying stuck and resentful. Notice the difference between those statements and these:
A lonely person owns his lack of relationships and asks himself and God, €œ1 wonder why I always withdraw from people. I can at least go and talk to a counselor about this. Even if I am afraid of social situations, I could seek some help. No one should live this way. I`ll make the call.
The single woman asks, €œI wonder why I never get asked out, or why I keep getting turned down for dates? What is wrong about what I am doing or how I`m communicating, or where I`m going to meet people? How could I become a more interesting person? Maybe I could join a therapy group to find out why or I could subscribe to a dating service to find people with interests similar to mine.
The middle-aged woman asks herself, €œWhy am I reluctant to pursue my interests? Why do I feel selfish when I want to quit row job to do something I enjoy? What am I afraid of? If I were really honest, I would notice that the ones who are doing what they like have had to take some risks and sometimes work and go to school to change jobs. That may just be more than I am willing to do
The righteous person asks himself, €œIf I am really €˜choosing to love and serve God, why do I feel like a slave? What is wrong with my spiritual life? What is it about me that envies someone living in the gutter?
These people are questioning themselves instead of envying others. Your envy should always be a sign to you that you are lacking something. At that moment, you should ask God to help you understand what you resent, why you do not have whatever you are envying, and whether you truly desire it. Ask him to show you what you need to do to get there, or to give up the desire.
Law #.9: The Law of Activity
Human beings are responders and initiators. Many times we have boundary problems because we lack initiative€”the God-given ability to propel ourselves into life. We respond to invitations and push ourselves into life.
The best boundaries are formed when a child is pushing against the world naturally, and the outside world sets its limits on the child. In this way, the aggressive child has learned limits without losing his or her spirit. Our spiritual and emotional well- being depends on our having this spirit.
Consider the contrast in the parable of the talents. The ones who succeeded were active and assertive. They initiated and pushed. The one who lost out was passive arid inactive.
The sad thing is that many people who are passive are not inherently evil or bad people. But evil is an active force, and passivity can become an ally of evil by not pushing against it. Passivity never pays off. God will match our effort, but he will never do our work for us. That would be an invasion of our boundaries. He wants us to be assertive and active, seeking and knocking on the door of life.
We know that God is not mean to people who are afraid; the Scripture is full of examples of his compassion. But he will not enable passivity. The €œwicked and lazy servant was passive, He did not try. God`s grace covers failure, but it cannot make up for passivity. We have to do our part.
The sin God rebukes is not trying and failing, but failing to try. Trying, failing, and trying again is called learning. Failing to try will have no good result; evil will triumph. God expresses his opinion toward passivity in Hebrews 10:38-39: €œ€˜But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.` But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. Passive €œshrinking back is intolerable to God, and when we understand how destructive it is to the soul, we can see why God does not tolerate it. God wants us to €œpreserve our souls. That is the role of boundaries; they define and preserve our property, our soul.
I have been told that when a baby bird is ready to hatch, if you break the egg for the bird, it will die. The bird must peck its own way out of the egg into the world. This aggressive €œworkout strengthens the bird, allowing it to function in the outside world. Robbed of this responsibility, it will die.
This is also the way God has made us. If he €œhatches us, does our wonk for us, invades our boundaries, we will die. We must not shrink back passively. Our boundaries can only be created by our being active and aggressive, by our knocking, seeking, and asking (Matt. 7:7-8).
Law #10: The Law of Exposure
A boundary is a property line. It defines where you begin and end. We have been discussing why you need such a line. One reason stands above all the others: You do not exist in a vacuum. You exist in relation to God and others. Your boundaries define you in relation to others.
The whole concept of boundaries has to do with the fact that we exist in relationship. Therefore, boundaries are really about relationship, and finally about love. That`s why the Law of Exposure is so important.
The Law of Exposure says that your boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them in relationship. We have many boundary problems because of relational fears. We are beset by fears of guilt, not being liked, loss of love, loss of connection, loss of approval, receiving anger, being known, and so on. These are all failures in love, and God`s plan is that we learn how to love. These relational problems can only be solved in relationships, for that is the context of the problems themselves, and the context of spiritual existence.
Because of these fears, we try to have secret boundaries. We withdraw passively and quietly, instead of communicating an honest no to someone we love. We secretly resent instead of telling someone that we are angry about how they have hurt us. Often, we will privately endure the pain of someone`s irresponsibility instead of telling them how their behavior affects us and other loved ones, information that would be helpful to their soul.
In other situations, a partner will secretly comply with her spouse, not offering her feelings or opinions for twenty years, and then suddenly €œexpress her boundaries by filing for divorce. Or parents will love their children by giving in over and over for years, not setting limits, and resenting the love they are showing, The children grow up never feeling loved, because of the lack of honesty, and their parents are befuddled, thinking, €œAfter all we`ve done,
In these instances, because of unexpressed boundaries, the- relationships suffered. An important thing to remember about boundaries is that they exist, and they will affect us, whether or not we communicate them. In the same way that the alien suffered from not knowing the laws of Earth, we suffer when we do not communicate the reality of our boundaries. If our boundaries are not communicated and exposed directly, they will be communicated indirectly or through manipulation.
The Bible speaks to this issue in many places. Listen to the words of Paul: €œTherefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. €˜In your anger do not sin`: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Eph, 4:25-26), The biblical mandate is be honest and be in the light. Listen further, €œBut everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: €˜Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you`(Eph, 5: 13-14).
The Bible continually speaks of our being in the light and of the light as the only place where we have access to God and others. But, because of our fears, we hide aspects of ourselves in the darkness, where the devil has an opportunity. When our boundaries are in the light, that is, are communicated openly, our personalities begin to integrate for the first time. They become €œvisible, in Paul`s words, and then they become light. They are transformed and changed. Healing always takes place in the light.
David speaks of it in this way: €œSurely you desire truth in the inner parts: you teach me wisdom in the inmost place (Ps. 51:6). God wants real relationship with us and wants us to have real relationship with each other. Real relationship means that I am in the light with my boundaries and other aspects of myself that are difficult to communicate. Our boundaries are affected by sin; they €œmiss the mark, and need to be brought into the light for God to heal them and others to benefit from them. This is the path to real love: Communicate your boundaries openly.
Remember the story of the alien. The good news is that when God brings us out from an alien land, he does not leave us untaught. He rescued his people from the Egyptians, but, he taught them his principles and ways. These proved to be life to them. But, they had to learn them, practice them, and fight many battles to internalize these principles of faith.
God has probably led you out of captivity also. Whether it was from a dysfunctional family, the world, your own religious self-righteousness, or the scatteredness of being lost, he has been your Redeemer. But what he has secured needs to be possessed. The land to which he has brought you has certain realities and principles. Learn these as set forth in his Word, and you`ll find his kingdom a wonderful place to live,