Why We Need Boundaries
by Allison Bottke
Seldom does a day go by that I’m not reminded of the importance of setting boundaries. Of course, I may be more acutely aware of the topic because of this book series, but that doesn’t change the fact that many Christians seem to be having trouble with this aspect of life. I hear from confused and frustrated people all the time from all over the country. The entire concept of boundaries can be hard to grasp even for those of us who know we are living in the throes of boundary dysfunction.
There is no sugarcoating this truth. Without necessary boundaries, our lives become unmanageable. Period. But how do we know if poor boundaries are the problem?
Think of it this way. Let’s say we get into our car, turn the key, and nothing happens. There are only so many things that could be wrong. Are we out of fuel? If not, the next thing to check is the battery, then the alternator, then the carburetor, and so on. Addressing the possibilities one by one in a logical order is the best way to diagnose and fix the problem. Eventually, you (or a talented mechanic) will find the root of the problem. But think about it—if your car doesn’t start, the first thing you address probably won’t be the air in your tires.
It’s much the same in diagnosing what’s wrong in our challenging relationships with difficult people. There’s a “first things first” list to review, and at the top of that list is this: Check personal boundaries.
A successful relationship is comprised of two individuals who each has a clearly defined sense of his or her own identity and personal boundaries. It’s our responsibility (and no one else’s) to understand our identity and define our personal boundaries, to identify where we start and end and where the other person starts. Just as a property owner may be angry when someone trespasses on his land, so too we become angry and hurt when other people trespass our personal boundaries.
Yet if we don’t know what those boundaries are, how can we enforce our own or respect others’? Unclear boundaries can be one reason we have very destructive and dysfunctional relationships. On the other hand, depression, codependency, anxiety, and many other conditions can improve by becoming aware of and enforcing our personal boundaries.
For the past several years, I’ve had a desire to help laypeople like me get a handle on what interpersonal boundaries are, how they work, and how to improve our interaction with others. There are a great many books available on the topic from trained professionals, and I quote some of them in this book. However, trained professionals often resort to technical, clinical terms, such as enmeshment, triangulation, disassociation, subjugation, excessive detachment, victimhood or martyrdom, and of course the catchall, codependency.
But I’m not going to do that. You won’t need an advanced psychology degree to comprehend my theory or method. My advice for dealing with difficult people is based on experience and translating some of that clinical language the professionals use into everyday, understandable English.
Understanding what a boundary is and is not is critical if we’re to achieve our goal of finding freedom from challenging relationships. Being able to wrap our brains around the foundational principles of boundaries is an important first step on our road to finding SANITY.
Those of us raised in dysfunctional families have probably had little experience with healthy boundaries. A lack of proper boundaries is often at the root of dysfunction. Therefore, learning how to understand and establish boundaries must be an important goal in our personal growth. In order to achieve this, however, we must overcome things like low self-esteem and passivity. We must learn to identify and respect our rights and needs and become skilled at assertively taking care of ourselves in relationships. This process allows our true selves to emerge, and suddenly healthy boundaries become the fences that provide us with safety—something we may never have experienced in childhood.
Taken from: Setting Boundariesª with Difficult People. Copyright © 2011 by Allison Bottke. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.