Is Complying Out of Fear the Same as Lying?

Many Christians fear that setting and keeping limits signals rebellion or disobedience. In religious circles you’ll often hear statements such as, “Your unwillingness to go along with our program shows an unresponsive heart.” Because of this myth, countless individuals remain trapped in endless activities of no genuine spiritual and emotional value. The truth is life-changing: a lack of boundaries is often a sign of disobedience. People who have shaky limits are often compliant on the outside, but rebellious and resentful on the inside. They would like to be able to say no, but are afraid. So they cover their fear with a half-hearted yes. Take Barry for example. He had almost made it to his car after church when Ken caught up with him. Here goes, Barry thought. Maybe I can still get out of this one. “Barry!” Ken boomed. “Glad I caught you!” The singles class officer in charge of Bible studies, Ken was a dedicated recruiter to the studies he presided over; however, he was often insensitive to the fact that not everyone wanted to attend his meetings. “So which study can I put you down for, Barry? The one on prophecy, evangelism, or the book of Mark?” Barry... Continue Reading »

When Someone Responds to Your Boundaries with Anger

When you establish a new boundary with someone else, the most common form of resistance one gets is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves. When they hear the word “no,” they have the same reaction a two-year-old has when deprived of something: “Bad Mommy!” They feel as though the one who deprives them of their wishes is “bad,” and they become angry. They are not righteously angry at a real offense. Nothing has been done “to them” at all. Someone will not do something “for them.” Their wish is being frustrated, and they get angry because they have not learned to delay gratification or to respect others’ freedom. The angry person has a character problem. If you reinforce this character problem, it will return tomorrow and the next day in other situations. It is not the situation that’s making the person angry, but the feeling that they are entitled to things from others. They want to control others and, as a result, they have no control over themselves. So, when they lose their wished-for ... Continue Reading »

Am I Being Selfish When I Set Boundaries?

“Now, wait a minute,” Teresa said, shaking her head. “How can I set limits on those who need me? Isn’t that living for me and not for God?” Teresa was voicing one of the main objections to boundary setting for Christians: a deep-seated fear of being self-centered, interested only in one’s own concerns and not those of others. It is absolutely true that we are to be a loving people. Concerned for the welfare of others. In fact, the number-one hallmark of Christians is that we love others (John 13:35). So don’t boundaries turn us from other-centeredness to self-centeredness? The answer is no. Appropriate boundaries actually increase our ability to care about others. People with highly developed limits are the most caring people on earth. How can this be true? First, let’s make a distinction between selfishness and stewardship. Selfishness has to do with a fixation on our own wishes and desires, to the exclusion of our responsibility to love others. Though having wishes and desires is a God-given trait (Proverbs 13:4), we are to keep them in line with healthy goals and responsibility. For one thing, we may not want what we need. Mr. Insensitive may desperately need help... Continue Reading »

How to Handle Guilt Messages from Your Mom

Tabitha telephoned her mother, who answered the phone weakly with hardly any voice at all. Concerned, thinking she was sick, Tabitha asked, “Mother, what’s wrong?” “I guess my voice doesn’t work very well anymore,” she replied. “No one calls me since you children left home.” No weapon in the arsenal of a controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. Daughters or sons with poor boundaries almost always internalize guilt messages leveled at them by their mother; they obey guilt-inducing statements that try to make them feel bad. Consider these: “How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?” “It seems that you could think about someone other than yourself for once.” “How can you abandon me like this?” “Maybe after I’m dead and gone, you’ll be sorry.” “How can you call yourself a Christian?” “Doesn’t the Bible say ‘Honor your parents’?” “You must really have a spiritual problem to be acting this way.” “You know how it’s turned out in the past when you haven’t listened to me.” “You have no idea how much I’ve sacrificed for you.” A mother who says these types of things is trying to make you feel guilty about your... Continue Reading »

What Boundaries Are Really All About

There is a lot of misunderstanding about boundaries, especially in the context of marriage. Some people are against boundaries because they see them as selfish. Other people actually use boundaries to be selfish. Both are wrong. Boundaries in marriage are basically about self-control. A client once said to me (Dr. Townsend), “I set some boundaries on my husband. I told him that he could not talk to me that way anymore. And it did not work. What do I do now?” “What you have done is not boundaries at all,” I replied. “What do you mean?” “It was your feeble attempt at controlling your husband, and that never works.” I went on to explain that boundaries are not something you “set on” another person. Boundaries are about yourself. My client could not say to her husband, “You can’t speak to me that way.” This demand is unenforceable. But she could say what she would or would not do if he spoke to her that way again. She could set a boundary “on herself.” She could say, “If you speak to me that way, I will walk out of the room.” This threat is totally enforceable because it has to do... Continue Reading »

Setting Boundaries at Work

While I (Dr. Cloud) was consulting with one of the biggest companies in North America, an employee told me, “We would be so much better off if my boss would set better boundaries on what goes on with individuals on our team. He plays the ‘nice guy’ role too much, and as a result, the team suffers.” Surprisingly, a lack of confrontation goes in the other direction as well. One vice president told me something I hear often as a consultant: “I wish my people would come clean with me. I wish they would tell me what they really think. I wish they would be more open and direct. But they are scared to do that.” If you are like most people, you spend a lot of your life at work. Work is a place with many possibilities for stress, conflict, risk, and loss. It is a place where you put in the best of who you are. You are serving, and at times sacrificing, trying to please, and also establishing friendships on the teams with whom you work. So it naturally follows that you can experience some emotionally trying times there. In addition, you have a job to do. Sometimes,... Continue Reading »

Let Go of Guilt-Centered Parenting

guilt

“I wasn’t there for him, so I avoided setting limits with him.” Ray was talking to me about his son Brad, who had begun drinking and running with a bad crowd. However, in assuming he would solve one problem, he actually created a second problem, and now his son was worse off. Fortunately, Ray saw the flaw in his thinking. A self-diagnosed workaholic, Ray had, from his own report, been too wrapped up in his career to connect adequately with his son. However, now that Brad’s problems were serious, Ray had reprioritized his life and was making up for lost time. I asked him, “Why did you think that not setting limits would help?” “I know, it doesn’t make sense. I think I felt guilty for not being there enough when Brad needed me. So I thought the time I did spend with him should be positive.” Guilt fueled Ray’s flawed thinking, as it does for many parents. Both guilt and fear are internal emotional states that often prevent parents from setting the right boundaries that can help a teen learn responsibility. So it’s important for you to understand how these emotions can affect your own parenting and what you... Continue Reading »

I Am in Control of My Choices

Boundaries

Any time is a great time to take stock of boundaries in our lives and renew the desire to take responsibility for our choices. This leads to the fruit of “self-control.” A common boundary problem is disowning our choices and trying to lay the responsibility for them on someone else. Think for a moment how often we use the phrases, “I had to” or “She (he) made me” when explaining why we did or did not do something. These phrases betray our basic illusion that we are not active agents in many of our dealings. We think someone else is in control, thus relieving us of our basic responsibility. We need to realize that we are in control of our choices, no matter how we feel. This keeps us from making choices to give “reluctantly or under compulsion,” as 2 Corinthians 9:7 says. Paul would not even accept a gift that he felt was given because the giver felt he “had to” give it. He once sent a gift back so “that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced” (see Philemon 1:14). Jesus said a similar thing to the worker who was angry about the wage for... Continue Reading »

Do This One Thing to Improve Any Relationship

People who want to improve a relationship often talk about talking. That is, they bring up what happened, what went wrong in their experience, and come up with solutions. Here are some examples: Remember when I said I needed space and listening, not solutions and homework assignments? It happened again; let’s fix this. I don’t want to sound childish, but I’ve been trying to be more open about the job problem, and it still feels as if you want just good news from me about work. I really need you to hang in there with me. It feels as if you’re impatient with me when I go to a deeper level now, as if I ought to have my act together. That’s hard for me; are you really feeling that way? When I brought up the problems I have with my dad, you lost eye contact and started talking about something else. This is really important for me; are you okay with all this? Is there a way I can do this differently, or do you not want me to talk about this with you? If you want a better relationship, be a team player with the other person. In... Continue Reading »

A Guaranteed Way to Create Trouble in a Relationship

I (Dr. Cloud) can still remember what happened that day when I was eight years old. I made a big mistake, but I didn’t know it at the moment. I thought I was getting back at my sister, who was sixteen at the time. Opportunities for revenge were few and far between, and I was not about to let this one slip by. Sharon and her friend were goofing around in the den when one of them threw a pillow and broke the overhead light. They quickly figured out a way to arrange the light in such a way that you could not tell it was broken. They thought that they were off the hook. Little did my sister know that she had a sociopathic little brother with a plan. When my father came home, I could not wait to tell him what they had done. I told him that they had broken the light, and he asked me to show him. I led him into the den, not knowing that Sharon and her friend were still in there. I was caught. Here he was, asking me about the broken light, and there they were, watching me seal my fate... Continue Reading »