Boundaries Protect, But They Also Do This

To see how setting limits plays out in relationships, it’s important to understand that there are two types of boundaries – defining boundaries and protective boundaries. Each kind of boundary has a distinct purpose. It’s important that you learn the difference, because defining should become permanent in your life, while protective boundaries are the ones you can move “beyond.” Defining boundaries are values that establish who you are and who you are not. They are at the core of your identity and reflect what you believe is important and valuable in life. Here are a few examples: I follow God and his ways and will always live my life in him. I love my family and friends, and I will treat them with grace and truth. I know my mission and purpose in life, and I will not divert from it. I say and receive the truth; I’m neither silent in saying it nor defensive in receiving it. These defining boundaries help you and others know the real you, the person who has substance and stands for things that matter. They help guide your decisions and directions in life. Here are some examples of how defining boundaries might be used... Continue Reading »

Love Is as Love Does

George sat in my (Dr. Cloud’s) office, despondent. His wife, Janet, whom he loved deeply, had just moved out because he had lost another job. A very talented person, George seemed to have everything he needed for success. But he had lost several good jobs because of his irresponsibility and inability to follow through. Bosses loved the talent but hated the performance. And after several family disruptions because of his failures, Janet had had enough. “I love her so much,” George said to me. “Doesn’t she see that?” “I believe that you love her,” I said. “But in reality, I don’t think that she does. All she sees is the effect your behavior has had on her and the children, and she asks herself, ‘How can he love us and treat us this way?’ You cannot just love someone and not deliver. Love without the fruits of love is really not love in the end. She feels very unloved because of what you have put her through.” If George was to have a chance of winning Janet back, it would not come through one more empty promise. He needed to develop boundaries to gain the self-control that would make him... Continue Reading »

Boundaries Back at You — How to Set Limits on Yourself

Sarah had been working on major boundaries 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. “I 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.” “Why haven’t you mentioned her before?” I asked. “Because 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? Instead of looking at the control and manipulation of others, we also need to be looking at our responsibility to control our internal boundary conflicts. This can get a little touchy. But, instead of a defensive posture, we are much better off to look humbly at ourselves. To ask for feedback from others.... Continue Reading »

Why Responsible People Enable Irresponsible People

Susie was an administrative assistant in a small company that planned training sessions for different industries. She was responsible for booking the training sessions and managing the speakers’ schedules. Her coworker, Jack, was responsible for the training facilities. He took the materials to the site, set up the equipment, and ordered the food. Together, Susie and Jack made the events happen. After a few months of really liking her work, though, Susie began to lose energy. Eventually, her friend and coworker, Lynda, asked her what was wrong. Susie couldn’t put her finger on the problem at first. Then she realized: The problem was Jack! Jack had been asking Susie to “pick this up for me while you’re out,” or “please bring this box of materials to the workshop.” Slowly, Jack was shifting his responsibilities onto Susie. “You have to stop doing Jack’s work,” Lynda told Susie. “Just do your own work and don’t worry about him.” “But what if things go wrong?” Susie asked. Lynda shrugged. “Then they’ll blame Jack. It’s not your responsibility.” “Jack will be angry with me for not helping,” Susie said. “Let him,” said Lynda. “His anger can’t hurt you as much as his poor work... Continue Reading »

How to Move from Stuckness to Success by Dr. John Townsend

All of us want to be a success in life. We want a career that is fulfilling and that creates a sustainable lifestyle. We want relationships and family connections that are warm and intimate. We want to give back in service to the world in some way. Yet so often, we find ourselves stuck, in getting from where we are, to where we want to be. If you have found yourself stuck instead of successful in some area of life, it is likely that there is some sort of a problem in your being free to make the choices you need to make. That is, you may not be executing the right boundaries to help you move forward. When you set healthy boundaries in the right way, really good things can happen. What follows are three tips to help you move from stuck to successful. Determine What You Want Versus What Others Want from You This is a critical boundary to set. Often, we think of what others expect before we know what we really want in life. Yet the Bible tells us to make choices all the time, for example who we worship: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you... Continue Reading »

Boundaries Let the Good in and Keep the Bad Out

Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence.” We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures (Matt. 7:6) so that people will not steal them. They keep the pearls inside, and the pigs outside. Sometimes, we have bad on the inside and good on the outside. In these instances, we need to be able to open up our boundaries to let the good in and the bad out. In other words, our fences need gates in them. For example, if I find that I have some pain or sin within, I need to open up and communicate it to God and others, so that I can be healed. Confessing pain and sin helps to “get it out” so that it does not continue to poison me on the inside (1 John 1:9; James 5:16; Mark 7:21 – 23). And when the good is on the outside, we need to open our gates and “let... Continue Reading »

A Little Boundary Clarification Goes a Long Way

The parents of a twenty-five-year-old man came to see me (Dr. Townsend) with a common request: they wanted me to “fix” their son, Bill. When I asked where Bill was, they answered, “Oh, he didn’t want to come.” “Why?” I asked. “Well, he doesn’t think he has a problem,” they replied. “Maybe he’s right,” I said, to their surprise. “Tell me about it.” They recited a history of problems that had begun at a very young age. Bill had never been “quite up to snuff” in their eyes. In recent years he had exhibited problems with drugs and an inability to stay in school and find a career. It was apparent that they loved their son very much and were heartbroken over the way he was living. They had tried everything they knew to get him to change and live a responsible life, but all had failed. He was still using drugs, avoiding responsibility, and keeping questionable company. They told me that they had always given him everything he needed. He had plenty of money at school so “he wouldn’t have to work and he would have plenty of time for study and a social life.” When he flunked out... Continue Reading »

Common Signs of a Lack of Boundaries with Family

Let’s look at some common signs of a lack of boundaries with the family we grew up in. Catching the Virus A common scenario is this: one spouse doesn’t have good emotional boundaries with the family he grew up in — his family of origin. Then when he has contact with them by phone or in person, he becomes depressed, argumentative, self-critical, perfectionistic, angry, combative, or withdrawn. It is as though he “catches” something from his family of origin and passes it on to his immediate family. His family of origin has the power to affect his new family in a trickle-down effect. One sure sign of boundary problems is when your relationship with one person has the power to affect your relationships with others. You are giving one person way too much power in your life. I remember one young woman who made steady gains in therapy until she talked to her mother, when she would withdraw for three weeks. She would say things like, “I’m not changing at all. I’m not getting any better.” Fusing with many of her mother’s ideas about her, she wasn’t able to stay separate. This fusion with her mother affected her other relationships.... Continue Reading »

Boundaries and Emotional Blackmail

“Every time I disagree with my mother, even on little things, I feel this terrible sense that she’s not there anymore,” mused Ingrid over coffee with her friend Alice. “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 person’s refusal to give support, to be intimate, or to forgive. Yet good relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Good relationships are built on appropriate no’s. Even when we’re children, young or old, we need to know our boundaries will be honored. It is crucial that our disagreements, our practicing of saying no, and our experimentation will not result in a withdrawal of love. How often do we hear the statement that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”? It’s true. His love is constant and never fails. When parents detach from a misbehaving young child instead of staying connected and dealing with the problem, God’s constant love is misrepresented. When parents pull away in... Continue Reading »

How to Test the Quality of Any Relationship

Usually the quiet one in her group, Debbie spoke up. The topic of discussion was “conflict resolution,” and she couldn’t be silent another second. “I know how to present facts and arguments about my opinion in a caring way. But my husband will walk out on me if I start disagreeing! Now what do I do?” Debbie’s problem is shared by many. She genuinely believes in boundaries, but she is terrified of their consequences. Is it possible that others will become angry at our boundaries and attack or withdraw from us? Absolutely. God never gave us the power or the right to control how others respond to our no. Some will welcome it; some will hate it. We can’t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a “litmus test” for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our “no.” They only love our “yes,” our compliance. So what does Debbie, whose husband is an avowed “boundary buster,” do? Will her husband carry out his threat to walk... Continue Reading »