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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

Say “Yes” to Respect in Dating

Respect is a necessary element for any couple to grow in love. Each person needs to feel that they are respected by the person they are getting to know. This involves creating boundaries in dating where both parties have esteem or regard for all aspects of the other. Respect is different from empathy, though any relationship needs both to be hand-in-hand. Empathy is the ability to feel another’s experience, especially painful ones. Respect is the ability to value another’s experience. You may not be able to actually empathize with someone, but you can always take a position of respect for them. For example, a guy may restrain himself from pushing his girlfriend sexually for either reason. He may feel deep compassion for the dilemma he is putting her in. Or he may restrain himself because he respects her right to make her own moral decisions. Relationships develop best when both empathy and respect are in place. When respect is present, the other person feels that he can be free to be who he is. He can be honest, and still feel connected and safe. He doesn’t worry that he will be attacked, humiliated, or treated poorly. When respect is absent,... Continue Reading »

Setting Boundaries with the Sins of Your Family

Susie had a problem that I (Dr. Townsend) had seen countless times before. This thirty-year-old woman would return from a visit to her parents’ home and suffer a deep depression. When she described her problem to me, I asked her if she noticed that every time she went home to visit, she came back extremely depressed. “Why that’s ridiculous,” she said. “I don’t live there anymore. How could the trip affect me this way?” When I asked her to describe the trip, Susie told of social gatherings with old friends and family times around the dinner table. These were fun, she said, especially when it was only family. “What do you mean ‘only family’?” I asked. “Well, other times my parents would invite some of my friends over, and I didn’t like those dinners as well.” “Why was that?” Susie thought for a minute and then replied, “I guess I start to feel guilty.” She began to recount the subtle remarks her parents would make comparing her friends’ lives to hers. They would talk of how wonderful it is for grandparents to have a “hands on” role in raising the children. They would talk of the community activities her friends... Continue Reading »

Why Do Nice People Attract Jerks?

The question that many people wonder is “If I’m nice, then why do I keep attracting such jerks?” They think that something is inherently wrong with them, and sometimes they can begin to get quite hopeless over their chances of finding good friends, someone good to date, or building a great marriage. The key to remember is that the reason why nice people attract jerks is that they are too adaptive in the beginning. If that person had had boundaries, the problem never would have happened. Or if it did, the problem would have been fixed first. People who are selfish and controlling can only be that way if they are in relationship with someone who is adaptive. If someone stands up to them and is honest about his or her wants and desires, then the controlling person has to learn to share or gets frustrated and goes away. Take these steps to avoid ending up in relationships that attract unhealthy people: Be honest about your preferences and desires. Don’t act like you like things other people like just so that you will be accepted. Being liked for who you are requires that you be that person. Tell the truth... 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 »