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 »