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. To listen to people we trust. And to confess, “I was wrong.”

Since the Fall, our instincts have been to withdraw from relationship when we’re in trouble, when we most need other people. (Remember how Adam and Eve hid from God after they ate the forbidden fruit?) Due to our lack of security, our loss of grace, our shame, and our pride, we turn inward, rather than outward, when we’re in trouble. And that’s a problem. As Ecclesiastes 4:10 puts it, “Woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”

Such withdrawal happens in our program time after time. For the first time, hurting people come forth with their need for connection. Like a rose lifting its petals after a hard rain, they begin to relate and connect in the light of the grace of God and his people. Then an unexpected setback will occur. Instead of bringing the painful and frightening feelings and problems to their newfound relationships, these people will often retreat to work out the problem alone.

It is only when this attempt at a solution breaks down that they finally realize that these spiritual pains and burdens need to be brought out of themselves to the body of Christ. Truly every person needs to feel very secure before she will risk taking her spiritual and emotional problems to other people.

And yet the Bible doesn’t recognize any other answer to our problems. Grace must come from the outside of ourselves to be useful and healing. Just as the branch withers without the vine, we can sustain neither life nor emotional repair without bonding to God and others. God and his people are the fuel, the energy source from which any problem is addressed.

Whether our boundaries issue is food, substances, sex, time, projects, the tongue, or money, we can’t solve it in a vacuum. If we could, we would. But the more we isolate ourselves, the harder our struggle becomes. Just like an untreated cancer can become life-threatening in a short time, self-boundary problems will worsen with increased aloneness. We need to the body of Christ to heal and to grow up.


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  1. Linda says

    I personally don’t feel that turning to “the body of Christ,” i.e., the church is the answer, because the church is pretty sick and dysfunctional. Looking to get water from a dry well is a losing proposition.

    Now, if you can find a group that is working on its boundary issues together, that’s different. It levels the playing field, and hopefully people are more focused on addressing their own boundary issues than someone else’s. We are all experts at seeing the failings of others; it’s a totally different challenge to see and address our own shortcomings.

    • Jill Lamson says

      I really smiled when I read this and agree, unfortunately, that and $3.50 will get you a cup of coffee. People who care about their spiritual health are out there but we have to be looking, searching and praying. When I do find someone that is wanting more like myself, I start a relationship even if they are not in my church or not even in the same city! I love the people in my little church but if I depended on them for growth I would still be isolated and depressed.

    • Brit says

      “I personally don’t feel that turning to “the body of Christ,” i.e., the church is the answer, because the church is pretty sick and dysfunctional. Looking to get water from a dry well is a losing proposition.”

      Wow Linda I agree. I have been staying out of church and turning more to small groups for help. I have a problem with dating other women and church people seem to not understand, The church can be antagonistic. I have found that reading thru the boundaries series has been helpful. It restored my free time.

    • Brit says

      “I personally don’t feel that turning to “the body of Christ,” i.e., the church is the answer, because the church is pretty sick and dysfunctional. Looking to get water from a dry well is a losing proposition.”

      Linda, I agree.

    • roses says

      Some boundary issues are so shameful to an individual, that a group would be totally intimidating to approach and so I thought a friend is needed. What does one do if even the friend lets you down and you cannot afford a therapist?

      I have to admit that the church environment can sometimes be limiting. However, the body of christ has a duty to all believers and all believers make up that body of christ. We all need to continue to use the body of christ and speak up where it falls short in meeting our needs. Turning away to form other groups is what the denominations started with.

      Fill the gaps with grace from G-d.

    • Debbie says

      I agree. Church is not where you go to heal. And in my experience is the worst place to go to trust someone with issues that need healing. I don’t know that there is a safe place to heal outside oneself, other than a therapist maybe.

  2. Melissa Cosgrove says

    This is so me. Withdraw into myself. Though it seemed others stepped away as well and not REALLY interested. I have been hearing the word though and I am going to make an effort to be part of a group.

  3. Joyce says

    We left our church when we were dismissed from leading/playing the music because we have a different theological view than they do, i.e. egalitarian vs. complimentarian. We do not have any friends with whom we can talk at this point. And it is tough. Only God will see us through this abuse. .

  4. TERRESA S says

    The most “outstanding” struggle or issue in the life of my family right now is consider very ugly and heinous within the church and man’s view. There are many, many other sins that I (and my family members have committed). I believe what the Lord says about “Woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” I also know that what is done in secret will be brought to the light. And this issue has been- a couple of times- most recently creating a huge wedge between me and my extended family (my side not my husband’s) and great unforgiveness and bitterness from my children towards us as parents. And yet, the church are the very ones who are “shunning” the sinner. How do we all receive healing from this? I don’t trust counselors unless they are like minded with what you all teach. We are seriously struggling physically, mentally and emotionally, spiritually and even financially. And I’m not sure how much longer we can hold on. It feels like we are being ripped apart at the seams and an explosion is inevitable.

  5. gina says

    My heart hurts for the responses I’m reading on this thread. But I get it. I have attended churches where all I did was cover up my flaws and insecurities. And when I did seek help, I felt patronized.
    I now attend Celebrate Recovery and a church where our pastor and several of the leaders have a recovery background. It’s not always a “neat and tidy” church experience, but it’s real, and when people ask you how things are going, they really want to know, and you can feel safe telling them, whether it’s a struggle with your marriage, your kid, or you are trying not to drink again, I have never felt more connected and cared for. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it beats that “church face /everything’s great” mentality.
    Prayers for y’all that you find a REAL body of believers.

  6. Michelle Buschini says

    I am sad to say I agree with overall comments – church has not been a place of acceptance or love, but of rejection & judgement. I take my habits, hurts & hang-ups to Jesus. He relived my loneliness & filled my need for acceptance. My husband is also my best friend & we are equally yoked. Other than that I have two sisters in Christ I have known for 20 years & 8 years. Looking to “church” has been futile as most people seem so distracted, self-absorbed & detached they are to “busy” for deep authentic growing relationships.

  7. Darla says

    It is hard to build trusting relationships within the body of Christ, hard but not impossible. I have found my brothers and sisters in Christ to be as receptive to me as I am open and honest with them. I am as loved as I am loving. People are busy but it is amazing to see them drop everything to assist one in need and it is a comfort to know i am not alone. I quit taking it personally when my needs are not met if i have not made them known. Isolation never get us anywhere good, for me it has be the cause of much heartache and misunderstanding. I reach out to my brothers and sisters in Christ, trusting God, and when I do, i receive the blessings He intends for me. I am make myself available to them so God can use me in the same way. He makes me a blessing.

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