How to Set Limits on Yourself

BoundariesSarah 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.


Click to Tweet: Just as the branch withers without the vine, we can sustain neither life nor emotional repair without bonding to God and others.


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.


Ready to go deeper on this topic? Discover how to set healthy limits in any situation and prevent unnecessary burdens from controlling your peace and energy in The New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries.


  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.

    • Molly says

      I also agree. Many in my church are nice but clearly not interested in vulnerability or even squeezing you into their schedule. I’ve found the best relationships are in my ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics-Dysfunctional Families). There it is raw and real. We acknowledge that no one has it together and we’re happier for it as we work to recognize detrimental patterns & our same-ness. So much better than the toxic outside that is today in and out of church, unfortunately.

    • Jan says

      Unfortunately I agree, but I have also learned that if you ask God to put like minded believers in our path, He will and that becomes the body of Christ. Not a building where prideful, people gather.

  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.

  8. Missy Toney says

    I remembered going through hardship and withdrew. Then I prayed that GOD surrounds me with believers, who will speak life, grace, and mercy of GOD into my situation. And my prayer was answered. I first had to strengthen my relationship in Christ. Once I began that process then the ability to set boundaries within myself became easier; thus, I was able to re-engage in Church. I didn’t expect judgement and yet I did not give judgement-even if it was just in my own thoughts. That was one of the boudaries I learned and stil practice. The body of Christ is everywhere and where there is the Spirit of GOD there is liberty. May GOD continues to Bless!

  9. Eileen says

    I have found the Body of Christ to be a good place to start my journey of healing. I agree that not everyone in the church is caring or kind. The church is made up of sinners! Sinners like you and me that have been saved by grace in all our the different stages of growth. We were made for community, to help each other on our journeys. We certainly are not perfect! Yet, it was in this imperfect place that I was loved back to wholeness. It was there that I learned to trust God, trust those gifted and caring individuals who would speak the truth to me, listen to my story and help me learn to be a woman who loves and is loved by God. Please don’t look for a perfect person to help you. Look for the ones that are willing listeners, natural care givers and will go the distance with you. They do exist!

    • William says

      Amen! Restoration of the heart begins with my personal connection with God. When I have overcome I can be a source of encouragement to the church. A great example is that of Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus had a personal encounter that changed him and restored him back to the society. A society that despised Tax collectors at the time. And because of this , we see Zacchaeus making a commitment to give back what he had taken from people. Whatever hurts we have Jesus Christ and not the church provides that healing. The church , which is you and I, is a group of spiritual beggars who found bread and are willing to share with others. Is it perfect? No! But as we draw closer to God , Christ is formed more and more in our character which becomes a representation of Christ.

  10. Lois says

    All these comments are so sad to me, and I feel bad that these are the experiences people had. My husband is the pastor of our church, and we love people, working very closely with them to help with their struggles. We listen, pray, encourage, and offer kind words. We have Bible studies and classes for people to be part of. There are good churches out there who care and will point you to a healing relationship with the Lord.

  11. Robin says

    I too am sad to read the comments about the churches some of the posters attend. It took a very long time but I found my home church. They have Celebrate Recovery and Life Skills classes that cover some really difficult issues people face and have lived through. I have been in groups at my church where I could be honest and open and vulnerable. I have heard others share their’s. I had the resources and love to work through so much in my life.

    I truly believe if a person doesn’t feel safe or able to be their true self, maybe it’s time to find a new church. Or maybe it’s time to volunteer and help make your church better for the body.

    People will let us down, whether it’s a pastor or a peer. God never lets us down. Pray and see where you are lead to be. Like me, you may attend a dozen churches until you find your Home Church.

  12. Courtney says

    Thank you for caring about people how God wants us to! We need more churches like your who love and care about the people, it also makes me so sad to read these comments , God has always guided me to the right place, I am so thankful I found a church who I can be open and honest with!! For what it’s worth I am truly sorry for anyone who has to go through that! The church is suppose to be the ones who love and accept people, it’s not meant to be this way!

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