Boundaries are anything that helps to differentiate you from someone else, or shows where you begin and end. (Read What Are Healthy Boundaries? for more information.) Here are some examples of boundaries.
The most basic boundary that defines you is your physical skin. People often use this boundary as a metaphor for saying that their personal boundaries have been violated: “He really gets under my skin.” Your physical self is the first way that you learn that you are separate from others. As an infant, you slowly learn that you are different from the mother or father who cuddles you.
Victims of physical and sexual abuse often have a poor sense of boundaries. Early in life they were taught that their property did not really begin at their skin. Others could invade their property and do whatever they wanted. As a result, they have difficulty establishing boundaries later in life.
In the physical world, a fence or some other kind of structure usually delineates a boundary. In the spiritual world, fences are invisible. Nevertheless, you can create good protective fences with your words.
The most basic boundary-setting word is no. It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you. Being clear about your no—and your yes—is a theme that runs throughout the Bible (Matt. 5:37; James 5:12).
No is a confrontational word. The Bible says that we are to confront people we love, saying, “No, that behavior is not okay. I will not participate in that.” The word no is also important in setting limits on abuse. Many passages of Scripture urge us to say no to others’ sinful treatment of us (Matt. 18:15–20).
Knowing the truth about God and his property puts limits on you and shows you his boundaries. Realizing the truth of his unchangeable reality helps you to define yourself in relation to him. When he says that you will reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7), for example, you either define yourself in relation to that reality or continue to get injured if you try to go against it. To be in touch with God’s truth is to be in touch with reality, and to live in accord with that reality makes for a better life (Ps. 119:2, 45).
There is always safety in the truth, whether it be knowing God’s truth or knowing the truth about yourself. Many people live scattered and tumultuous lives trying to live outside of their own boundaries, not accepting and expressing the truth of who they are. Honesty about who you are gives you the biblical value of integrity, or oneness.
Geographical Distance Boundaries
Proverbs 22:3 says that “the prudent see danger and take refuge.” Sometimes physically removing yourself from a situation will help maintain boundaries. You can do this to replenish yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually after you have given to your limit, as Jesus often did.
Or you can remove yourself to get away from danger and put limits on evil. The Bible urges us to separate from those who continue to hurt us and to create a safe place for ourselves. Removing yourself from the situation will also cause the one who is left behind to experience a loss of fellowship that may lead to changed behavior (Matt. 18:17–18; 1 Cor. 5:11–13).
Taking time off from a person or a project can be a way of regaining ownership over some out-of- control aspect of your life where boundaries need to be set.
Adult children who have never spiritually and emotionally separated from their parents often need time away. They need to spend some time building boundaries against the old ways and creating new ways of relating that for a while may feel alienating to their parents. This time apart usually improves their relationship with their parents.
Emotional Distance Boundaries
Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never a permanent way of living. People who have been in abusive relationships need to find a safe place to begin to “thaw out” emotionally.
You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment. If you have been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe and until real patterns of change have been demonstrated before you go back.
These are just a few examples of boundaries in relationships. To learn more about boundaries, and the importance of other people and consequences in setting and keeping boundaries, get The New York Times bestseller Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
Adapted from the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.