Editor’s Note: Lysa TerKeurst’s powerful new book Good Boundaries and Goodbyes challenges us, as believers, to live in a more Christlike way when it comes to difficult situations and relationships by loving people in the form of setting appropriate boundaries and keeping them. Enjoy this excerpt!
What if, when trying to apply your boundaries in an emotionally charged moment, you lose your resolve, because the other person makes statements that confuse you, make you question the validity of this boundary, or accuse you in ways that hurt? You need to be prepared to know what to do.
See if you’ve heard any of these types of statements from others. Assess whether these statements have contributed to you giving up on setting boundaries with certain people.
When they say:
“What I did isn’t that big of a deal. You’re being so dramatic.” “You are being overly sensitive.”
“And you call yourself a Christian?! Jesus wouldn’t treat people this way.”
“I thought Christians were supposed to be forgiving.” “You’ve got such a hard heart. Jesus would have never walked away.”
“This is just more evidence of you being controlling and unforgiving.”
“Jesus loved all people and gave grace no matter what. So, what’s your problem?”
“You don’t seem like yourself. You’ve changed.”
“I’m so disappointed in you.”
“You’re just crazy and this is irrational.”
“You’re so selfish. All you care about is yourself.” “Seriously?! How can you be so mean after all I’ve done for you?”
“You’re so off base. Drawing boundaries isn’t biblical.” “But you’re my (wife, daughter, best friend, mother, sister). Acting this way toward me is out of order and unacceptable.”
Here’s why these statements are so triggering:
- They are offensive. They aren’t an accurate picture of what’s true about who we are. Being misunderstood is so brutal because someone else is taking liberties with our identity.
- They are threatening. When someone makes hurtful accusations and pushes against our boundaries, it can feel as if whatever this relationship is providing for us will be taken away and some need in us will go unmet.
- They are disillusioning. When someone else makes us question our need for the boundary, we can second-guess reality, our sanity, our rationality, and even the severity of what’s really going on. We can easily start to wonder if the real problem is us rather than considering the source and why we are in this hard dynamic in the first place.
It is so very important that we are aware of all three of these feelings that can make us vulnerable to not establishing wise boundaries. Here’s the first thing we need to notice about the effects of these triggering statements: they are each evidence that we need to establish a boundary with this person.
And here’s the second thing to notice: if we are afraid that this person will think poorly of us, potentially abandon us, or try to make us feel crazy for taking a step toward making the relationship healthy, chances are even higher that, without wise boundaries, they will eventually do all three of these things to us. (Dear me: read that last sentence one more time... maybe ten more times.)
- Unhealthy people typically don’t manage their emotions and expectations (self-regulate) very well and can easily get offended when their lack of responsibility doesn’t become your emergency.
Their thought process is often that their need trumps your limitations. And the telltale sign of their unhealthiness is their unwillingness to accept no as an answer without trying to make you feel terrible, punished, or unsure about the necessity of the boundary.
If we want to stay healthy, we have to use our limited energy in the right way. We could waste years putting all our efforts into trying to change the other person’s mind or prove to them why we need the boundary, or worst of all, we could drop the boundary altogether and continue living in dysfunction.
Let me state something crucial. I don’t want us to suddenly start categorizing everyone around us as healthy or not healthy. But we must pay attention to those who accept our healthy boundaries and those who resist them.
The apostle Paul addresses some key components to love:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
What I like about Philippians 1:9–10 is that the love here is associated with knowledge and discernment. So, the inverse is also true. A lack of wisdom and discernment is actually unloving. Sometimes we only associate love as a feeling. But we have to remember that biblical love is an intentional action where we want what’s best for us and the other person. Keeping this in mind, when setting boundaries our heart posture should be one of wisdom and discernment for the sake of true and healthy love.
Healthy people who desire healthy relationships don’t have an issue with other people’s healthy boundaries.
Hebrews 5:14 reminds us that mature people “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” That word distinguish means someone can discern more readily what is the right way to treat someone and what is not acceptable. What someone should say and what someone probably shouldn’t say. And just because a person can do something, doesn’t mean she should do that thing. Discerning and choosing one’s actions carefully leads to a wisdom that those around them can trust.
Healthy people are mature people. They seek to
- understand your concerns,
- discuss any issues that the need for the boundary reveals, and
- respect your limits.
Remember, healthy people who desire healthy relationships know how to be responsible with the access you give them. For example, if they borrow your car, chances are they won’t return it on empty. But if they do, you can let them know that if they want to borrow it again, they just need to replace the gas they use. And they should see that as a reasonable request without making you feel anything less than generous.
Even if someone doesn’t like a boundary you have set, healthy people know the difference between hurt and harm. A friend who constantly runs late may feel hurt that you are no longer willing to ride with her to events but can recognize your boundary wasn’t put in place to cause her any harm. She won’t think that you’re selfish and rude. Nor will she blame her issues on you. And she certainly won’t diminish your identity, disrupt your safety, or disregard your assessment of reality. She’ll either adjust her untimeliness and ride with you or just meet you at the event. Either way, she will respect you enough to respect your boundaries.
Healthy people understand your limits because they are in touch with their own limitations. They communicate what they can and cannot do — what they are and are not willing to tolerate. And they expect you to do the same.
Understanding this can help us realize sometimes the problem isn’t that we aren’t good at setting healthy boundaries. Maybe we aren’t good at recognizing that we won’t get healthy results from unhealthy relationships.
Somewhere in all the looking around at others for validation, we’ve stopped looking up.
- If we are living honest lives that honor God, we must not forget that people not liking our boundary does not mean we aren’t living right before God.
When someone says something that hurts or offends us when we draw a boundary, it can be good to check ourselves. Is any part of this an attempt on our part to do harm, control, retaliate, check out, or give ourselves permission to be irresponsible? While checking ourselves is healthy, questioning our identity is not.
Checking ourselves means looking at a current attitude or behavior to see if it is in line with God’s instructions and wisdom. Questioning our identity is doubting who we are because we have given too much power to other people by letting their opinions define us.
I don’t know any other way to say this except to be absolutely direct: If our identity, the foundational belief we hold of who we are, is tied to an opinion someone has of us, we need to reassess. We must be honest with how much access to our heart we’ve given to this person. It’s not bad to give someone access to our heart but when we give an unhealthy person too much access, it can shake us to our core. When their opinion of us starts to affect how we see ourselves, we can lose sight of the best parts of who we are because we get entangled in the exhausting pursuit of trying to keep that relationship intact no matter the cost. And when this is the cycle we are caught in, sometimes we would rather manage people’s perceptions of us than care for ourselves and the relationship by putting appropriate boundaries in place.
When we give people personal access to us, those people must be responsible with it. And emotional access to our hearts is especially important.
Excerpted with permission from Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.
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People not liking our boundaries doesn’t mean that we’re not living right before God. We mustn’t let unhealthy people control us or have too much access to our hearts so that their negative opinion shakes us. God’s is the only opinion that matters! ~ Devotionals Daily