Personal Boundaries

All problems in life, and in Christian marriages, may be divided into those we can do something about and those that we have no influence over. Every one of our problems is either within the sphere of our control or it is not, e.g. it is inside or outside our personal boundary. For many of you, this probably brings to mind the very helpful Serenity Prayer, which I do recommend praying, especially when considering the topic at hand:

“God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Your personal boundary marks the line between what you control and what you don’t. Solving problems begins with the creation of and familiarity with a healthy, mature and integrated personal emotional boundary. This will help you to easily distinguish what you can control, and LET GO of what you cannot. Spending your emotional energy on what you cannot control is called emotional SUFFERING. And while the Bible tells us in 1 Peter 2:21 that “…suffering is all part of what God has called [us] to…,” this type of unhealthy, self-inflicted suffering is not what is being referred to. (Check the context.) In fact, just a couple chapters later, in 1 Peter 5:7, we read: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you.”

Continuing on…. Without realizing it, once developed, you often rip HOLES in your own boundaries. When you permit things you have no control over to dictate your emotional responses, your personal boundary is punctured. For example, whenever you use the word SHOULD, you allow the outside circumstances that you cannot control, yank your chain. Some typical examples are: “She should not disrespect me that way”, or “He should love me better.” (Feel free to add those hundreds of your own.) Instead, concentrate on what YOU can do about it now (within your control and INSIDE your boundary) instead of what should be or, even worse, what should HAVE BEEN. What difference does it makes if you think that she should not have treated you that way, or that the earth should be flat? Yes, you may wish, but you, unfortunately cannot change the past events or the present reality. Remember what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13: “I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” Concentrate on what you CAN do about it and CREATE the future by acting within your personal boundary. You cannot predict the future, but you can help shape it by pressing on with a new attitude, and productive, rather than destructive actions.

Your personality is determined by your preferences, i.e. saying YES to some things and NO to others, consistently. Your likes and dislikes determine your personality. I find it helpful to pray regularly, “Lord, help me to love what You love, and hate what you hate.” If you are wishy-washy about your preferences and what you like and dis-like you are open to punching holes in your boundary, thus having a “weak personality”. Your personality is being invaded from outside and that translates into SUFFERING. We are likewise told in James 1:6-7, “A doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can’t make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do.” This is obviously not a desirable position to allow yourself to drift into.

When your personal boundary is solid, you are capable of saying NO and honoring NO (See Matthew 7:37 regarding letting your No be No. The original context is different, but this is still very applicable).  When you walk in integrity in this way, you are well protected from STRESS. Say NO to stress and it goes away. (Isaiah 26:3 – “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!”)

Stress originates in uncontrollable environments, outside your boundary. As you pray (See Philippians 4:6-7), which is obviously always a recommended first course of action, you can also say no to any influence from outside of your boundary. Holes in your boundary are the places you have trouble “saying NO” or “hearing NO”. Saying NO to things that you don’t prefer and being able to take NO for an answer will only strengthen your boundary. People who have “their buttons pushed” or let others “get under their skin” have very porous boundaries. People whose buttons cannot be easily be pushed, and people with “thick skin” have strong personal boundaries. People who can easily be manipulated by SHAME, or made to feel GUILTY need to start seriously working on their boundaries. God always addresses his children in love.  He uses conviction, but never condemnation.  Romans 8:1 tells us there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  As you work on strengthening your boundaries, be careful, though. You may build impermeable WALLS around you.

Boundary WALLS may be just as detrimental to your relationship as boundary HOLES.  Sometimes we learn our lessons “the hard way” and plug the boundary hole too tightly. If your previous relationship was “bad”, say, you were emotionally manipulated, you might have promised yourself “never again” and close yourself to intimacy with ANYONE. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a good example of how men who came from combat are “unable to feel” anything. It is not that they are unable, they just say NO to intimacy and feelings. They have been hurt too many times and now build thick walls around themselves that even the most loving partner, or any member of their closest family cannot penetrate. You’ve also heard people get into generalizations such as: All men are_____, or women are______. That’s how walls are built: making generalizations out of you own narrow experience. Being a hermit is just as bad as wearing your heart on your sleeve, as Paul Dobran­sky, MD would say.  God made us in His own image, for loving relationships.   This truth is modeled within His triune nature, where He has relationship with Himself – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  We are not complete as God designed us if we cut ourselves from loving relationships.  Remember, “It is not good for man to be alone”  (Genesis 2:18).

In conclusion: it is a matter of your integrity, mental health, and personal development to create and develop familiarity with a mature and integrated personal emotional boundary.  To live and operate out of this boundary with allow you to say no with conviction when necessary, and in so doing, develop strong personal character.  This will in turn, promote a healthy, independent dependency on Christ.  At the same time, you will be empowered to accept no as an answer from others, which will foster mutually beneficial interpersonal relationships that are not co-dependent, controlling or smothering, and might I add, Biblically essential!  Sounds like a win-win to me!


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