This is the path to real love: Communicate your boundaries openly.
-Cloud and Townsend
I have recommended the book, Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend to no small number of individuals I have counseled over the past few years. I am ashamed to say that I, personally, have never read it. This is not because I do not have boundary issues- goodness knows we all do- but rather, is simply because I’ve never taken the time to read it (read: I am a slacker).
I have been labelled as “codependent” from a counselor in the past, and fully own that title. Being codependent goes hand in hand with having boundary issues. Though I have worked hard on these issues for upwards of 4 years now, I still have not mastered them- and do not expect I ever will- but I am much, much better.
In talking with a friend this week who was struggling to set boundaries in several relationships, I was reminded once again of how central boundaries are to living a healthy life. My friend was literally exhausted as she tried to please others in her life and avoid hurting their feelings. As I encouraged her to confront people, a nagging voice in my head reminded me that I am not as good as I would like to think in such areas.
So, here I am, finally reading Boundaries, and hoping to be able to say ‘no’ more often and confront people more judiciously.
You may be thinking that having a goal to say ‘no’ and confront people sounds harsh and unloving. I encourage you to read the book to more fully understand how setting boundaries can in fact be the most loving thing you do, how confronting may hurt people but also can help them (rather than saying yes- out of fear rather than love- and harming them), and how “Honesty about who you are gives you the biblical value of integrity, or oneness” (35).
I’ll leave you with an excerpt that is perhaps at the core of counseling at times:
A boundary is a property line. It defines where you begin and end…You do not exist in a vacuum. You exist in relation to God and others. Your boundaries define you in relation to others.
The whole concept of boundaries has to do with the fact that we exist in relationship. Therefore, boundaries are really about relationship, and finally about love…
Your boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them in relationship. We have many boundary problems because of relational fears. We are beset by fears of guilt, not being liked, loss of love, loss of connection, loss of approval, receiving anger, being known, and so on. These are all failures in loved, and God’s plan is that we learn how to love. These relational problems can only be solved in relationships, for that is the context of the problems themselves, and the context of spiritual existence.
Because of these fears, we try to have secret boundaries. We withdraw passively and quietly, instead of communicating an honest no to someone we love. We secretly resnt instead of telling someone that we are angry about how they have hurt us. Often, we will privately endure the pain of someone’s irresponsibility instead of telling them how their behavior affects us and other loved ones, information that would be helpful to their soul.
In other situations, a partner will secretly comply with her spouse, not offering her feelings or opinions for twenty years, and then suddenly “express” her boundaries by filing for divorce. Or parents will “love” their children by giving in over and over for years, not setting limits, and resenting the love they are showing. The children grow up never feeling loved, because of the lack of honesty, and their parents are befuddled, thinking, “After all we’ve done.”
In these instances, because of unexpressed boundaries, the relationships suffered. An important thing to remember about boundaries is that they exist, and they will affect us, whether or not we communicate them. In the same way that the alien suffered from not knowing the laws of Earth, we suffer when we do not communicate the reality of our boundaries. If our boundaries are not communicated and exposed directly, they will be communicated indirectly or through manipulation.
The Bible speaks to this issue in many places. Listen to the words of Paul: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’:(Eph. 4:25-26). The biblical mandate is be honest and be in the light. Listen further, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'” (Eph. 5:13-14)
The Bible continually speaks of our being in the light and of the light as the only place where we have access to God and others. But, because of our fears, we hide aspects of ourselves in the darkness, where the devil has an opportunity. When our boundaries are in the light, that is, are communicated openly, our personalities begin to integrate for the first time. They become “visible,” in Paul’s words, and then they become light They are transformed and changed. Healing always takes place in the light.
Stay tuned for more of my reflections on Boundaries…