“Boundaries are personal property lines that define who you are and who you are not, and influence all areas of your life.”
(Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, front flap, 1992).
Common Boundary Myths
- If I Set Boundaries, I’m Being Selfish
Selfishness is when we are fixated on our own wants or pleasures while ignoring or minimizing our care for others. Establishing healthy boundaries comes from the recognition that we are responsible for our own lives and therefore need to ensure that we are healthy to properly care for others. Boundaries enable us to say “no” to people and activities that are harmful to us or others so that we can properly steward our time, abilities, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors for the best care of others and ourselves.
- Boundaries are a Sign of Disobedience
Boundaries can be a sign of disobedience if we say “no” to good things for wrong reasons, but saying “no” in and of itself is not a sign of disobedience. The ability to decline may be a healthy exercise of saying “no” to an unreasonable request or allowing room to say “yes” to a great thing by saying “no” to a good thing.
- If I Begin Setting Boundaries, I Will Be Hurt By Others
It is true that some, but not all, people will get angry, aggressive, or passive aggressive when we start using healthy boundaries. “Boundaries are a ‘litmus test’ for the quality of our relationships. Those…who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness [even if they don’t agree with them]. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our no. They only love our yes, our compliance” (p 108).
- If I Set Boundaries, I will Hurt Others
“Boundaries are a defensive tool. Appropriate boundaries don’t control, attack, or hurt anyone” (p 110). Boundaries help protect us and they help others take responsibility for their lives while we take responsibility for our lives.
- Boundaries Mean That I Am Angry
Emotions are indicator lights. Anger is an emotion and may indicate that we are perceiving a threat to our boundaries. If anger isn’t dealt with properly, old angers from boundary crossing hurts can flare up when we think our newly established healthy boundaries are being threatened. In this way, old hurts can be exposed and given the opportunity to be healed (as long as we don’t try to ignore them, excuse them, or bury them) through our setting up boundaries, thus eventually making us less angry people.
- When Others Set Boundaries, It Injures Me
It is true that inappropriate boundaries can injures us, but we must avoid projecting our hurts onto others’ intentions or feelings. Feeling hurt from healthy boundaries can actually help expose areas that need help in our own hearts and maybe even a desire to avoid taking responsibility for our own lives or actions.
- Boundaries Cause Feelings of Guilt
Sometimes we have trouble establishing boundaries because of a misplaced feeling of obligation. There are those who give us love, time, and money (or anything else that we tend to feel obligated for receiving) as a gift because they care for us. A gift is something given freely, without strings, and does not need to be paid back. The appropriate response to a gift is “thank you” and not guilt or obligation.