There is a designated air space around a military installation. This airspace is a safety zone. Radar detects any unauthorized aircraft entering that airspace because it means a threat. Boundaries are like air space. They are the invisible space around us that mark off our safety zone. It is where you end and I begin. Boundaries enable us to understand who we are, how we should act, and they tell others how they should behave toward us. When someone’s behavior makes us uncomfortable or hurts us, that is our radar detecting that our boundaries have been crossed, for example: if someone threatens, exploits, abuses, or encroaches on us.
Some of us have damaged boundaries that cause us to allow ourselves to be repeatedly victimized and steamrolled by the people around us. These damaged boundaries are usually the result of our boundaries being violated during childhood by: overprotection, over-control, verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse; or neglect or lack of love.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF BOUNDARIES
1. Physical Boundaries
A person with healthy physical boundaries is able to say, “I will not allow you to touch me in that way. I won’t allow you to physically abuse me. I won’t allow you to molest me.” [Children need to be taught healthy boundaries to protect them from sexual abuse so they won’t allow a person to touch them in places they shouldn’t.]
2. Emotional Boundaries
Emotional boundaries mean the safety zone around one’s feelings, and sense of well-being. If we have healthy emotional boundaries we won’t let negative behavior toward us (insults, attacks, criticism, etc.) bother us much because we know it isn’t true. A person with damaged emotional boundaries allows negative thoughts about himself and criticism by other people to effect and control his well-being.
3. Spiritual Boundaries
Spiritual boundaries mean the territory of our relationship with God. A person with healthy spiritual boundaries has an understanding of God’s love, grace, and acceptance. As a result this person feels a strong sense of purpose, meaning and worth.
People with damaged spiritual boundaries were taught that God is a stern, unforgiving, condemning, critical Judge, and they didn’t experience the tender love of God in their early years. As adults, people with damaged spiritual boundaries may let themselves be manipulated by controlling religious leaders who say, “God speaks to me and I know God’s will for you life, etc.”
SIX STEPS TO HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
l. Learn who you are in God’s eyes. Your worth comes from God, not from the approval of others. God offers you grace not condemnation. When you strengthen your spiritual boundaries, you will also improve and strengthen and repair your other boundaries.
2. Be honest with yourself and others about your feelings. Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable when someone touches you or speaks to you in a certain way? Then you should admit that feeling to yourself and require that person to move back out of your personal space. Say, “No, I will not allow you to behave toward me in this way. You can change your behavior or you can leave, but I will no longer allow you to insult me or abuse me.”
3. Be honest with yourself and others about your needs. Perhaps you need more help around the house or more quiet time. Perhaps you need greater communication with your spouse. Get in touch with your needs then take the initiative to state those needs and allow others to know your boundaries.
4. If there is a person who is continually violating your boundaries, plan a strategy for confronting that person. If it is a severely abusive relationship, involving ongoing sexual or physical abuse to you or your children, get out of that relationship NOW! Your safety and the safety of your children override all other concerns.
If the relationship is not dangerous but is only controlling, manipulating and so forth, then make a plan to talk honestly with that person about setting new boundaries in the relationship. Tell the person what you need to change and where the new boundaries will be, for example: “You can’t call me after 9:00 p.m.” or “You can’t talk to me like that anymore or I will walk away.”
5. Practice assertive communication in dealing with people who violate you boundaries.
Be firm and focus on the issues. Don’t allow the person to bring up side issues or old grievances, keep to the main point, don’t budge from it, and don’t get drawn into a messy argument. If the other person tries to argue, just keep silent, look him in the eye and wait until he is finished. Above all stay calm. When you lose your temper, others control you; when you keep your temper, you are in control.
6. As you redraw the boundaries in your relationships, steel yourself against a sense of loss. There is a certain amount of comfort we draw from being emotionally dependent and controlled by others. This is our “comfort zone” and we are used to it. Consciously we may hate it, but subconsciously we crave the security of letting others take responsibility for us. But to be emotionally and spiritually healthy, you must take the responsibility for your own safety and well-being by drawing healthy boundaries in your relationships.