Every person has things that they will tolerate and those things that they will not tolerate. From ourselves and others. It’s called setting boundaries. But are the boundaries we set healthy boundaries?
Children that grow up in dysfunctional families are not given a choice, or not taught what healthy boundaries are. There are not usually boundaries set in dysfunctional homes. Sexual abuse is tolerated or hidden, beating Mom when the dinner isn’t ready on time, cussing and screaming, slapping, verbal attacks, degradation. There are all forms of abuse being tolerated. If there are any boundaries at all they are usually unhealthy.
What is a boundary? According to Webster’s dictionary it is “A limit. Anything marking a limit.” It’s as though we draw a line in the sand and say, “Don’t cross this line!” As Christians we can set healthy boundaries by refusing to listen to dirty jokes and gossip for example. Those are healthy boundaries. Once we have let others know that we will not tolerate filthy language, gossip, dirty jokes or whatever it is that offends us we must stick to those boundaries.
What are unhealthy boundaries? Allowing someone to verbally abuse us is one example of an unhealthy boundary. For example, I tell my husband that he can cuss all he wants but I just won’t tolerate the “F” word. Is that really a healthy boundary? No! Or for example, “Just don’t hit me in the face.”
There are many many examples of healthy and unhealthy boundaries but what it boils down to is what and how much I will tolerate, not just from others but from myself. Will I allow someone barging into the bathroom while I soak in the tub? Will I allow someone to continually verbally abuse me and say nothing? Will I continue to be degraded in front of my co-workers? Boundaries are set so that we may be treated with dignity and respect. If I allow others to belittle me or in some way show less than the respect that I deserve then I have not set boundaries. I am accepting that I am “less than.”
Children that have been abused have not been taught boundaries. As adults we tend to allow others to abuse us verbally, emotionally, or physically because we have not been taught that we are loved and respected as another human being. We expect less of people and of ourselves because that’s what our life experiences taught us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In Gen. 1:28 God told Adam and Eve about ownership. We are not to only take control of the things of the earth but that we are to take control and responsibility for our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. “We are made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks. Taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job, and what isn’t.”* In other words, are we going to allow certain unhealthy things to control us? “It takes wisdom to know what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t.” *
In Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend book, “Boundaries” he states, “Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries. Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t.” *
They go on to discuss attitudes, feelings, behaviors, choices, values, limits, talents, thoughts, desires, and love. All have boundaries. “Boundaries are built and you can’t develop or set boundaries apart from supportive relationships with God and others.”
Many people feel they are being disobedient, will hurt others feelings, people may think I’m controlling, or angry if I set boundaries. But setting healthy boundaries are none of these. All children need healthy boundaries set in place not only for their safety but for learning they are loved and respected and we as adults also need to put in place healthy boundaries.
As a survivor of childhood physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse I had to learn to create healthy boundaries in order to live an emotionally healthy life. All of our relationships are affected by the boundaries we set or the lack of boundaries. What we tolerate is what will continue!
One of books that was of great help in my understanding and learning how to put in place healthy boundaries is:
*Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
I highly recommend it and the workbook. (available at http://www.amazon.com)
If you have confidential comments or questions feel free to e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blessings to you.