Editor’s Note: Today post is by Kait Jones. She blogs at kaitrosejones.wordpress.com. It was so good for me to read. Through high school and college, I always saw myself as one of the guys, or the girlfriend. Learning how to be the in-between, the sister, the truly-a-friend, can be difficult but so important. – Lauren
I’ve always been a girl who found a lot of comfort and value in my friendships with the opposite sex. In high school, I thrived on the drama-free friendships that I found with boys. They were always more accepting of me and had lower expectations of how I should dress or act. I felt like I could be myself-in all my nerdy, goofy glory. However, I quickly found myself becoming “one of the guys.”
At first, this didn’t bother me at all, but soon I began to realize that I wanted them to see me as more than that. They knew the real me, and I just lived for the day that one of them would realize what a catch I was and pursue me.
I had met a boy while working at a camp over the summer in New York, just before my freshman year of college. Toward the end of the month, we found out we were both attending the same school in the fall, and I was excited to get to grow in my friendship with him, especially because I hardly knew anybody at the university. We ended up spending a lot of time together over the next two years, but during the entirety of that time, I saw him as nothing more than a friend. A lot of people thought we were dating or going to date, but I always ignored them in such disgust that they could ever think such a thing.
However, because I was in such denial about the potential of our friendship, I told him things I never told anyone else. We spent a lot of time just the two of us. And eventually, I began to see him as more than just one of my friends. It was a gradual thing. Starting with small acts of kindness on his part, such as bringing me flowers to apologize, cooking me dinner or just taking me out to cheer me up if I was upset. In retrospect, I realize that these things may be a bit much for a friendship, but at the time, it was pretty normal for ours.
When I told my best friend, Kelly, how my feelings were changing, she was quick to try and hold me accountable in my friendship with him. There were multiple occasions where he invited me over late at night to watch a movie just the two of us (which was not abnormal) and Kelly questioned it, but I was so wrapped up in all of it that I consciously ignored her warnings.
I had never had a boyfriend, never been kissed, never even been on a date – and the idea that a boy may have actually liked me and be pursuing my heart had me completely swept away. I saw so much potential for the future and just found myself living in a world that didn’t exist. In my mind, we were as good as dating, but he had never mentioned anything about having feelings for me or wanting to date me.
Then came the day where he excitedly told me he was dating a new girl. I was absolutely crushed. That whole summer, I spent my time plotting how they would break up. I tore her down and looked for any flaw in her that would turn him away. But nothing changed. They continued dating and mine and his friendship began to fall apart. I was angry with him and held a lot of bitterness toward him. None of this was really fair to him, because I’d never shared what feelings I had for him. I avoided him and spent so much time raging against him and trash talking him to my friends.
My relationship with Jesus was not good at all. I felt so ugly and unwanted, and I found myself openly disagreeing with the truth displayed in His word. I refused to believe that I was cherished or beautiful just because one guy didn’t want to date me. Oh, the lies we believe.
That winter, I got a phone call and told me he had exciting news to share. Later that evening he came over and shared that he was proposing to his girlfriend. I lost it. For the next couple weeks I was extremely depressed and very hurt that it seemed like he neither noticed nor cared because he was so caught up in his engagement.
Months later I finally realized how unhealthy all this anger I was harboring against him was. I found myself spending more and more time with alone with Jesus and found healing and encouragement from the Bible and my community.
Eventually, I worked up the nerve to talk to him about all of the anger and hurt I felt. To be honest, it was probably the toughest conversation I’ve had to this day, but it resulted in a lot of healing in our friendship. After some time, I forgave him for everything that had happened and stopped holding the guilt over him. We are still friends now, but the greatest thing that came from this whole mess of a friendship was that I finally began to learn what a healthy friendship with a boy could look like.
I used to think I could only be friends with guys if I was ‘one of them.’ I didn’t know how to be a woman amongst men and love them in the right way. I only saw the two extremes of being “one of the guys” and being “the girlfriend.” I never really understood how to be a sister.
We are asked to be brothers and sisters in Christ in the Bible, yet it seems so hard to have those relationships with healthy boundaries surrounding them.
I learned from my experience that there is nothing wrong with being friends with a guy. There are a few men that I am friends with that are like big brothers to me. I love them a ton and am so grateful for them. But, I’ve learned how to be more aware of how I interact with them in order to keep my heart and emotions in a good place. I don’t spend time one-on-one with them unless it is in a public place during normal hours. I also am more guarded in what I share with them about what is going on in my mind, my emotions, my past or my relationship with the Lord. I don’t risk becoming too vulnerable with them in order to protect myself from falling into the same trap I did before.
So ladies, I encourage you to be friends with men! They have a totally different take on things in life and it can be valuable to hear from them and learn from them. God created men to hold different roles: husband, Father and brothers. I urge you to learn what it means to be a sister to these men so that you can encourage them and love them in a way that is pleasing to God and beneficial for both parties involved. If this means placing boundaries on your friendships, then do it! It will benefit you both in the long run.
Editor’s Note: Today we’re doing something a little bit different, and bringing in an expert on boundaries! I greatly respect him for his grace and “realness” in pursuing the kinds of relationships that bring life. His explanation of “overt and covert communication” radically changed how I interact with people close to me, and I’m thrilled to share some of his wisdom with you girls! Bob Hamp is an author, a seasoned counselor, and respected pastor at Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas. You can find him at bobhamp.com or follow him on Twitter at @bobhamp. – Lauren
You have heard it said, “you are what you eat.” A very wise nutritionist said once that this is not actually the truth. In actuality, you are what you metabolize. If your body does not absorb what you eat, it passes through and has no impact on the building blocks of your physiology.
The same can be said of the words, actions, and various other messages that bombard you daily. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that “…as we believe in our heart, so are we…” We are bathed daily in a world of people and their various responses to and interactions with us. Somewhere in those interactions we become what we allow into our hearts. This in mind, we should learn what it means to “guard our hearts above all else” (Proverbs 4:23).
Boundaries are those invisible dividing lines whereby I maintain myself as separate and distinct from anyone else. My emotions are my own. My desires and goals are my own. My values are my own. My body belongs to me and I am responsible to maintain everything that belongs to me.
My boundaries allow me to prevent you from defining my identity and my worth, while allowing me to receive from you that which I choose to receive. My boundaries allow me to define my areas of responsibility in life, and the areas for which I will not take responsibility.
Boundaries are not simply a way to prescribe rules and prohibitions. They are a way to sort out people. A way to help people maintain a healthy sense of self, and therefore to define the parameters of healthy relationships. When the Bible tells us to guard our hearts above all else, it is referring to ways to allow God to define and protect that which is most true about you as a the individual person He created.
Three of the most important issues to understand within relationships are Communication, Freedom to choose, and Responsibility.
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1. Overt & Covert Communication. Communication is the way that all boundaries are crossed. Not all of it is verbal. Touch, posture, tone, and other non-verbal elements of communication are part of the exchange that takes place between two people.
Communication is the exchange of meaning. In it’s purest definition, when one person is able to convey meaning to another, the other person receives into their soul whatever has been passed over. If the exchange is merely an idea, then intellectual communication has occurred. But every couple in love knows that more than ideas can cross the gap between people.
A look, eye contact, physical contact, posture – all these things communicate to us.
Boundary violations take place when one person is able to send an unwanted message or meaning to another. I’ve seen people feel violated by eye contact, and later, feel nurtured by a hug. The motives of the heart can be a part of the exchange of meaning between people.
Words, as well as tone of voice and eye contact all communicate. The most lethal forms of boundary crossing communication take place in the arena that I call covert communication. Overt communication is the evident meaning of words exchanged. Covert communication is the murky world of implications, inferences, and attributions of motive.
Covert communication includes the subtleties of meaning that are attached to the more obvious. Like a spoonful of sugar can encourage a child to take bad tasting medicine, so will words that appear sweet, convince us to swallow the poison delivered by another.
Learning to recognize these subtleties is a very important part of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.
In the days of my counseling practice I used to give an assignment called “Gorillas in the Mist,” named after the popular movie about sociologist, Dian Fossey. Ms. Fossey went into the wilderness to observe the culture of gorillas in their natural habitat. Like all good sociologists she did her best to observe the culture without actually entering into it. This allowed her to observe interactions and unspoken social rules in the gorilla culture.
In the same way, I assigned people to visit their families. Instead of entering into the normal family exchanges, I encouraged them to sit back and observe as a non-participant. It is amazing what you can learn about your family and how you have been defined by it when you choose not to enter into unconsciously prescribed roles and expectations. It is here that you begin to see where covert communication takes place, and you notice that invisible boundaries are crossed in your family.
This way of stepping back to observe allows us to be much more conscious of what messages are being offered, or in many cases thrust upon us in a variety of settings. The more conscious we are the more we have the freedom to choose what we receive and what we reject. The more unconscious we are, the more we are likely to revert to the default settings we grew up with in our family of origin.
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2. Freedom to Choose. Freedom to choose how we relate to another, and what we will and will not receive from another is an essential building block of healthy boundaries. Freedom to choose is directly related to awareness. Many people feel that they are victims because they do not know or feel that they have a right to make new choices. Like being in a restaurant with a limited menu selection, people will only order that which they see as a possible option.
Often people feel they deserve poor treatment, and do not know that they have the right to stand up for themselves. If they do not know better, they are not free to choose.
Many people who suffer from boundary challenges grew up in homes where boundaries were skewed. Children were blamed for the shortcomings of the adults. Other family members were made out to be responsible for the choices, behaviors and emotions of a misbehaving person.
When a child is raised in this atmosphere, they become adults who do not recognize healthy patterns of choice and responsibility. They assume that they must bear the burden for the sickness, or dysfunction of another.
3. Responsibility. One of the most insidious and painful impacts of boundary crossers is that they blame others for their own issues. Often they actually believe that others are responsible for their behavior. The alcoholic often believes that other people cause them to drink. The abuser often believes that other people make them abuse. People who cannot take responsibility for their poor actions and choices are unable to change because they can only change that which they will take responsibility for.
People who have lived in boundary-challenged and abusive environments often struggle to know what they should take responsibility for, and what is someone else’s responsibility.
The kind of messages that are sent in human interaction are not simply about image and value, but also about responsibility.
“Why did you make me beat you up?”, or “If you hadn’t dressed that way, I wouldn’t have done that to you.” Are common messages that come from boundary challenged individuals. You see this in men who blame women for their lustful thoughts or actions.
The flip-side of this equation is the person who blames themselves for other peoples poor choices. “He raped me, but I probably should not have been alone with him.” Or, “I know she drank too much, but she wouldn’t do that if I were a better husband.”
Our soul is a storehouse of the many ideas and emotions that have been injected into it. A kind word can change the chemistry of our bodies, and shift a mood. A kind word can shift the self image. “Goodness” can positively affect thoughts, feelings and ultimately actions. “Badness” directed towards us can damage our sense of self. The people around us become a mirror to us. Accurate or not, we begin to see ourselves reflected back to us in their words and their responses to us.
As we begin to realize the ways that others have assumed power over us, we can begin to learn how to regain our sense of self in the face of boundary violations.
Boundary Setting Communication
As we come to be more aware of how others overtly and covertly interact with us, we find ourselves faced with having to set boundaries in our relationships. This is good and necessary.
Boundaries are almost always violated at the level of covert communication. An overt statement is made, but it is accompanied by a covert boundary “bomb.” One example of this occurs when someone makes a crude joke or a sexual innuendo, in a relationship where such talk would normally be off-limits. Often this kind of exchange is a test to see how someone will respond to such an invasion. Family members can do this to test the authority or influence they have over you, and to see how far they can push their way past your boundaries.
The formula for boundary setting communication is simple. Make the covert message overt, and pose it in the form of a question. The question places the responsibility back in the hands of the potential boundary-crosser. Here are a few examples.
Scenario One: Sue: Tells an off color joke to a male co-worker when no one else is around.
Bill: “It seems to be that you are trying to see how I will respond if you talk about sexual topics (covert made overt) …is that what you are doing?” (question.)
Scenario Two: Bill: “I wouldn’t drink so much, if you weren’t so difficult to live with!”
Sue: “It sounds like you want me to be responsible for your choices (covert made overt) – do you believe you can’t choose to behave in a different way?” (question that forces the other to answer)
It can be difficult at first to recognize covert communication, but it is of great importance. You’ll discover that people in your life may be crossing your boundary lines often, and you either didn’t know it, or didn’t have a way to bring it up. Try this week to focus on what you are truly comfortable with in your relationships with friends, siblings, parents, significant others – and study the overt and covert communication that takes place.
Editor’s Note: I remember several years ago, I believed that all men watched pornography, that it affected nothing, and that because it was normal, I had no right to ask a boyfriend to “give it up for me.” As a result, I buried all my emotions deep down, and charged forward in my relationships with a thick, invisible hurt and distrust that affected so much. And, some of the men I dated dealt with emotional and physical consequences that I had no idea were caused directly by addiction to porn. Later, I learned that pornography has scientifically proven many emotional, spiritual and physical consequences. More recently, I’ve discovered that some good men are truly committed to ridding it from their lives. It is a beautiful thing seeing men and women being brutally honest as they strive to love each other and remain faithful to one another. Today, Amanda Lenhardt shares her story on finding out her boyfriend was addicted to porn. She blogs at Separated By Beauty. – Lauren
It’s those first few moments, days, and months that just seem impossible. There are few words that really describe how you feel after you find out your loved one is addicted to porn. If I could describe this feeling in anyway it would an overwhelming amount of confusion that bombards your life.
I really wasn’t sure where to turn with any of it. All I knew was that I was hurt and breaking.
Growing through this, fighting through this, and coming out on the other side stronger has shown me the importance in setting boundaries. It didn’t mean ending things. It meant healing me. It meant coming to terms with not being able to fix Dustin and our relationship, not matter how much I wanted to. It meant leaning more on Christ and less on the brokenness that each one of us shared. It meant learning to be healthy myself, no matter the future outcome.
Our story doesn’t start with boundaries, but it ends with them. I knew after finding out that I should “make boundaries.” But I had hesitation towards this idea of creating any type of “walls” around my heart. In my mind, I wasn’t sure what boundaries were going to look like, where they would take us, or what room I had to make for them.
But then, I came to a point in our relationship where I hit rock bottom. I realized we had a much larger problem at hand and that something needed to happen, actively. Not only for our relationship to be restored, but for our hearts.
I by no means have all the answers. I just have my story. The boundaries you create with your loved one may be different then the ones I created with Dustin. But if I help you just by sharing the things I have done then I have been blessed with a wonderful opportunity.
One of the first boundaries I created with Dustin was limiting our time together. Porn creates a relationship full of distrust. After I found out, it was hard for me to get over something I had to re-face every time we would see each other. I made it clear, for those first few months after it happened, that our time together would only be spent at church or in a group. I needed to have a grasp on forgiveness that I knew was clear and solid. This wouldn’t happen if we spent a lot of time together, absorbed in one another. So for two months, we saw each other on Wednesdays and Sundays, rarely texted, and remained off the phone. I didn’t do this to teach him a lesson, but to care for my heart. When you find out your boyfriend is addicted to pornography, it does damage to your heart. Setting boundaries isn’t simply “saying no” to your boyfriend. It’s creating a way to prioritize the healing of your heart. For me, I knew it would not be healthy to stay so closely tied in the relationship.
Secondly, I had to make sure he knew I supported him without creating a rule guide to his life. When I first found out, I thought I would be able to fix him by handing him a list of things I wanted him to change. I soon learned that this harmed both of us. It created an environment of shame for him and was unrealistic on my part. I had to step back and see ourselves as two individuals, and to stop taking responsibility for his addiction. I made it clear to him that I loved him and was here to pray for him instead of handing him a list of things I wanted him to do. He knew that porn would have to be gone for our relationship to succeed. It encouraged him more knowing that I was there praying from him instead of nagging him.
Lastly I had to be intentional with other women in my life. This is not something you can walk out alone. It was a walk of consistently going to Christ, and talking with other women. Very few knew how to respond, but it’s a matter of bringing the darkness to the light. Christ does not want you to walk through this alone. Find women you can trust and that you know will be here for you to support you. Also, it’s never healthy to consume your life with one relationship. Dustin and I make it a point to make time to hang out with others.
Ladies, if I can do anything, I want to encourage you to set boundaries in your relationship during this time. You have every right to go to your man and set a standard. You do not have the role of changing him, but of determining what you desire in a relationship with a man. You cannot change his heart, but you are responsible for caring for your own. Guarding every ounce of it knowing that with Christ you can have peace that can seem so absent during this time.
You are not just setting boundaries to fix what porn breaks in your relationship. You’re setting boundaries to make your heart stronger, and to truly recognize that you will be all right whether things get better or worse. Something boundaries gave me was a peace. I was not swimming with all the burdens I had picked up for Dustin, but I was relying on a peace that Christ had supplied.
Editor’s Note: Emotional and psychological abuse are real. Their damage is valid. Their pain is pain. If you have or are experiencing (or aren’t sure) emotional or psychological abuse, I beg of you to do a little research and confide in someone safe. Because of it’s nature in damaging a healthy self that would leave in pursuit of protection, we often remain in the harmful situation, handicapped. Or, when life moves along, we remain in a state of denying it’s occurrence. Leaving a psychologically abusive home was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life, but it bulldozed down the forest and made way for my heart and my future. Today, Candice Noble bravely shares some of her story. – Lauren
I grew up with an abusive and manipulative father. It wasn’t exactly hidden from me as a child; I heard the arguments and had some sense (in a child like way) that dad was hurting mom. I even witnessed a disturbing scene where my mother had to literally fight for her life when my dad went into an uncontrollable and irrational rage against her. My mom left my father when I was six years old.
My dad’s selfish and abusive personality wasn’t limited to my mother, but I didn’t realize I was a victim until I turned twenty. One night, he verbally attacked me over the phone and accused me of all the damage in our relationship. He was responsible for it, but in one call, he shifted all the blame to me. Fourteen years of his neglect, his instability, his hurtful selfishness, his manipulation somehow became my fault.
After that event I began reviewing, in objective honesty, all the things he had said and done to me over my life. Because of that blatant attack, I could finally see the other assaults that I chose to brush off and ignore before. That single undisguised act of aggression tore the veil from my eyes and I could see his past and present behavior for what it truly was: his emotional and psychological abuse. His manipulation.
Psychological and emotional abuse is a tricky little beast. It can easily be dismissed or covered up so well that the victim has a difficult time identifying it as abuse. Generally speaking, if it feels like abuse and fits a certain set of standards then it is abuse, and it needs to be addressed. I put up with years of “this doesn’t feel right” before I finally could identify it as abuse.
Once I began to identify abusive behaviors, I had to let go of the “healthy” father/daughter charade that tore me up from the inside out. I had to set a boundary line of protection in order to pursue safety. In my case, that meant stopping all communication with him.
I hate to admit it, but I feel a sense of relief after letting go of the relationship I clung to for so long with my father. It feels as if I’ve been on the brink of suffocation for years and now I’m finally allowed to breathe.
When we become a Christian (or are raised Christian), we can lose sight of the need for boundaries. To some of us, being “a good Christian” has meant that we have to endure someone’s abuse for any number of misguided pious reasons: It’s an act of forgiveness, it shows love, they’re an authority figure, or it’s to further a witnessing ministry. These are all ignorant assumptions created by playing fast and loose with the interpretation of scripture (be it ourselves or others doing the interpreting).
Yes, we are suppose to forgive others if we wish to be forgiven by the Father. But forgiveness means letting go of any hatred or bitterness in your heart towards the offending person and not seeking revenge on them. It does not mean you have to allow a habitual abuser into a space that leaves you vulnerable to their attacks.
Yes, you are to still love the person but that doesn’t give them the right to exploit that love to manipulate you and you don’t have to stand for that manipulation.
Yes, in the structure of the family, they may be classified as the “authority” figure but that authority becomes illegitimate once the abuser uses that authority in an inappropriate manner. God does not turn his eyes from hurting children, caring only that they submit to authority – whatever that authority be.
Yes, you are to be a living and speaking witness but you are not asked to suffer for anything other than the Gospel. Are they abusing you strictly because you’re a bold follower of Christ, or because they’re abusive and need someone to horde an illusion of power over? In other words you are to endure persecution for the Gospel but you shouldn’t feel obligated to endure personal attacks that are unrelated to your belief in Christ.
Furthermore, Christ Himself said that once you have spoken your piece concerning Him to others and they reject it, you are allowed to take that gospel elsewhere to those who will receive it (Luke 9:4-6). Once you’ve exhausted all your ministering resources on an abusive person then do not, I repeat, do not feel an ounce of guilt about taking yourself and your ministry elsewhere to those who will hear it (one of Christ’s favored phrases “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 11:15).
It is not your job to change this person. Only God Himself can do so. Remaining with an abusive person for the sake of changing them through your positive influence is a misguided perspective, nearly certain to fail – and it places you in suffering that is not required or expected of you.
In the end, the excuses used to continue a hurtful relationship fall short of one very clear truth: If Christ, God in flesh sinless and holy, saw you of enough worth to willingly suffer and die for then that means you retain an incalculable value. Things that are of high value deserve protection. Please, do not tolerate a person who doesn’t see that value and treats you in a way that suggests you are common trash, because you are not common trash. You are inherently valuable because you bear the image of God.
Your situation may not require that you cut off communication from the person harming you, but if you’re being systemically hurt (mentally or physically) you still need an established line of defense and safety. This can be as simple as speaking up against a hurtful word or action.
Maybe they will listen, repent, reform their ways, and this will lead to a healthy and beneficial relationship. If they won’t stop, or it is consistently harmful, it is time to let go of that relationship and that person. It will hurt or feel foreign to you at first. You may be criticized for the action you take. But, it’s better than the slow and painful death of your spirit (or your body if it has crossed the line to physical abuse).
If you can’t “let go” of the relationship because it involves a family member and you’re still dependent on them, please seek the safety of someone you trust. Find another family member or a trusted friend if for nothing else but a temporary shelter.
You have a right and a responsibility to protect yourself physically and mentally and communicate your value by telling others you will not tolerate their abuse. Trust me I know it’s scary and there are a number of reasons why you don’t want to oppose them and cause conflicts. I’ve been there and done that. Though it is frightening, it is crucial to your future. You have no need to feel guilt, shame, or fear as a result of upholding your value and maintaining your health to someone who doesn’t see the importance of either.
If you have experienced emotional or psychological abuse and have resources that you recommend to other readers, please feel free to leave them in the comments. We realize that this is frequently under-addressed in our community, and we are striving provide more love, support and encouragement for you as you pursue safety for your heart. Thank you, beautiful women.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Natalie Albertson. She’s a masters student in English at Iowa State University, and she blogs at nataliealbertson.com. We love her emphasis on grace, balance, and moderation. – Lauren
Boundaries can be a wonderful thing. The boundary at the Grand Canyon, for example, that says, “Do not walk further, or you will fall and die” is a wonderful boundary. But boundaries can quickly become a focus on the negative: what I can’t do. Sometimes we try so hard not to “fall and die” that we forget to admire the Grand Canyon! Other times, we get so excited about the Grand Canyon that we take one step too far and…well…you know. Life requires balance. The world often looks for happiness through self-assertion, and the stoic looks for happiness through self-denial. Yet the good woman knows that self-fulfillment is found in self-abandonment. We set a boundary not just because we don’t want to do something – but because we do want to do something else.
Because of this truth, I’ve made a list of five do’s and don’ts of dating. These are things that God taught me through mistakes, and that’s the beauty of it.
1. DO: Look a man’s heart. DON’T: Hold men to a standard you don’t want to be held to.
When I was dating, the type of man I was looking for to be my husband had to have the spiritual maturity of my two youth group pastors at my home church. These men were 35 and 40, which means that I expected to find some poor 20-something year old man to have the wisdom, experiences, and knowledge of a man twice his age. Don’t hold your brothers-in-Christ to this type of standard. The most important thing to look for in a man is someone who DESIRES to be a good husband. It’s completely fine if he’s not there yet.
2. DO: Embrace chaos DON’T: Desire chaos.
Love can be chaotic and it’s almost always disorganized; love stories are even more so, because we have an idea of how things are “supposed to be”. I remember getting so scared that the man I was dating wasn’t “the one” because the things that happened in the movies were not happening to me. I never got butterflies when he walked into the room, there weren’t fireworks when we talked, and this made me think that we weren’t “in love”. Once I saw the movie “Love Comes Softly”, I slowly started to learn that love should feel like coming home and not like being on a rollercoaster. Rollercoasters are fun for a few minutes, but you don’t want to be on one for the rest of your life. Being grounded is good.
3. DO: Desire something better than momentary pleasure. DON’T: Get pregnant.
Never, ever, ever, never kiss. Because you will get pregnant, and then you will die. No, just kidding. But seriously, do take your physical life seriously. It can be a very slippery slope. The lines you should and should not cross will be different for everyone, but it’s important to seriously determine what you desire, communicate that to your significant other, and pursue that together.
4. DO: Look deeper. DON’T: Trust popularity.
Our culture tends to glorify a certain type of man that I want to warn you about. You know. The hot guy in high school. The athlete. Whoever the guy is at your school that’s getting all the attention from his surface level success. The reason I bring this up is that, as young women we want to date “popular” men. Let me remind you that many of these things are temporary, and years later? The popular guy in high school might not be the guy you want to date. Men change, and they change a lot. Just like we do. Don’t let culture inform your sense of a man’s worth or merit.
5. DO: Take comfort in God’s sovereignty DON’T: Settle.
Augustine once described “evil” as simply a reordering of goods, and marriage can quickly become this. Marriage–and dating for the sake of finding your spouse– is such a wonderful thing, but it’s not worthy of your worship. Don’t let marriage be an idol in your life. If you’re dating a man you shouldn’t be–and you’ll know if you are–let him go. Don’t settle. Trust that God is in this with you, and that he sees you.
Editor’s Note: Wanting to love our parents can easily take the form of wanting to care for their emotional needs, and learning to trust God with them can be so difficult. Today’s post is submitted by Anonymous, but if you’d like to be in contact with her, please send an email to trish[at]goodwomenproject.com & Trish will connect you. – Lauren
When you come from a single parent family, its very easy for boundary lines to blur. The older brother tries to be the dad, the big sister mothers the little sister, and the Mum treats the big sister as her friend and not her daughter. All the kids rely heavily on the one parent, because she is all they’ve got in the world. Everyone buckles under the pressure.
I grew up in a version of the above family, and I know many other people who did too. Kids from single parent families are often very close with the parent that raised them. It’s only natural and it makes sense, but often, it’s not right and it’s not healthy. So many children thrive from the love and care of one amazing parent; I know I have. But the difficult part is the crippling co-dependency that can result from single parenting, because both parent and child struggle to let go when it’s time.
It breaks my heart that my Mum doesn’t have a husband to talk to and lean on. She’s a confident and capable woman that is moving forward with her life, but she still needs TLC like everyone else. However, I have had to learn that her happiness is not my responsibility and I have to live my life. I cannot fill the gap of a husband or friend in her life. Because I’m mature and grew up fast, she talked to me and confided in me as a friend from a young age. Eventually, I resented it – because I would carry all her pain on my shoulders. As I got older, our relationship grew sour. The boundaries were blurred – and as a result, we couldn’t flourish as mother and daughter.
So I put the boundary line back in place by moving away. I needed to become my own person without my family’s issues weighing me down.
It was the hardest thing to do, but also the best thing I’ve ever done for my own emotional health. In saying that, it’s taken time, and the progress didn’t happen immediately. I soon realized that even after leaving the country, I was still heavily burdened by my broken and hurting family. You can leave the situation, but your problems often go with you. I cared so much it hurt – and that is where it went wrong.
I couldn’t move on with my exciting new life if I continued to spend every waking second worrying about my family’s choices. It would break me every time bad news crossed seas and landed at my doorstep. I wanted to save them so badly that I wouldn’t and couldn’t trust God with them. I didn’t pray because I thought that somehow, in another world or life, I could save them. I held them tightly in my fist, stubborn and angry, sure that I could change them or their situation if I held on tight enough. And from half a world away, it affected every area of my life. It had to stop.
I had to learn and re-learn multiple times that yes, they are my family and I love them, but I cannot change them and I cannot save them. We all love our families; we all hate to see them go through hard times and that’s entirely natural. But for each of us to have healthy futures and relationships, there has to be boundaries within our families. This is especially important in highly dysfunctional and/or single parent families.
Four years on, there are still times when it all gets too much and I want to snatch back that empty control. That’s when I turn to this scripture:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
These days if my Mum ever calls me in tears, I answer knowing ahead of time that I can’t change anything and she just needs a listening ear. If it gets too much to handle, I end the conversation. If I know that I’m not in the right space to cope with the call, I don’t answer the phone. Yes, it may seem harsh, but it is necessary.
I can listen to them, pray for them and cheer them on. I will help my Mum when she’s elderly, I will support my siblings through every season in their lives and I will never turn my back on them. But my heart can no longer take their burden, that’s God’s job alone. I’ve let go.
This weekend, I’ll be fasting for my family. They need persistent and faith filled prayer, but I won’t be worrying about their current situation because God’s got it. He’s their saviour, not me. Their burden is not mine to carry, their happiness is not my responsibility, and that’s where the boundary is.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Anne Wilson! She tweets at @annemwilson and blogs here. I have to admit, I cringed a little bit reading this. I’m bad with boundaries. I want to trust everyone, love everyone, and think the best of everybody. But I also have seen firsthand boundaries have been conducive to growing MORE love and trust between my husband and I – and isn’t that how it should be? Anne’s post is by no means a list of rules for you to follow, but rather her being open and honest with what she has personally chosen. I encourage you to write down your own little list, for you. – Lauren
Sitting across the table from my friend, Pam, I heard it for the first time.
“I think you need to set some boundaries.”
I had just moved to a new city for an internship and found Pam, a friend from home, was living about an hour from me. I asked her to mentor me and she gladly accepted. So, we met once a month at Starbucks halfway between my home and hers and got to talking, growing, and laughing.
One Thursday morning, she asked how work was going when I casually mentioned that I had just been to a conference with my co-worker, who happened to be a man. She got a little bit of a nervous look and said,
“Did you drive together?”
To which I casually and confusingly replied, “Well, yes, it was over an hour away, so it would’ve been silly to drive by ourselves.”
“Were you the only ones in the car?”
“Is he married?”
“Yes, why?” At this point I began to clue in in that, I, unknowingly and naively, had crossed a boundary.
She looked at me sympathetically and then launched into the speech. The speech about boundaries in dating, work relationships, and marriage. I would’ve liked to think that I was privy to boundaries. I didn’t hang out with married men or ask them personal questions about their lives. I had no desire for any of the men I worked with, nor did I seek their interest. The very thought of a romantic relationship with any of them made me feel nauseous. So why was I getting a speech like I’m the other woman? Because although I my intentions were pure, no one wakes up to an affair. It is a slow process of boundary-less decisions.
And so, as a single woman, here are some boundaries I adopted:
- Don’t ride alone in the car with a married man. Even though it’s innocent, car rides can be long and isolated. Inside jokes are created and a deeper form of friendship comes through being alone together. If he’s married, there’s no need for him to have that kind of relationship with any woman except his wife.
- Don’t be in the office alone with a married man. If there’s only two of us left in the office, one of us needs to leave. Or ask another co-worker to stay. I know this creates an awkward dynamic at first, but once it’s the standard, it becomes second-nature. Even if it’s only because of the pretense of what could be happening and definitely isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it the safety-net.
- If someone who is married begins to complain to me about their spouse, end it immediately. Say it’s inappropriate and that it makes you uncomfortable. If I were to tell my 18-year-old self one thing, it would’ve been that. I listened to far too many wife-bashing stories that I now, as a wife, really regret listening to. They have plenty of male friends they can talk with, and if they don’t, they can find some.
- Don’t text/IM with a married man unless his wife is present, or I know she could read everything I’m saying without questioning my integrity or intentions.
Because my job lends me to work with more men than women, one of my “boundaries” is to intentionally befriend the wives of men I work with. Not in manipulation, but as a way of reassuring them and allowing them to feel safe and comfortable with me. This actually quickly became a requirement when looking for a potential job. One of my internal “required” questions was, “Could I be friends with his wife? Is she welcoming of me, or threatened by a female’s presence?” If the answer to the last question was yes, I committed to say no to the job. My reason? It’s not worth becoming the target of someone else’s insecurity, if I can help it.
When my husband and I got married, the boundaries changed. As someone who grew up in the home of divorce, it’s entirely worth it. I know neither of my parents said “I do,” thinking someday they would live separately and drop their kids off at each other’s houses.
None of these are 11th Commandments, or necessary for every couple on the planet, but for us, they are agreements we made for the sake of protecting and nurturing our marriage. A wise person told me once that no one is above an affair. And I think they are right. When we become invincible in our minds, we let lies seep in, ignore our intuition that quietly says, “mayday!” and excuse it for self-consciousness. If my heart skips a couple of negative beats before making a decision, that’s the Divine telling me to run. Or the Word becoming flesh in my subconscious. Or the Holy Spirit. All of those are viable options.
And so, as a married person, here are some of our boundaries:
- No communication with exes, from any stage of life. The heart can be an absolute fool. What happens when you and your spouse are in an argument that’s going on days, you feel under-appreciated and an ex tells you how beautiful and wonderful you are? Only a few more steps into an affair. How many stories have you heard/seen about people who reconnected via Facebook and left their spouse? I’ve heard too many. I doubt any of them were planning to end up in affairs.
- Never ride alone in the car with someone of the opposite sex. Again, this can be the starting place for an isolated relationship with a man other than my husband. Driving in the car isn’t the danger – rather the togetherness a long car ride can bring. For that matter, the same principle applies–don’t be at work alone with a male co-worker, or vice versa. Scratch that–if you are married, just don’t hang out by yourself with someone of the opposite sex.
- When it comes to friendships, if you’re a woman, be friends with women. I’m not saying you can’t have male friends. But please don’t be one of the girls that say, “I just can’t get along with women.” Do you know that means you are probably the problem in that equation? I have no doubts that women have hurt you and been cruel. But I also know a lot of great women who encourage and strengthen. So don’t stop at the “I don’t like women,” door; push beyond it and seek out deep, meaningful friendships with other women.
- Try very hard not to put down (even in a joking way) our spouse around other people. My friend says it this way–when she was pregnant, one of her husband’s co-workers asked, “So, is your wife getting really moody and hard to deal with as her pregnancy ticks on?” Even though in other settings they could all laugh and poke fun at the ridiculousness, her husband gave a short, “Nope, we’re just thankful she’s been able to carry her this long.” I really respect that.
- Don’t go to bed without saying I’m sorry and/or I love you. In our 2 and 1/2 years of marriage, we’ve had our minor blow-outs. Anyone can tell you–I’m a difficult person (and I’m guessing you are, too!) and so I have my fair share of life to apologize for. Humility and forgiveness has paved such an open dialogue and space for apology.
- Love each other like crazy. Don’t withhold love, apology, or grace.
If you’re thinking by now that I have surely lost my mind, that I wear jeans up to my bra, and that I haven’t had my hair styled since 1996, you’re wrong. I’m actually kind of cool. I teeter on the edge of hip (can you be hip and use the word “teeter?”). And would you know it? I want a healthy marriage. I wish healthy marriages were written about, talked about, filmed around… but I know why they’re not. They’re boring! Who wants to read a novel about my boundary-filled, healthy life? About a couple making a meal together at night in their home, planning the month’s budget, investing their lives in their jobs, friends, Church, and community…? You’re already falling asleep. But that’s because it’s only boring to the outsider. On the inside, it’s freeing and incredible. Mumford & Sons sings it like this (told you I’m cool):
Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
At my heart you see
The beauty of love as it was made to be
(Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons)
Love sets us free. Free to laugh, cry, dream, give, and receive. In a paranoid, nervous relationship, you are placed in a hopeless cage of anxiety and guilt. Boundaries set you free to love your spouse in a way you can never love anyone else. Trust, loyalty, and promise win out over the flesh. . . and that is something to be celebrated.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Christina Bacino about boundaries while working in ministry with victims of human trafficking and exploitation. She works in South Africa and originally posted this on a blog: It Was For Freedom. Thank you, Saskia, for sending it to us. – Lauren
It’s amazing how quickly life can change. Just a few weeks ago I took pride in my “failure is not an option” mentality. Now, I can’t believe how silly and prideful that is. This idea of not wanting to fail has gotten me into a lot of trouble recently. I probably still don’t have full self-awareness on this, but I am in the middle of redefining what failure is- particularly in relation to counter-human trafficking work.
My job involves a lot of running around, phone calls, and speaking on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves. When dealing with broken people in a broken system, it is very easy to take responsibility for all of the gaps. I mean, people’s lives are on the line, after all. Someone has to fight for them, right? For example, a trafficking victim has escaped her trafficker, she wants help, but is heavily addicted to drugs. There is no available rehab for those without money. Safe houses won’t take victims who are addicts. The only free rehabs have waiting lists of up to a year. What do you do? What do you tell her as she sits across from you willing to go to rehab in an instant, but the doors are all closed? You have tried. Do you walk away knowing you did what you could, but the system has failed her, or do you take matters into your own hands? Do you take on the “failure is not an option” mentality, or do you say, “I am sorry, I cannot help you any further.”
Not long ago I would have taken on the responsibility instantly, without a thought. But I have had to learn the hard way that this is not necessarily always what God has called us to. Now I know, I may not be the most popular freedom fighter after this, and I am happy to hear different experiences. And I also want to clarify that sometimes God leads us by his spirit to be persistent. But I am not talking about that. I am talking about the times when need and injustice are staring us in the face and our sense of urgency and responsibility take over – leaving us to function in desperation and in our own strength. And God takes His blessing and hand off of what we are doing, because we have left Him out of it. We have taken matters into our own hands.
Those of you who have experienced this before know how painfully exhausting it is to work from your own strength. You work, and work, and work, and work only to see little to nothing happen. Why do we fall into this trap? I think there are many reasons: We like to feel needed. We like the feeling of helping people. We think that if we don’t do it, no one else will. You can fill in the blanks….
How long do we bang our head against that wall until we realize that God is not in that? He said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I cannot take responsibility for the freedom of every trafficking victim in Africa. If I did, I wouldn’t last past this year of work. I would literally go crazy. I would make bad decisions, because I was lead by my emotions rather than by His spirit. I would make promises I couldn’t keep. I would work from a sense of urgency and desperation that would exhaust me to my core.
I am learning that relinquishing this responsibility may mean saying things like, “I am sorry, but I cannot help you any further.” Saying this won’t seem like failure anymore, because my hope is in Him and His ability to set the captives free, not my own.
I am thankful for this realization. God has been gracious, gentle and loving to show me this early in life. I pray that His spirit will always nudge me when I have taken on responsibility for things that I shouldn’t. I pray that I always trust Him enough to lay something/someone back down before Him. I pray that failure is taken out of the equation, because the battle is ultimately His.
I will leave you with this thought and prayer from my devotional this morning as it was so timely: “If we are honest, we will admit that we never have misgivings about ourselves, because we know exactly what we are capable or incapable of doing. But we do have misgivings about Jesus. And our pride is hurt even at the thought that He can do what we can’t. My misgivings arise from the fact that I search within to find how He will do what He says. My doubts spring from the depths of my own inferiority. If I detect these misgivings in myself, I should bring them into the light and confess them openly- Lord, I have had misgivings about you. I have not believed in your abilities, but only my own. And I have not believed in your almighty power apart from my finite understanding of it.”
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Emily. Last week I asked what the definition of “boundaries” was to her, and she answered: ‘courageously owning your limited existence. As a life-long religious addict and people pleaser, learning boundaries was both an incredible struggle and one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever received. Boundaries, for me, are essentially tied to the word enough.‘ In this post, she expands upon that. It’s fantastic. Emily tweets at @emelina. – Lauren
The past two years in particular have been filled with fears. Fears of not being enough for my family, my friends, my job, my romance, my church, my dreams, my city, and my God.
But my name means ‘Diligent One,’ and I’ve always lived under the label that I just have to work harder to achieve anything. I kept trying to be fun enough, big enough, kind enough, generous enough, self-controlled enough, patient enough, fit enough, strong enough, sexy enough, educated enough, woman enough, diligent enough, faithful enough, smart enough, good enough, beautiful enough, spiritual enough, enough enough… And I was exhausted. I was completely spent and still hadn’t met my goals.
I thought the problems were in my relationships, my job, my experience, my past, my knowledge, my faith, my family… But really, all of that spinning around the different spheres of not being enough were because I wasn’t willing to confront the idea that I might not be enough. I wasn’t willing to let my existence be based on the goodness of God and His love, so I was trying to be everything. I spent all my time taking care of other people, ineffectively at best, because I never asked for help. When I did attach, it was to people who masked my insecurity and fed the control monster inside me. I was living without boundaries and at every whim of circumstance. I lived desperate for things to settle down so I could regain a sense of hope, but life, it seemed, never cooperated. No matter how hard I worked, moving external things around never truly shored me up on the inside.
Do you feel like that?
Do you work tirelessly to fix every part of your life, your friendships, your family, your career, your dating life, your marriage, your finances, yet live in the exhausted land of imminent collapse?
The first thing I want to say is: I can’t fix you. This blog can’t fix you. A mentor can’t fix you. BUT: you don’t have to live for the goal of finally getting everything right in your life. You don’t have to do enough or be enough.
It’s crushing to not be enough.
Really, truly, gut-wrenchingly, devastatingly, powerlessly, impossibly, adverbially, crushing. I am in no way denying that.
But it’s debilitating to spend life trying to be enough.
In the midst of my exhaustion, I learned about boundaries and the ways they could free me. Then I realized I was going about life all wrong. What if being enough isn’t the ultimate goal of my existence? What if, in all of this trying to be enough, I’ve been seeking the unattainable thing in an impossible manner? What if I’ve been trying for something I never had to try for? What if that pressure was never mine to take for myself? What if I don’t have to be enough? What if Love is just waiting for me to accept it? What if Love, in fact, shows up best in the midst of that very act of recognizing that I am not enough? What if by admitting: I AM NOT ENOUGH to the impenetrable heavens, I might actually find them opening?
Because the one thing I really want: Love, by its very nature, cannot be earned. It may be accepted, but it cannot be forced or bought or manipulated. And for me, I can start accepting Love the minute I realize that I am not enough, that I never had to be, and that all my attempts – even at good things – brought me no closer to Enough. When I started accepting my finite self and living from a reservoir of Love rather than control, I felt a little more internal peace. And when everything in life starts spinning out, I can still cling to the fact that I was never meant to hold up the world and everyone in it. Boundaries have allowed me to become more of the Emily I am made to be because I stopped trying to be everything.
Boundaries are me courageously owning my limited existence.
Here’s the craziest thing of all: when I stop trying to be enough and I am loved in my not-enoughness, that’s where I find the ability to love, give, have fun, and be a kind, generous, fit, self-controlled, patient, strong, sexy, educated, diligent, faithful, smart, good, beautiful, spiritual, and yeah, just enough woman. And I find more of that ability than I ever did while I thought all those things would make me enough!
Boundaries are about letting go of my desire to save the world, and instead joining with a God who has and is actively redeeming every situation and person. So I just get to be me. My identity is no longer consumed with being enough. And I don’t have to demand any other human be enough to mask my own not-enoughness. My old desires show up now and then, but I can recognize that urge to “be enough” for the lie that it is, and continue healing. I don’t have to be enough for you, my family, my friends, my job, my romance, my dreams, my city, or my God.
I just get to be me. Silly, ridiculous, free, friendly, small, diligent, strange, loving, fit, clever, average, learning, creative, sexy, confident, fantastic, intelligent, strong, lovable, smart, flawed, beautiful, not-enough me.
Because Jesus is enough. Because God’s love for the world is enough. Because God’s love for me is enough.
And that’s the most freeing limitation I’ve ever believed.
Editor’s Note: I am consistently in awe of the grace and wisdom found in this community of women. Break-ups are some of the most painful experiences in our lives, and today, Megan writes on handling the aftermath. Megan Odegaard has an M.A. in Marital & Family Therapy from Bethel Seminary, San Diego. She is currently on staff at UCLA. You can follow her on Twitter: @meggo310. And sidenote? We have a question for you. – Lauren
“It’s called a break-up because it’s broken.” Greg Behrendt
“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” Henry Wadswoth Longfellow
What does the word “break-up” stir up in you?
For me, it is the state of being in which emotions are raw to the core. Usually consisting of large amounts of shock, frustration, anger, and devastation. The person you thought you were going to have a beautiful life with is perhaps suddenly gone from your world. Or maybe you spent years trying to fix a problem and came up completely empty.
One thing seems universal following a break-up: You can’t help but crave that closeness again.
So what do we do? Maybe we use our circumstances to try to have a “chance” meeting. Or come up with a hundred reasons why texting or calling is a GREAT idea. At some point, we will probably resort to cyber-stalking (don’t even try to deny it!)
These things we do are an attempt to block us from the pain brought on by the loss of the relationship. The question always is looming: how long can we continue contact — and lessen the feeling of “loss” — before we have to create a boundary?
In this society of prolific communication, we can stay connected to people we perhaps shouldn’t. I mean, there are an infinite number of decisions – Do I delete this person from my Facebook, Twitter, G-Chat, YouTube, Instagram, Blogger and Tumblr accounts? And what about his mom and sister and best friend that I am also connected to?
One thing is clear — Breaking up is not so black-and-white these days. The boundaries can be very blurry.
I know for me, I have to do whatever it takes to disconnect myself from the comfort and security of connection with that person. Sometimes that means not talking for a long time or seeking out some new habits and friendships. Sometimes it means turning off facebook for awhile (because even if you delete the ex from your account… you still have 76 mutual friends that post about stuff involving the ex… ). It can turn into a daunting task.
I dated a guy once who happened to live next door. Which was amazing while we were together. Following the break-up, communication was pretty much severed. But there was a point when I realized that I took comfort in knowing every night when I came home, he was next door. Even though we weren’t really on speaking terms, and even though we both started to casually date other people, I still took comfort in his unspoken presence.
It took me almost a year to face the hard reality – Although it was easing the pain, if I ever really wanted to move on with my life, I would have to physically move apartments. Which was not ideal, because our place was great and cheap. (And I had lived there first. Not fair!) But after moving, I was instantly free from that final touch of emotional connection, and that feeling was priceless. Now having experienced some of the best years in my new place (and even successfully finding new love), I wonder what the heck took me so long.
The truth is — the longer you hold on, the longer you may be missing out on the blessings God has for you. You wouldn’t go back to a job you’d been fired from would you? (“But I really loved my job!”) And yet we find ourselves continually investing mental energy in relationships that aren’t right for us, whatever the reason may be. In one way, it could be seen as an admirable quality of perseverance. However, when it is over – truly over – no amount of negotiation, promise to change, or willpower to try harder can make something work that doesn’t. It is time to free yourself in order to be able to receive God’s best for you.
Which leads me to the next hard question – when do you have hope and when do you move on?
I wish I could answer that question for you, but I can only tell you this for certain. Knowing your identity makes all the difference in how you respond to a break-up.
What (or who) do you put your hope in? Do you seek comfort from past loves because it is easy, to assuage your own doubts of your worth? To calm your own fears of the future? Or do you embrace your calling as God’s child and trust that God is sovereign and has your best interest, even in (and especially in) this break-up?
I believe a break-up is one way God calls his children back to him. Relationships are very tangible sources of security and comfort. However, when you get so comfortable you start overlooking God’s will for your life, and what is best for you, it is possible to make a wrong turn.
“Much of the disappointment and heartache we experience is the result of our attempts to get something from relationships that we already have in Christ,” Timothy Lane & Paul David Tripp write in their book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. They go on to say (paraphrasing): If we seek our identity from other people, we will ride the roller coaster of their best and worst moments; we will become acutely aware of their weaknesses and failures; we will become overly critical, frustrated, disappointed, hopeless and angry because they have failed to deliver the identity we desperately seek.
However, if we remember that we are a beloved child of God, and that he has given us everything we need to be who he created us to be – we are freed up to truly love and serve others. We are free to be patient and forgiving, because we are not demanding anything in return. And we are free to mourn the loss of something special, appreciate it for the gift it was, and move on to better things for us.
So, in the face of a break-up, it is okay to be hurt, angry, and disappointed. It is okay to feel the looming pain of loss. But the sooner we embrace the appropriate boundary toward healing, the better. Even if the boundary is temporary. Even if we try one thing and have to change it. It is important to take a step away from communication for awhile and gain comfort in something besides that person. Do something you have always wanted to do, just for yourself. Take time with some great friends. Try a yoga class. Sign up for a marathon. Most importantly, seek God. It is in this place that you will find true healing, comfort and wisdom even in the midst of the most confusing relationships.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Callie. She tweets at @callandrarose. If you didn’t read the intro we posted to this month’s topic of Boundaries yesterday, please do so here! Oh – and have you checked out our new Community Board yet?! – Lauren
I’ve realized something about myself in the last few months: I have major boundary issues. My boundaries in my primary relationships are undefined or unattended to. This revelation explains my entire life.
Ten years ago, as I was entering my teenage years, my parents announced their separation, leaving me with a lot of emotions and a broken heart. For the last ten years, I have been denying any pain or scars from the divorce while managing the complex dynamics of having two families. I’ve straddled my two families, trying to please and give attention to both. I’ve adapted to the needs and feelings of family members, at the cost of my own. I’ve avoided conflict and confrontation. I’ve carried their burdens and taken on their responsibilities. My relationships with my family still consist of my being the one who sustains most of the relationships; I’m often the one making an effort, even in simple things like making conversation. I’ve been preoccupied with trying to maintain all my intricate relationships that I haven’t worked on some of my heartbreak that was caused by divorce and the family split.
Recently, I have realized how my relationships with my family impact my other relationships. I often find myself in friendships where I am the one managing the relationship. I have accepted the burdens of my friends, without recognizing that I am not the sole bearer of the weight. In one way or another, my friendships have consisted of me denying my feelings, over-concerning myself with their feelings and problems, being unable to say no, feeling guilty for emotions, and rationalizing why I go against my feelings.
To be honest, I don’t reveal my true feelings to others because I am afraid I will hurt them. I don’t tell others when they have overstepped a boundary of mine because I am afraid they will get angry or worse, ridicule me for them. I have consistently denied my own feelings and have over-concerned myself with the feelings of others because I’ve valued others and their feelings over myself and my feelings.
As a result, I’ve been so preoccupied with others’ emotions and issues that I haven’t attended to my own. At all. I couldn’t figure why I hadn’t been dealing with my heart issues because I had been consistently working on them with Jesus. I gave up talking to Jesus about my heart because I didn’t know what was holding me back. I had a hit a wall and I couldn’t explain what that wall was, let alone scale it.
The reason I haven’t worked on my heart issues is because all my emotional energy is spent on my primary relationships. Lately, all this energy has been devoted to one friend. I’m making sure they are alright, talking with them through their issues, thinking constantly about how they are doing and adapting myself to their needs. At the end of the day, I have no energy for myself. I’ve been ignoring my heart issues and Jesus because I literally feel too tired—physically and emotionally.
A few weeks ago, that friend’s burden was placed on me and it was one I could not bear. I was completely overwhelmed, pushed to my edge and I fell, hard. I couldn’t function anymore, not just in my friendship but also as a person. I couldn’t focus on my own tasks and responsibilities, control my own emotions or manage my own stress. Through all that, I realized that I am not called to carry these burdens all by myself. I am called to carry those burdens to Christ, to place them in His arms and trust in His faithfulness.
I’ve learned that positive boundaries aren’t selfish. In establishing good boundaries, I am protecting myself from becoming overwhelmed but also protecting the other from being the subject of my contempt. These boundaries give definition for where personal lines are crossed—in responsibility, emotions, or burdens—so that the relationship can be healthy. They help prevent emotions from being hidden and brewing deep down, waiting to explode. Ultimately, having good boundaries allows me to be a better friend because I am happier and freer.
I’m stepping into freedom and choosing to walk in grace. I am working on my relationships by establishing better boundaries. I am beginning to have revelations and heart healing because I am becoming free of the weight of these burdens. I am learning to speak up for myself and express my emotions.
As good women, we must stop taking on more than we are called to bear. We need to ask the Lord which burdens we are to rightly bear and give them to Him. We must not deny our feelings and hide them away anymore. Instead, we must digest our feelings with Jesus and those close confidants He’s placed in our lives. We need to ask, “What am I feeling?” and “Why?” Once we have figured out what we are feeling and why, we must own our own feelings and express them appropriately.
Because the truth is, my feelings – and your feelings – are as important as the feelings of others.
The truth is, we are not called to carry our burdens or anyone else’s all on our own.
God doesn’t want us to be overwhelmed by our relationships. He doesn’t want us to carry the burdens of others to a point of our harm. It is the desire of His heart for us to spend time with Him and to give Him the weight on our shoulders.
The truth is that good boundaries establish right relationships — ones that are aligned with heart of God, that give freedom and grace.
Editor’s Note: Hey girlfriends! HAPPY APRIL! I hope you all survived whatever horrendous jokes were played on you on the first, and that you’re ready to talk about boundaries this month!
We’ve already received several submissions and for this I am so grateful. It has become clear though that we need to define what we mean by “boundaries.”
A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible.
Envision a little wall all around you, with a gate. Your heart lives inside the wall. You control the gate. You let things in, you let things out. (Yes! Walls are good things. They’re only bad if you don’t know when to open and close the gate.)
Boundaries protect, but they also give you the ability to function well as you. Emotional and spiritual boundaries do the same thing as your skin: they protect you from harm, but they also are what gives you the ability to extend yourself on behalf of others without losing yourself. Without skin, we’d be pools of livers and blood on the floor. We’d be susceptible to every germ and couldn’t survive. The same with internal boundaries: they give us the emotional and spiritual structures to not be completely at the whim and mercy of everything. We get to engage willingly in each of the areas of life to the extent we can, because of boundaries.
As Cloud & Townsend put it, “boundaries define who we are and who we are not.” We have physical boundaries, mental, emotional, and spiritual boundaries. They’re healthy things, but often, Christians focus so much on being loving and “unselfish” that we forget we are only human. We have limits, therefore we have boundaries. We are uniquely created as individuals, therefore we have boundaries that help us hold onto these beautiful attributes.
If you would like to share your story on how you’ve learn to set physical and/or emotional boundaries in relationships with parents, siblings, friends, significant others, co-workers, the internet (!), or whoever, please visit our Contribute page.
If you have not yet read the book Boundaries, I cannot recommend it enough. You can purchase it for under $10 including S&H on BestBookBuys.com or purchase it straight from Amazon. If you struggle with not being able to say no, standing up for yourself, if you avoid conflict like the plague, or are simply struggling to know what you are responsible for in any kind of relationship, I have yet to find a book half as helpful.
Much love to all of you,
PS. SO many of you beautiful women in our community have been sexually abused or assaulted. Today is the LAST day that the e-book “Rid Me Of My Disgrace” is FREE. Please go download it and share it.