Boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people.  In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out.  Sometimes, we have bad on the inside and good on the outside. In these instances, we need to be able to open up our boundaries to let the good in and the bad out.  

Boundaries are not walls. But in every community, all members have their own space and property.  The important thing is that property lines be permeable enough to allow pass and strong enough to keep out danger. 

Boundaries are anything that helps to differentiate you from someone else, or show where you begin and end.  The most basic boundary that defines you is your physical skin. The most basic boundary-setting word is no. It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices.  

Setting limits on others is a misnomer.  We can’t do that. What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right.  The other aspect of limits that is helpful when talking about boundaries is setting our own internal limits.  We need to have spaces inside ourselves where we can have a feeling, an impulse, or a desire, without acting it out.  We need self-control without repression.  We need to be able to say no to ourselves.

Henry Cloud, John Townsend writing in Boundaries

It takes a Villiage

Of all the new experiences parenthood has brought into my life, I was least prepared for the public rebukes. I was standing at a bus stop recently after a long workday with my 2-year-old, worried that we would be caught in an imminent downpour. As I searched my phone for the status of the next bus, a car sped by. “Watch your kid!” the driver yelled unkindly. An immediate panic seized me, but my toddler, who had been holding my hand until a few moments earlier, was perfectly safe, intently examining the wall of a coffee shop not two feet away. The driver assumed he’d seen a neglectful mom absorbed in her phone, too busy scrolling through her Facebook feed to watch a wandering child. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true; the reproach still stung.

Passing public judgment on a stranger’s parenting has become a national sport. Whole corners of the internet are dedicated to shaming mothers who decline to breast-feed, let their kids cry it out, or dare to sit the little one in front of the TV. Practices that were commonplace 30 years ago, such as allowing a child to walk alone to the playground or sit solo in the car for a few minutes during an errand run, now can lead to calls to the police and moms in handcuffs (see Last Word). This parenting paranoia makes little sense: Statistics prove it’s never been safer to raise a child in the U.S., though we act as if the opposite were true. Raising a child used to take a village of neighbors helping you. Now it takes a village telling you why you’re doing it all wrong.

Carolyn O’Hara, The Week Magazine

setting boundaries

Many people feel that they are “people persons,” able to attract others and connect with them. At the same time, however, people persons often feel overwhelmed, anxious and frustrated about the obligations and responsibilities that their bonded relationships demand.

Setting boundaries is the primary tool for strengthening your separateness and developing an accurate sense of responsibility. The essence of boundaries is determining where you end and someone else begins, realizing your own person apart from others, and knowing your limits.

A good way to understand this is to compare our lives to a house. Houses have certain maintenance needs, such as painting, terminate control and roof repairs. If, however, we’re spending all our time putting roofs on our neighbor’s houses while neglecting our own roof or we run the risk of a leaky roof or worse by the time we get back home.

Think of all the different caring acts you performed over the last 24 hours. How many did you do grudgingly because you were under the threat of someone’s criticism or abandonment? How many did you do under compulsion because you feel guilty if you don’t keep people happy? And how many were from a cheerful heart, from the overflow caused by knowing you are loved by God and people in your life?

John Townsend

Justified Anger

To be “angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way -that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.” The Greek philosopher Aristotle offered that observation more than 2000 years ago.

Some of us have a problem holding onto anger when we need it the most. Justified anger revolves around boundary violations, but sometimes a proper boundary is never put in place or maintained. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, in their book Boundaries, write about how a person’s skin is our first boundary. People who are sexually abused as children, for instance, are often confused about maintaining that boundary, not realizing that it is appropriate for them to claim ownership over it.

There are other psychological boundaries we fail to set for the other reasons. Regular violations of that psychological marker make it hard for us to see things for what they are. One way to gain clarity is to think about your children (whether you actually have children or not). We can ask ourselves, if a boyfriend, boss, etc, treated our child the way they are treating us, how would we respond? Looking at the situation from a different angle by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes helps us to work around our distorted boundaries and more clearly see the situation for what it really is.

Stephen Goforth