Sunday, November 8, 2009

Boundary Busters

I must confess. The concept of a boundary in a relationship was foreign to me until I was in my mid thirties. I grew up in a home where they did not exist, and so as I moved into adulthood, I began to have trouble in "boundariless" relationships. This was not only true with the opposite sex but with abusive females, and even children at times (As much as we don't want to believe it, children can be abusive since we are all born with a sinful nature). As a result, I became a doormat. It was no secret that it was easy to walk all over me and and so I seemed to either invite the people who were already in my life (family members, spouse, etc.) to do just that or attract new people who were gunning for an easy target. At times I wondered if I had a flashing light attached to my head that read "Abuse Me!"

But there comes a time in many of our lives where the risks of unhealthy behaviors outweigh the seeming benefits, and that tipping of the scale motivates us to change. For me it was the birth of my second child. I'd known for a long time that the situation I was in was unhealthy, but I didn't want to "rock the boat" as water logged with problems as it was. Besides, I was a Christian and God was going to heal my marriage. Right? I still wholeheartedly believe God could have done that. Problem was, both parties have to want to make positive changes in order for that to happen. At any rate, the risks of continuing on with things as they were became frightfully evident to me as I finally admitted I was in real trouble -we were capsizing and my children and I were going to be the ones to drown. The first step really is admitting there's a problem. I really needed a life raft.

It came to me in the form of the book "Boundaries in Marriage" (Cloud and Townsend). When I read the definition of a boundary, I realized I'd been lacking them all of my life! No wonder I found myself in the boat I was in! As I read, I began to take baby steps toward establishing boundaries in my relationships. I didn't have any control over the behavior of the abusive people around me, but I (and the Holy Spirit) did have control over what I would accept from them. Being berated, cursed at, and demeaned in order to keep the peace were no longer on my list. It was so empowering to take ownership for my own behavior without taking the blame for that of others.

The authors of "Boundaries" state that the ultimate goal is to establish boundaries in order to have healthier relationships, but they warn that some people will walk away from the relationship rather than change. Sadly, as I tried to make healthier choices, the toxic people in my life, didn't take too kindly to the positive changes in me. I attended Christian counseling during this chrysalis period in my life as well as a support group. When I expressed dismay about how some people were responding to my boundary setting (the most common response was anger), the leader of the group, a licensed therapist said, "Of course they're angry. They've worked really hard to train you to accept their abuse. How dare you get healthy?" Ultimately, those relationships, including my marriage came to an end, but I emerged from the long transformation process as a butterfly.

The best illustration of what happened in what I've come to view as a God-initiated clean-sweep of the boundary busters in my life came from another counselor who told me as he held up both hands, fingers curled, and fitted them together, "You've been bending to fit an unhealthy pattern." Next he straightened one hand and brought it away from the other one. "As you get healthier, and they're unwilling and/or unable to unbend and get healthier too, you don't fit together anymore."

For years, when I was "boundariless", I felt withered. The strong, confident, independent woman inside me was dying. Looking back at pictures from that time in my life, I see that I was literally bent. I walked with my shoulders hunched and resembled Quasimodo from the Hunchback of Not re Dame. Today, with godly boundaries in place, it feels so good to stand up straight and stretch toward the light of who God created me to be.

Still, there are times when I encounter boundary busters. Though I don't have to deal with other people projecting their negative stuff onto me on a daily basis, boundary busters abound in the community, schools, workplace and even the church. I'm astounded by some people's audacity and their inability to take responsibility for their own actions. Sometimes I feel like Ray Parker, Jr. when he sang, "When there's something wrong in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Ghost Busters!" Sometimes I want to call 1-800-Boundary-Busters!

But as I've continued to work on myself, I've come to the realization that there is no such boundary busters task force. Satan is the master of this cunning craft as he demonstrated in the Garden of Eden. God set a boundary to protect Adam and Eve, yet Satan persuaded Eve to eat from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We as a human race have struggled with boundaries ever since.

So how do we combat boundary busters?

I've referred a lot to the "Boundaries in Marriage" book which is only one in the "Boundaries" series that includes titles such as "Boundaries in Parenting", "Boundaries in Dating", etc., but ultimately our boundaries are set out in the Bible, God's ultimate Boundary Book. It addresses every relationship and how we are to conduct ourselves in a manner that is respectful of the other person and ourselves, and that is God-honoring.

I joked about wearing a flashing sign asking to be abused, but in all seriousness, studies have been conducted that prove in a room full of people, the abusers will be drawn to the ones who will accept abuse. But we can draw the line before we get into abusive relationships or let unhealthy patterns develop in our existing ones. We've been given an internal Boundary Buster Alert in the form of the Holy Spirit. It's been called a red flag, or a check in the spirit. For too long I ignored mine, mistakenly believing I was being a peacemaker when I let people abuse me.

Boundaries are necessary and positive and a lack of them results in negative outcomes. An example of this is children who have no boundaries enforced in their lives. How many times have you heard someone say that children want boundaries to make them feel safe? The world is a scary, uncertain place when no limits are set. For children and for us.

Maintaining healthy boundaries is something I have to work hard at every day. I struggle between wanting to speak the truth in love and wanting to speak it in something else! My spirit wants to give a godly response while my flesh wants to rise up and give a worldly one. Oh well, the attempt at balance keeps me near the cross and calling on Him.

I guess there is a Boundary Buster hot line after all.

~Truly, Tammi

Tell Me Truly

What about you? Have you ever had a time where you had to set a boundary in a relationship? Was it difficult? Why or why not? Please let me know. I will write back. Also, if you enjoy my blog, please consider becoming a follower. Blessings!

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