What are Boundaries?

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The word "boundaries" is kind of a buzz word in the self-help and counseling world but what are "boundaries" really?  Where did the concept come from?  Why do we need them?  It's a little easier to understand boundaries if we look at the physical world first.  It can be a picket fence, a brick wall, or a no trespassing sign.  All of these examples indicate where one person's property begins and ends; they signify, this is what I am responsible for and what you are not responsible for, as well as what I am not responsible for.   Thinking of a boundary as a fence, you can see that they function to protect us from allowing the bad in, but also needs a "gate" to allow good and bad out.  There are several different types of boundaries.

  • Physical-  skin is a great example of a person's physical boundary.  It literally defines where your body begins and ends.  The skin protects your body by holding everything together but does not let germs in.  It also has "gates" to let the good, i.e. food in and waste out.
  • Mental-  these boundaries give you the freedom to have your own thoughts and opinions.  A mental boundary are our words, especially the word No.  These boundaries give us the freedom to say "yes, I like chocolate cake!" and "no, I don't like waking up early!".
  • Emotional-  emotional boundaries help us to take responsibility for our own feelings and emotions and not attempt to take responsibility for the feelings of others.  This is especially helpful when engaging with others who may use manipulation to get what they want from you.

Many Christians believe that having boundaries is unloving, selfish, and even sinful.  The concept of boundaries actually comes from God!  He demonstrates throughout the Bible his setting of boundaries.  He defines himself as a distinct and separate being (physical).  He takes responsibility for mental and emotional boundaries by telling us what he thinks, feels, allows, will not allow, and likes and dislikes.  

God not only says he has these boundaries but also enforces them.  Enforcement of boundaries is another area where Christians may struggle.  We begin to feel guilty if we follow through with our boundaries.  God demonstrates His follow through by confronting sin and allowing for the consequences of a person's choices.

When a person has poor boundaries or boundary enforcement, they start to experience problems like feeling overwhelmed, guilty, exhausted, like a failure, a doormat, burnt out, rage, abuse, resentment, and many other negative side effects.  These feelings and thoughts often lead to negative coping techniques like food, alcohol, or drug abuse; excessive shopping or even eating disorders.

If you would like to learn more about having healthy boundaries and how they can help you live a more fulfilling life, please call me at 210-789-9166 or email me here.  I would love to help you!

A great resource for understanding boundaries is the book Boundaries by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend.