Setting Boundaries to Enrich Authentic Relationships

by

The primary purpose of setting boundaries is to create healthy and nurturing relationships and maintain a positive view of self without being too self-absorbed.

Didn’t you notice a surge of online meetings because of the pandemic? Since we cannot meet face-to-face, we gather in whatever platform that is suitable for us. These meetings vary from the formal office meetings to the hilarious online gatherings with friends and family. We find ourselves more connected online.

The intimate connections with the people we live with also increased. Our spouses are more at home now and so do our children. We have more time for togetherness. People are not busy outside the home so screentime has also increased. But there is a downside to this. When we are too “familiar” with each other, we may disrespect the person’s time, personal space, and deplete their energy. We may overstep other people’s boundaries.

What are Boundaries?

I was listening to one Christian counselor, and he defines boundaries this way. It is a personal property line that marks things we are responsible for. It defines who we are and who we are not. Also, it is taking responsibility for your actions and emotions and NOT taking responsibility for other people’s actions and emotions.

Do you have boundaries in your relationships? If you feel any of these below, then you may have poor boundaries.

  • When you feel responsible for other people
  • When you get into other people’s problems
  • When you feel manipulated
  • When you feel that other people’s happiness depend on you
  • When you always say, “YES”
  • When you feel burnout

Why we Need to Set Boundaries

Life is beautiful, but it gets hard. And what makes it difficult is us. We are complex human beings carrying personal baggage going through life together. Whether we like it or not, we need each other to survive. Some of us have challenging relationships. In fact, psychologists relate toxic relationships with people overstepping our boundaries.

We don’t realize that we have to put boundaries in place. Our elders have trained us to accept and tolerate others. That we should not pass judgment but show kindness to all. That is a universal principle we adhere to. In fact, the latter is biblical. But if it takes away who we are and minimizes our needs over others, then disrespect and manipulation set in.

We put boundaries to protect us and to affirm who we are and who we are not. Boundaries allow us to filter the behavior that is acceptable to us or not. It says a lot about who we are –values, needs, skills/gifts, convictions– and who we are not. Setting boundaries in relationships is a form of self-care. We need to believe that our needs matter too.

Setting boundaries to enrich authentic relationships
Photo by Pixistock

Setting Boundaries is Biblical

I did some research on the biblical context of setting boundaries and I realized that God set boundaries. First, He set physical boundaries by separating the land, sea, and sky; day and night. God restricted Adam and Eve to eat from THAT tree in the garden. In the time of Moses, He carved on stone tablets how they should live (10 Commandments). God is just and loving and He would not allow any one beyond His boundaries because that is dishonoring him. If the people did, He called them out and disciplined them.

In the New Testament, Jesus also set His boundaries. He was a busy man, but he lived an unhurried life. He ate, rested, and slept. Every time He needed to meet with a person one on one, He did it with intention. Remember the man who was born blind (Mark 8:22-26) or the woman at the well (John 4:1-26)? He took time and stopped to meet these people’s needs. But he never did this to all the people.

My husband reminded me of the feeding of the 5000. (Matthew 13:14-21) Jesus ate with the crowd and enjoyed that time with his followers. He didn’t heal everyone who came to him for healing. When His mother Mary (John 2:2-5) urged Him to “do something”, he stopped her.

How to Set Boundaries

We have already established how important it is to set boundaries to keep healthy relationships. And that is, in fact, self-care. It’s all about you and you get to filter what you allow in your life. How do we do that?

  • Make a checklist of your beliefs, values, and what is important to you. We are accountable for our life.
  • Next is to communicate your needs. One example of setting boundaries is how you spend your time. Do we tend to say Yes to every event, job, opportunity that comes our way? Do we find yourself exhausted after? Then, we have not set our boundaries when it comes to time. If the invitation takes time away from family or personal time, then say NO. If we don’t, expect burnout, anger, and resentment.
  • Set boundaries with no explanation. When people try to convince us to do something we don’t want to do, they ask us why. Just be honest and say what you feel regardless of their response. It is important to make a stand on what you want to do or not.
  • Declare the consequences when they overstep your boundaries. I like the example I found in Psychology Today. If a person cannot respect you, then what is the point of continuing the relationship? It may be harsh or threatening. But you know that you need to be respected and if this person can’t give you that, then we can close the door on that person for a time. Allow them to mull over their actions.

Setting up boundaries is NOT putting a wall between us and other people. It is protecting our mind and heart from things that hurt us. Dr. Henry Cloud, the author Boundaries, says that when we allow people to step over our boundaries, we experience pain. It destroys relationships. But when we set these boundaries in place, we can help enrich authentic relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and others. Before we can care for others, we have to watch ourselves first. Don’t let anyone tell you that caring for yourself or your mental health is selfish.