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“Boundaries”: How I Learned to Hear No

1f0be051b9b8121dc0f39c0218acb63dSome people can’t say no. Personally, I do not understand these people. I have the opposite problem. “No” is easy for me to say and yet hard to hear.

For a long while, I was in denial. I only recently admitted this to myself after reading Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The book came highly recommended by several friends, which made me curious how good it could possibly be. After reading it myself, I have this to say about it: Eye. Opener.

My last post emphasized the importance of vulnerability in relationships, but too much openness can be as harmful as none at all. Vulnerability needs to be balanced with healthy boundaries. According to Cloud and Townsend, boundaries separate what we are and are not responsible for. Think of a fence surrounding someone’s property. The fence defines what belongs to the property owner as well as what does not.

“In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out,” Cloud and Townsend write. Boundaries should allow good to come inside while being solid enough to protect from danger.

The book is rich with case studies, practical applications, and biblical wisdom about the use and abuse of boundaries. Every page has some valuable lesson to draw on. Reading this book led me to reevaluate every relationship in my life. I feel equipped with new filters to judge what is healthy and working well in addition to what areas need adjustment.

For instance, I’m even more grateful to how my parents raised me (see Chapter 4: How Boundaries Are Developed). I know my firm sense of personal boundaries, like the power to say no, comes from lessons in early childhood. (I remember many talks about what to do if a stranger tried to lure me into a car. Hint: Don’t get in the car.)

Yet at the same time, I do have a problem with hearing no. I need to practice being aware and respectful of other people’s boundaries. If someone tells me no, I have to let go responsibility of their feelings, choices, and actions–everything I have no right to control.

The truth is: I’m a manipulative controller.

Credit: printmeister(https://flic.kr/p/6S3Z8r)

Credit: printmeister(https://flic.kr/p/6S3Z8r)

At least that’s my self-diagnosis after reading Boundaries. One of the early chapters describes the main personality types of people with boundary issues. Surprisingly, the types include both people whose boundaries are violated by others and the people who commit the violations. Manipulators are a violating type. They don’t have so much issue with their own boundaries as they do with the boundaries of others. They use deception and trickery to get around other people’s boundaries. Jacob is a biblical example of a manipulator. Twice, he tricked his brother out of his rights as the firstborn son. His name actually meant “deceiver”.

While aggressive controllers are more direct and demanding to get what they want, the manipulator is a sneaky little fox who may sometimes play the victim or fake virtue and goodness. Personally, I use the “good intentions” excuse. Or my hurt feelings. Whatever act they scheme, manipulators are ultimately crossing the boundaries of others to control them.

Boundaries confronted me with a mirror. It wasn’t too long before I tried manipulating one of my friends again. She didn’t give in to my tricks. I got angry and finally had to admit my problem. The next day I called her to apologize. Thankfully, she forgave me, and I hope our friendship won’t suffer for my temptation to trample boundaries. Repentance isn’t an overnight change. It’s something I expect to work on the rest of my life, one relationship at a time.

Do you struggle more with protecting your own boundaries or respecting others’? What do you find most difficult about relational boundaries?

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2015 in Books

 

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Confessions of the Forgiven

Christianity is not about being good.

This won’t be news to you, but we Christians often pretend to have everything together even though we mess up as much, if not worse, than other people. My pastor recently said if we were more honest about our faults, rather than always trying to cover them up and put on a good show, then maybe more people would realize Christianity is not about being a good person and more about receiving forgiveness.

It made me wonder what I’ve hid from view so that I would give a better impression to people. Sometimes I have to laugh when friends describe their perspective of me because I realize what aspects of my character they don’t know. Intentionally or not, I’ve filtered what they see.

So let me make myself clear: I only look healthy from the outside. Jesus meant me when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:17).

As much as I look put together, I often:

  • Become easily jealous if someone doesn’t have time for me because they are busy with their other friends.
  • Resent when my housemates forget to invite me along in their fun plans even if I wouldn’t want to go anyway.
  • Lose patience with kids at my agency who complain about being bored because they don’t like (or won’t try) any of the cool activities I have planned.
  • Judge program participants who don’t respond to my repeated emails and phone calls.
  • Consume far too much sugar on a daily basis in order to care for the body God gave me.
  • Obsess over my interactions with attractive young men, reliving them in my memory and fantasizing about what future fairy-tale scenarios may result.
  • Tithe to my church only on the rare occasion that I am not fearful of bankruptcy and yet buy coffee and ice cream on a whim.
  • Pray inconsistently and often forget to pray for others even when they have requested prayers.
  • Stop myself from talking about Jesus when I feel like it would make the conversation awkward or even produce a disagreement.
  • Resist telling people what the Bible says is truth because I’m worried about appearing judgmental or unaccepting.

Wow. Did I just publish all that for the world to see? Hopefully I won’t regret it.

Depending on your standards, you may say none of the points on my list—or very few—make me a sick person in need of a Savior. These are just the typical struggles of any normal person. You might relate to more than a few. And since I didn’t name any of the “biggies”—say lying, stealing, or adultery—then I am a pretty good person overall, right?

The thing is…it doesn’t matter how I rank in the line-up of all human beings living and dead. This isn’t a beauty pageant, and three lucky girls won’t go home with flowers and crowns.

All that matters is what God sees. He is the one judge, and his standard is perfection. So he judges all people using the standard of one, the only perfect human to have ever lived. The only one who was 100% human and 100% divine. The only one since Adam and Eve who was born free of sin. And the only one to live in perfect obedience to God’s will, not sinning even once, not even on the point of death.

When the standard is Jesus Christ, “pretty good” is not good enough.

Thankfully, there’s such a thing as forgiveness. More on this next week.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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