One of the concepts that has had the biggest impact, if not THE biggest impact, on my life is the concept of boundaries. Boundaries is knowing where you end and the next person begins. It’s knowing what lies inside of your boundary line – kind of like a neighbor knows how much of the adjacent yard belongs to him and how much belongs to the neighbor – and knowing what lies outside of your boundary line. When the boundary lines start getting confused, then we often end up being confused and frustrated without knowing why.
My FAVORITE author, Dr. Henry Cloud, is a psychologist. He has changed my personal and social life with his books. This is some of what I’ve learned from him about boundaries.
Everyone has boundaries. For some strange reason, people have an invisible area surrounding our bodies that we call “personal space”. When this personal space gets crossed without our permission, we feel nervous, uncomfortable, frustrated, agitated, irritated, and all those other similar adjectives. We don’t like it when someone comes into our personal space uninvited. Americans’ personal space is usually about 2 feet on each side of us. If you come even an inch too close, our tendency is to take a step back. This is done automatically without us even thinking about it! Our bodies are trained to keep its boundaries protected. If someone walks up on you too quickly, some of us have reflexes of pushing that person back outside our “bubble”. Isn’t that interesting? I hear in Hispanic countries, their bubbles are smaller, and they will be offended if you are standing too far off from them.
The purpose of this post is not to talk about personal space, but I felt it was important to mention that to show JUST how important it is to people to have their boundary area respected. Well, when it comes to other boundaries, we act the same way. For example, if someone tries to boss you around, your tendency might be to back off from them. And if they come on to strong with the bossiness, you might rebel and push them away emotionally. When someone tries to cross our mental boundaries, just as with our physical boundaries, we try to protect them.
I’ve learned the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries. I’ve also learned that there are other things that lie within my boundary line other than personal space and choices. I learned that MY emotions, opinions, and thoughts lie within my boundary line, and that other people’s emotions, opinions, and thoughts lie within THEIR boundary line. Just as I don’t like it when other people try to tell me how or what to think, feel, and do, people feel the same way about me!
There are some other areas where we have to know where we end and someone else begins. Some males and females get super clingy in relationships. They don’t know where their boundary line ends and their boyfriend or girlfriend’s begins. They want ALL of their significant other’s attention, time, love, etc. They are being disrespectful when they try to force the other person to do this. People are separate entities (bodies) that should have freedom to do their own thing. God wants us to be obedient to and pray to Him all the time, but He doesn’t force us to do it. He just tells us what He wants from us and then He lets us make the choice. We should be the same way with friends, family members, coworkers, and significant others. We can tell them what we want from them and would like for them to do for us, but we can’t FORCE it on them. That’s disrespectful.
I’ll use a personal example. I had a friend who could be considered kind of clingy. She wanted me to be on the phone with her for hours on end every day. She would text me nonstop throughout the day. I would tell her that my phone bill was going over because of it. She wanted us to hang out all the time. She would stop by the house unexpectedly and beg me to go with her places even after I told her no several times. But I like to do things alone. I LOVE my alone time because I can read, write, watch tv, and commune with God at that time. But she didn’t want me to have my own life. She didn’t know where her life ended and where mine began. Because she kept crossing my boundaries, I had to put her in her place – which was outside of my boundary line. We’re still friends, but our friendship is not clingy anymore. It is unhealthy and dysfunctional when someone wants to spend inordinate amounts of time with you. Only newborn infants should be with their mothers all the time. Jesus got alone to pray to God in the mornings; he didn’t spend every waking moment with people. People will drain you if you don’t step away to recharge!
But when the shoe was on the other foot, I used to get angry with people when they didn’t let me cross their boundaries. Like if someone didn’t respond to a text message quick enough or didn’t call me back quick enough, I would be angry at them as if they were required to talk to me! I would blame them for me feeling upset, angry, or sad about it. But many lessons and a few years later, I learned that no one HAS to answer their phone. People don’t sign contracts for a cell phone that say, “At every moment, I will answer this phone and respond to every text I receive.” I feel that people who are married are ONE with their partner, so I think that they should let their spouse know where they are, but if you are a friend or a family member or a boyfriend or a girlfriend, no one HAS to do anything for you. They never made a vow or commitment to you. And if you or I want to get mad about it, guess what? Those feelings lie within OUR OWN boundary line. That person is not responsible for making you happy again. That’s your job; those emotions of yours are on your property. Deal with them.
In addition to feelings and actions, we can’t make someone think how we want them to think. They might pretend they agree with our opinions, but you’ll never know because their thoughts are floating around in their heads – not yours. I write a lot of blog posts on some controversial topics, and, believe it or not, someone will comment on MY blog post (which lies within MY boundary line), and will have the audacity to tell me not to think what I think! Can you believe that? I don’t mind someone telling me, “Well, I beg to differ with you on the point you made regarding abortion. I don’t consider it murder.” But when someone tells me, ‘You can’t say that! You can’t think that! Don’t write that! Delete this post!” I think it’s absurd. I never go to a lesbian’s page who writes something about how homosexuality is not a sin, and tell them, “Don’t be gay!” I don’t go to anorexic people’s posts who write about how they only ate two crackers today and tell them, “Stop vomiting, stop exercising, and eat!”
But I can tell them, “I respect your views; but in my opinion, according to the bible, homosexuality is wrong.” I can go to an anorexic’s site and say, “I understand that this is a very serious disorder, but I feel that you are glorifying this suicidal lifestyle and that you are perhaps leading other young girls to starve themselves to death.” Yes, my opinions might be perceived as kind of forward, but guess what, “THEY LIE WITHIN MY BOUNDARY LINE, and if you enable comments on your page, you have opened your boundary line for other people to comment their opinions to you and your readers. However, I don’t think people should try to force you to think like them because, like I said earlier, they may appear to conform to your views outwardly, but inwardly they can have the same mindset. More than likely though, they might PUSH you out of their boundary line by saying some harsh words and blocking you from their page!
I realize that God respects other people’s boundaries even though we sometimes don’t. I know of pastors that will tell you how and what to think based on their own opinions. I think that is wrong. I think pastors can tell people – who decided to come to their church – what the Word of God says we should and should not do or think. BUT we must also keep in mind that God Himself doesn’t make us do anything that we don’t want to do. God doesn’t force us to get saved. If that was the case, no one would go to hell. God doesn’t force us to make only good choices in life. What He does is present us with the only and right things we need to be doing, and then He lets US choose what we will do with that information within our boundary line. I sometimes WISH God would force people to see the truth, but that’s not how God operates. So I’m guessing He wants us to do the same. Show people the truth, tell people the truth, and leave it up to them to take that information into their boundary line and live according to it if they choose to do so.
So basically, please ask for permission before you cross people’s boundary lines. If God tells me to bind the devil when he wants to act a fool on my property, surely I won’t let you do it!