Setting Relationship Boundaries: Truths & Myths
(Several weeks ago, we introduced Christian Boot Camp (CBC). CBC is a series of teachings on topics that cripple churches, such as pride, offense, anger, fear, self-righteousness, denial, blame-shifting, resentment, enabling and victim mentality, just to name a few. These teachings — complete with accompanying slides — are being taught in churches throughout the US and can help your church get on the road to total health. Contact Innovative Church & Worship Consulting for more details.)
Are you in a toxic relationship with someone, where no matter what you do or say, you’re made out to be the bad guy? Unfortunately, this is common. And the person whom you’re in a toxic relationship with may be your boss, your spouse, your children, parents, or even someone from church.
I hope you’re sitting down, because you’re about to get a dose of reality: Chances are, you are at fault.
Oh, I don’t mean that you’re the only one at fault if you’re in a toxic relationship. But if you haven’t set boundaries with the person who is mistreating you, you are partially to blame. From the person who talks down to you and belittles you, to the person who uses the threat of leaving their relationship with you, you need to know that these are manipulation tactics and you have to be armed on how to respond.
Boundaries are a necessary part of every healthy relationship. So, before we get into the truths about boundaries, let’s uncover 5 Common Myths about Setting Boundaries…
1. “Setting a Boundary Means People Won’t Think I'm Nice.” Au contraire, mon frère (on the contrary). Setting a boundary with someone who is mistreating you doesn’t tell anyone that you’re not nice; it tells them that you have self-respect. So, if you’re being disrespected, that’s a sign that the abuser has a lack of respect for you. The solution is to let them know that you have respect for you, and that they need to behave respectfully toward you. The devil wants you to believe that when you set a boundary, you won’t be seen as nice. But don’t listen to the one Jesus called, “The father of lies.”
2. “People May Not Like Me if I Set a Boundary.” I hope you’re sitting down for this: Not everyone in this world is going to like you. Even though this isn’t a scripture, Haters Gonna Hate does have a ring of proverbs-like truth to it. So while you’re sitting down, also know this: Jesus didn’t command us to bend over backwards to get everyone we’ll ever meet to like us. He commanded us to love our neighbors. Now what your neighbor does in response to the love you show them, however, is out of your hands...it's completely on them.
3. “Setting a Boundary is Being Selfish.” Many people think that by setting a boundary with someone, they’re putting self first. Don’t misunderstand: we’re told throughout the bible that we need to put others first. But setting a boundary isn’t putting yourself before the other person. It’s not saying, “You have to respect me”, but rather, “You can’t disrespect me.” It’s not saying, “You have to be nice to me”, but rather, “You can’t be mean to me.” See the difference? What's selfish about that?
4. “If I Set a Boundary, I Will Be Viewed as Being Mean and Cruel.” If, when setting a boundary, you have a nasty tone, use foul language, or say something demeaning, that would be mean and cruel. But if you can calmly state your objection, while letting them know that their behavior has crossed the line of respect, you’ve just set a boundary properly. (If the other person has a history of blaming, interrupting, or being mean-spirited, sending a letter by email may be a good way to get your point clearly across.)
5. “If I Set a Boundary, the Other Person Could Leave Me.” If someone knows that they can treat you however they want to and use the threat of leaving you whenever you stand up to them, then you should familiarize yourself with this term: Manipulation by Fear. Hear me: It’s manipulation and it’s fear. So, if you set a boundary with someone and their response (or lack of response) is to leave you, you have to question whether or not they either are committed to the relationship, or truly loved you in the first place.
Now that you know some of the myths about setting boundaries, here are 5 Truths about Setting Boundaries…
1. Setting a Boundary is a Teaching Moment. When I was about five, I was in the grocery checkout line with my dad. Unbeknownst to him, I had picked up a pack of gum that I saw on the floor and began chewing it when we got back to the car. The spanking I consequently received was a lifelong lesson about stealing that I’ve never forgotten. In the same way, setting a boundary with someone who is mistreating you teaches them a lifelong lesson; and will hopefully deter them from mistreating others.
2. Setting a Boundary is Going to be Confrontational. When your children misbehave, do you confront them? Of course, you do. And why do you confront them? Because you love them and need to correct their behavior to show that this type of conduct is unacceptable; both to you and to God. If you can correct a child, you can also confront an adult who is misbehaving toward you. It just takes practice and consistency, just as with your child. Say Philippians 4:13 with me: I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.
3. Setting a Boundary Will Require a Backbone. If someone plows into your car and totals it, do you let them just drive away, or do you pursue compensation for the damage? If someone breaks into your home, do you let them take whatever they want, or do you call the police? In the same way, you’ll need to find your backbone when you set a boundary in a relationship where you’ve been mistreated. It shows them that you respect yourself. Because when you don't respect yourself, others won't respect you either.
4. In Order to Set a Boundary, You Will Have to Confront Fear. Fear is the number one reason people choose not to set a boundary. And it’s usually the fear that the person being confronted will leave the relationship. If you’re being mistreated, it means you’re being bullied. And how do you deal with a bully? You have to stand up to them. In the same way, the spirit of fear (which is an actual demon spirit - see 2 Tim. 1:7) is also a bully. When you stand your ground with the demon spirit of fear — and show an ongoing track record of standing up to it, it will eventually leave (see James 4:7).
5. Jesus Himself Set Boundaries. Here are just four quick examples: (1) He withdrew from the crowds who wanted Him, so that He could spend time with His Father (Luke 5:15-16). (2) His mother and brothers tried to use the entitlement of their relationship with Him so He would leave the crowd He was ministering to (Matt. 12:46-50). (3) The Pharisees and religious leaders baited Him, and He responded by setting boundaries (Matt. 22:15-22). (4) He declined Herod’s demand to, “Show us a sign that You are the Son of God” (Luke 23:8-9).
Boundaries can be tough to set…initially. But just like learning to walk, riding a bike, or driving a car, it gets easier over time. And with enough practice, it becomes second nature. You can do it. You have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), Christ is always with you (Matt. 28:20), and you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Phil. 4:13).
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