The Challenge of Boundaries and what the Bible Says About it – Laura Rodriguez Alvarez

Growing up, I always had a hard time establishing, expressing, and maintaining my own boundaries. The fear of being perceived as “selfish” and therefore unlikeable were too big to acknowledge and respect my own needs and desires. Thinking I was nice for never saying “no” led me to believe that on the rare occasions I dared to ask someone a favor, I was entitled to also hear the words “yes” or “okay” be uttered. Evidently, not everyone has poor boundaries so when I heard the word “no,” I would panic inside and think it was something personal, that I must have done something for them to dislike me. Not realizing that their “no” had nothing to do with me, I would often ask for explanations or try to push their boundaries in attempts to avoid feeling rejected or disliked. Needless to say, I have forgiven my past-self for believing this as it is hard to respect other people’s boundaries when you don’t even know how to honor your own.

A big part of my self-development came from learning that I have to take care of myself and that doing so is not selfish. As I set out to learn how to establish boundaries and honor myself, I came across Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, a book written specifically for Christians because they “often focus so much on being loving and giving that they forget their own limitations.” Of course it is not only Christians who struggle with giving too much and not taking care of themselves but since many of the points in this book are supported by text taken from the Bible, it is important to clarify.

Like I previously mentioned, my lack of boundaries were rooted in fears of not being liked and this led me to give reluctantly or compulsively, and like the authors of Boundaries remind us, “these motives can’t exist side by side with love, because ‘there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18). Each of us must give as we have made up our minds. When we are afraid to say no, our yes is compromised” and more importantly, “Matthew 9:13 says that God desires ‘compassion and not sacrifice’. In other words, God wants us to be compliant from the inside out (compassionate), not compliant on the outside and resentful on the inside (sacrificial).”

It was imperative that the Bible (and so my religion) helped support my quest to develop boundaries and stop making decisions based on the approval of others. It was the thought of God supporting my decision that changed my perspective on boundaries, from thinking of them as selfish, to now thinking of them as good and loving. I no longer breed guilt or resentment for the choices I make when I decide to put my self-care before the care of others.

Final remark: Like flight attendants remind us every time, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting others!

How does your religion or worldview portray boundaries and how has this helped your emotional development? How do you navigate the emotional reactions that arise when you do or do not honor the boundaries you wish to uphold?

7 thoughts on “The Challenge of Boundaries and what the Bible Says About it – Laura Rodriguez Alvarez”

  1. Hello Laura,

    It is so interesting how the world works, currently, I am on a path of honoring my boundaries more and it was very meaningful to see your post. Felt like a sign from God. I too struggle with honoring my own boundaries and saying no when I see people need something from me. I have realized through my Islamic faith though, that just like we are to help other people we must care for ourselves. Caring for ourselves is godly in my opinion as our God loves us and cares for us. So we as his beings must take care of ourselves as we are loved divinely and just like others need to be taken care of. The best way I have seen to respect others’ boundaries and the emotional turmoil that arises from that is to cultivate our own boundaries and realize how meaningful they are, and through that wanting the same peace and self-love that comes from creating boundaries for others we interact with by respecting theirs.

  2. As a Catholic, boundaries are not maintained often. The name “catholic” literally means universal, after all. I always felt a bit suffocated by my church as a child. Going to Catholic school, there was never a clear seperation from my personal life, my academic life, and my church. Initially, I attempted to escape the feeling of paralysis and suffocation from my chruch. I did not practice for years. I wanted to create a boundary between myself and my religious community in order to find myself. Only recently have I begun to rethink and revisit these initial boundaries I placed. I think of the people I have not spoken to in years, who were once my best friends. I think to my old priest. I do want to reconnect, but I also want to maintain the boundaries which I have since found by myself.

  3. Hi Laura,

    I think it’s really great of you to touch on issues that are difficult to come to terms with internally let alone share openly. By that I mean, releasing your pride to admit to past or current flaws. Instead, of saying I’m too selfless you phrased it as a fear of being selfish, which I think is a very important distinction. Your quote “when we are afraid to say no our yes is compromised,” really hit close to home as I, like you, tend to be willing to put aside what I need if someone demonstrates their own need. Unfortunately, my worldview presents very little in terms to comfort when crafting boundaries as I’ve basically tethered my meaning to humanity’s ability to alleviate discomfort and the seemingly transcendent power of human connection. So outside of the logic that you cannot effectively help someone else if you yourself are still in need, there really isn’t much stopping one from entirely devoting themselves to benefit of others.

  4. Hi Laura,

    I want to thank you for writing such a self-reflective, self-critical post. That’s not easy. From the outside, it seems that boundaries aren’t valued all too much in some religious traditions. I’m thinking mostly of Catholicism, and what Ethan said matches up to what I’ve heard from some family of mine who are/were Catholics. I think there’s an inherent push-and-pull between building a community (whether religious or secular) and maintaining boundaries, and it’s up to every person to define their own lines for themselves, as much as they can. I’m glad it worked out for you.

  5. Hi Laura!

    This was such a good blog post for me to read right now, I am so glad you wrote it. I have been struggling a lot with boundaries recently because everyone is having a rough time due to corona, and I always end up taking it upon myself to fix everyone’s problems and cheer them up. It can get really exhausting really fast when I’m living in a house with five other roommates and then supporting a bunch of people from a distance too, as I’m sure you have experienced. It never occurred to me to look to religion for a solution to this problem, though. I think that’s a really powerful idea. I also love the quote you pull from Matthew of being compassionate rather than sacrificial. Because sometimes I do kind of resent people when they keep coming to me needing things, but obviously I am never going to say no, even when it’s unhealthy. It’s kind of a contradictory place to be in, because you genuinely want to help people and it’s really important to you, but then sometimes you find yourself feeling angry at them for needing so much. I’m trying to work my way out of this pit fall I keep falling into. One of my roommates put a sticky note up on the mirror in the bathroom for me last week that says, “You can’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm,” and keeping that quote in the back of my mind has been helping me a lot. I think I might add the Matthew quote you used next to it.

  6. Azariah!

    I am so happy to hear this blog came to you at the right time. Your roomate is so sweet for setting up that reminder for you. I am also going to add your roomate’s quote to my repertoire of self-reminders, thank you for sharing!

  7. Laura,

    I also used to be a person who had a hard time saying no. Sometimes I still struggle with it. I really appreciated what you said about honoring your own boundaries. Being the oldest of my siblings and cousins, I was told that I always had to help them out when they asked for my help. As a kid, I thought that this meant that I was being a good older sister by being available when they’d ask for my time when they were free. This availability then became emotional availability as I grew older. Being emotionally available all the time for others without processing how I was feeling was something I have recently learned from simply admitting that I was extremely exhausted. Faith didn’t help me realize my emotional exhaustion, but it helped me recover. Taking my time in the mornings and meditating instead of rushing has allowed me to rebuild my boundaries in a way that allows me to more easily recognize my own emotional health. I don’t ‘tough it out’ as much, but doing that was something that contributed to my exhaustion. I used to think that if I didn’t tough it out, I was weak. I’d watch my mom tough it out as a kid. In Indian culture, mental health isn’t taken seriously. Sikhi, on the other hand, strongly emphasizes the value of self-healing through meditating and reciting Gurbani. But when the culture overshadows the principles of your minority faith, it’s hard to know what’s right.
    When it comes to addressing how I navigate when my boundaries aren’t being honored, I take a step back from whatever I’m doing and direct my attention to something that isn’t as taxing, like painting, listening to music, Netflix. I remove myself from social interaction for a brief time and then I come back and I’m ready to process with people. I like to talk out my thoughts and I find it the most productive with people who give me as much time as I give them.
    Thanks for the really insightful post!

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