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?