Boundaries: The Hows & Whys
This picture is a great illustration of a boundary.
A fence surrounding a house, it is a perfect example of a boundary.
Your fence has a gate where you can let things come into your yard or let them out of your yard, you control the gate.
Say your neighbours dog comes into your yard and leaves “deposits” all over the place. You head out to cut the grass and step in these deposits and it stinks and sticks to your shoes, absolutely “yuck”. You get more than a little hot under the collar and want to go and tell that neighbour just what you think of their rotten, badly behaving dog.
Probably what you should do before you fly off the handle is simply – shut your gate.
If the gate is shut, the dog cannot get in and after all that is what the fence is for – keeping out unwanted visitors. The dog is simply doing what dogs do, nothing more and nothing less, it is not badly behaved. This problem is more about you than the dog.
Practically speaking, let us put this picture into perspective. The house is us and the yard is our personal space and the fence and gate are our boundaries. If I want to invite someone over, they need to use the gate to come in, anyone sneaking over the fence, does not belong there. If I am okay with drop in company or uninvited people, possibly even hurtful people, the kind that leave stinky deposits all over me, I need to not “hope” they will change. I need to close my gate. It is on “Me” to close my gate, it is not the responsibility of the other person to change. Nor is it fair to blame God because you did not close the gate.
I can long and hope and pray and beg God that He will change “those” people, but in reality, I need to change me and act on what standards I will accept.
(**Please note I am not talking about children in this blog, while children can be taught to have boundaries, children should always be protected by an adult- no this does not always happen).
If a person has a habit of criticizing me in front of other people. I can wait quietly, embarrassed probably and pray that they will change over time but when it keeps happening over and over at what one point does it become my responsibility? Answer: Right at the beginning.
We teach other people how to treat us. Did you catch that? You teach other people how to treat you and by accepting bad behaviour you have basically said it is okay, you are fine with it, by not doing or saying anything. The other person gets to get away with bad behaviour and now believes that it is okay. It is much harder to change this down the road than doing it right at the beginning.
God designed us with the ability to take charge of our “yard and house”. The problem becomes when we come from a family of origin that has no clue to boundaries or what is acceptable and has not taught us how to open and close our gates.
Illustration: you are not a night owl and you have a friend that likes to pop in unexpectedly at 10:00pm at night just as you are heading for bed, what should you do?
If you have a good fence and gate system, close the gate. Greet them at the door and state that you are heading to bed and would they mind coming back another day at an earlier time. Or simply do not answer the door.
What if they won’t like it? Tough, the fact that they do not like your boundary is not your problem, it is theirs, shut the gate/door. You were not rude, nor obnoxious, you were kind to yourself and actually kind to the other person.
We have such a misbelief that we must be “Christian” and that means smiling in the face of bad or rude behaviour. Where is that in the Bible? Jesus was such a great boundary person, He made people accountable for their actions but never in a rude or disrespectful way.
You can stand in your home and wish that the other person would “get it” on their own, but that is probably not going to happen. Wishful thinking has never actually changed another person. We get frustrated and angry wondering what on earth is wrong with those people. There is not a thing wrong, you both have different viewpoints and boundaries.
Boundaries are for you and for other peoples own good. If we did not have fences and gates, then in this case the person would come into your home at 10:00pm, you would stew and chomp until they leave, not really liking the visit. They would think that you were possibly unfriendly and rude after all they took the time to come for a visit and then we have built a rift in the friendship.
All of this could have been avoided if we had maintained our own fences and gates. Shut the gate!
But is that not rude you ask? The question is actually – who is rude? The one who shows up at 10 or the one who will not let the person in? Perspective. Neither is rude and each is doing what they think is right.
There are many times where we have to say, “no” to opening the gate to hurtful people and stray or wandering dogs. This is called “Assertive”, notice it is not “aggressive” but “assertive”.
What is the difference? Being assertive shows respect for other’s needs. It is respectful, clear and firm: “I am on my way to bed and I need sleep to be able to work in the morning.” Aggressive makes demands on another person without respecting their feelings, it is kind of like getting doo-doo dumped all over you to be on the receiving end.
Example of Assertive:
Person A answers door at 10:00: “Hi, thanks for thinking to stop by but I am on my way to bed as I have to work in the morning. Could we do a rain check for another night and earlier time?” That is assertive, this answer took into consideration both of your feelings and kept your boundaries intact.
Person B responds: “Wow, I take the time to come over for a visit finally and you won’t even let me in! That is gratitude for you! I won’t be back anytime soon!” That is aggressive, this person shows no respect for the people they have come to visit and pushes a guilt trip onto them.
Person A: “I am sorry you feel that way. I would stay and talk it through but as I said, I have to go to bed so I can get up for work in the morning. Good night.” Staying assertive and not responding to the aggression puts this person in control of the whole situation. Not one bit of guilt is given, no offending name calling or remarks. This person owned their house and yard and shut the gate.
For those of us with poor boundaries you probably already started to “feel” something in this exchange. The person who came to visit is going to be mad. They may not ever come back. I feel horrible that I made them angry.
All of these responses are like leaving your gate open and the dog came over and pooped on you. The visiting person dumped their aggression all over you, it stinks and is yucky. You are not responsible to make the other person happy. They will have to find a way of dealing with your firm boundaries but they will have to do it outside of your gate.
When it comes to having another meeting or visit perhaps set the time and date of when you might possibly get together. If the other person has been aggressive have another person with you, perhaps meet in a coffee shop in public, where acting polite is more tolerated. In this case it is also much easier to get up and leave if the conversation turns hurtful rather than being cornered in your own home.
We, you and me need to take the reigns in these situations. Will it always be easy, nope. Will I always walk away without getting hurt? No. But it is a step in the right direction to train or retrain ourselves and others as to what kind of behaviour we will or will not tolerate.
Unfortunately I think there are a good many people who pray not Biblical prayers. They pray and wait expectantly for God to come riding in on His white horse and when He sees that little dog or unkind person He holds out His lance and flips them out of our yard and over the fence taking care of the situation.
Nope not going to happen! God is for people, all people. His goal in the end is that ALL people will come to a knowledge of the truth and get saved. He came to earth to teach us that, it seems like it was fairly important to Him, He died for it after all.
What exactly does that mean? It means that God cares just as much for that hurtful neighbour or family member as He does for you
What!!!!!??? How is that possible, those other people are impossible, there is no way God would ever like them.
These are the times when it feels so unfair that God can just come up and burst your bubble like that!
Honestly, all of us, everyone of us, can be rather impossible to live with at times. I know that it is hard to believe that about me, but I assure you I have been known to be a little “ugly” at times.
We tried a little exercise at a couple of workplaces I was in. We bought a little office cactus plant. It sat in the lunch room and sometimes when people would act a little “prickly” it would end up on their desk. No words were exchanged, you walked into your office and there it would sit, in the middle of your desk. Someone in the office thought you were being rather “prickly” today. You got the message quite quickly.
At one office where we tried it and the person who got the cactus got so upset they threatened to quit – well the manager thought that was too mean and threw the cactus out. That was a bad boundary. This rude and prickly person got to make the rules for the whole office. The manager did not shut the boundary gate. It was never the catcus’s fault that someone had bad behaviour, the cactus did nothing, the person with the attitude did everything and blamed everyone else for being mean. The problem never got solved and the attitude person got to keep on depositing all over everyone, stinky and smelly.
You cannot make the rules to allow one obnoxious and badly behaved person to have their way because you do not wish to deal with their anger. These are especially the times where a good manager needs to hold firm boundaries and even escort the one obnoxious person out of the gate and then shut it. We do NOT make rules for the One when it affects the 83 still in the building.
There are times were you will be called to end the relationship. This is not an easy thing to do, it can be one of the hardest things ever.
As a retail manager, firing a customer is the farthest thing – ever from a manager’s mind. In retail without the customer you would have no business!
I have had to fire a couple of customers in my day.
The first was a customer who always liked to “special order” something. Without fail, they would try the item and then return it because they did not like it, and sometimes it was half gone. It seemed they took a while to know if they liked it or not. Now once or twice or even three times, I get it – you have no idea if you will like something. But after 10 ten times and not actually buying anything in the store, the boundary had to be - no more special orders. This was over a few months and the customer was obnoxious each time they returned the product. A special order is something that the store does not usually carry so we have no way of knowing much about the item. But apparently, we were at fault each time because it was a horrible product and why would we ever order it in? Sigh…. You and I see clearly the problem, but this customer did not. We finally announced we would not be special ordering any more items for them. We closed the gate.
You know the person disappeared for a while but ended up coming back to the store and buying products we had on the shelves and became a very good customer. We had set our boundary and they learned to respect it. This turned out a win/win for each of us.
The second customer was one who came in and yelled or swore at our staff. I am like a momma bear if you mess with my staff, so it was only a couple of times and I waited for them to try it again and over I went. I explained in a very calm and clear voice (assertive) that our store would not tolerate any verbal abuse of our staff in any way. If they wished to carry on that way, they would have to find another store to do that in and then I opened the door and let them out. I closed the gate and shut it.
Abuse in any form should never be tolerated, not out of fear, guilt or any reason. In these cases we probably will need some help to know how to set up proper boundaries and gates. A councillor, a pastor or church leader may be able to help you with that.
Jesus Taught Us Examples of How to Be Setting Boundaries:
Be Honest and Direct (Don't Pressure People or Try to Get Them to Do Things): “Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37)