“‘Do you not fear me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in my presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, an eternal decree so it cannot cross over it; though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot cross over it.'” ~Jeremiah 5:22 [emphasis added].
What is a boundary to you? A state line? The fence in your neighbor’s yard? The line where your towel ends and the sand begins? Boundaries are limits we set on others and ourselves which keeps us safe from being hurt emotionally, physically, or mentally. Over the past year, I have done a lot of self-discovery. I read Jer. 5:22 the other day and was astounded at the power the Lord placed over his own boundaries. You cannot argue with “an eternal decree“! Yet, I have never felt like my boundaries had quite that effect. My boundaries were more like general guidelines and if the other person did not want to obey them, at least I tried. My “no” was uncertain, not a matter of fact. My “yes” was people-pleasing, not confidently stated.
Boundaries are something I did not have or enforce when it came to relationships (especially romantic ones). Having said that, you do not realize how important boundaries are until someone walks right through yours without asking. Building healthy boundaries can take years of hard work, but those same boundaries can be broken in a matter of seconds if you are not standing guard. From personal experience, I can say that the rubble caused by broken boundaries takes longer than you think to clean up and uses twice the effort to rebuild. Instead of reaching for a whole brick, you are trying to collect the pieces of each and every brick: love, trust, security, commitment, honesty, self-worth, vulnerability…etc. that was shattered. Each of those foundational values that your relationship was built upon takes careful time to put back together.
I have always had a strong personality: opinionated, talkative, outgoing, competitive, assertive…etc. It wasn’t until I started dating that I began to change. I wanted to be liked, even more than that, I wanted to be loved. I became wishy-washy and indecisive. I wanted to like what the other person liked, I wanted to go where the other person preferred to go, I wanted to make myself seem more attractive to them by being the person they wanted me to be…etc. My family even told me I was changing based on who I was with, but their opinions didn’t matter; as long as someone loved me, I was fine! I lost myself in the shuffle of one particular relationship that changed me forever. He was controlling, I was compliant. He was manipulative, I was naive. He was obsessive, I was complacent. He was charming, I was deceived. He was abusive, I was accepting. He was broken, and I am a chronic fixer.
After being in a toxic relationship where another person rules your life, you lose your identity. Without them, who are you? The downfall in most relationships is spending too much time with your significant other and not enough time apart with your friends. But when that “significant” person leaves, who do you have left? You are not a good judge of your own relationship because like the saying goes, “love is blind”. You need to set healthy boundaries before the damage is done by letting other, safe people speak into your life who can see your blind spots. Setting boundaries with close friends and family are good first steps to begin testing your abilities to confront and stand firm on a boundary because they truly care about your growth.
Unfortunately, I did nothing but build mountains of boundaries after the smoke cleared which is just as unhealthy as not having any. Hiding your feelings and emotions by building up relational walls is not considered a healthy boundary. I began to create my own reality inside those walls and generalize based on my past experiences which were far from the truth. Rebuilding trust with anyone after feeling used or betrayed takes time…lots of it. Each day is a battle to be transparent with people and honest with myself. At this point, it’s been two years and I’m still healing, but time doesn’t heal unless you’re proactive in the process. Take time to learn more about yourself, observe your current relationships, take note of patterns, but don’t push people away; push yourself through past pain and persevere!
Two of the best books I have ever read on the subject is Boundaries (1992) by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud and Beyond Boundaries (2011) by Dr. Townsend. The authors cover parental upbringing, sibling rivalry, manipulative friendships, abusive relationships, unhealthy work environment, self-worth, mental health…etc. and how these relationships affect you. Boundaries really helped me evaluate why I am the way that I am and what/who could have added to my dysfunctional relational life. In turn, the book helps you build healthy boundaries between yourself and others. Beyond Boundaries takes you from evaluation to action by walking you through how to trust in relationships again. “The more clear and honest you are with other about who you really are, the more ready you will be to move beyond boundaries and into the intimate connections you seek” (Townsend, 2011, p. 128).
Cloud, H. & Townsend, T. (1992) Boundaries: When to say yes, when to say no, to take control of your life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Townsend, T. (2011). Beyond Boundaries: Learning to trust again in relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.