5 Common Setbacks When Trying to Set Boundaries
“What is holding you back from setting limits with others?”
By Audrey Hardin, M.S. LPC
By Audrey Hardin, M.S., LPC
When it comes to setting boundaries with those I am closest to, a wave of terror comes over me. As much as I know and preach their importance to clients and friends, I myself struggle to set and enforce them with those I love most.
I’ve gone through phases of being boundary-less to boundary-aware to boundary-nazi and feel closer to finding a healthy boundary-balance. However, I’ve noticed that there is a common thread that keeps me from following through with enforcing my boundaries.
You know that moment after you’ve set a limit with someone and the room goes silent? They huff, roll their eyes, sink into their chair…or even fight back. But there is a moment after you have spoken directly, clearly, and bravely that you must wait for the other’s response.
It is torture for a Feeler like me. Every bone inside of me wants to scream, “Take it back!!!” “It’s too risky!”
As much as we know boundaries are GOOD for us and our relationships –modeled for us by God himself, we will always have a tendency to resist following through with them if we’ve ever experienced a wound in our relationships.
We were designed for love and connection, fellowship with one another. Our brains are actually wired to seek safe attachments to meet those needs through a parent, relative, friend, or spouse. The competing reality, though, is that our world is fallen, people are broken, and we hurt each other.
When we have relational wounds, we do whatever we can to avoid experiencing that pain again. If it was created by someone withholding love from us, we may vow to never withhold love from anyone because we don’t want them to hurt as we did. If it was created by someone becoming angry with us when we didn’t perform to their expectation, we will work to keep others happy.
When someone close to us hurts us or models for us conditional love, we try to prevent that pain by either shutting everyone out or shutting no one out. Either way, we live our lives in fear that the wound will happen again and we will never get the connection and love we so long for.
I have wounds in these areas and even though each hurt promoted personal and spiritual growth in my life, none felt great at the time.
None of us are immune to making choices out of fear. It is a daily battle we must all fight to live life based on truth and faith in a sovereign God who is for us and allows our struggles to grow us to become more like Him.
However, the more clearly we can identify where our fears come from, the more power we will have to fight back against them and grow –a true mark of “taking every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
So here are 5 common reasons why we may fear setting boundaries and the truth you need to know to set you free.
1. FEAR OF LOSING LOVE
-We fear rejection, abandonment, and emotional cut-offs. We can see love as an exchange, a “tit-for-tat” –If I mess up or let you down, you will abandon me. If I do for you, you will do for me and if I don’t, you won’t love me.
TRUTH: As Christians, we have the security that NOTHING on earth, in heaven, or under the earth –nothing we have done or has been done to us could EVER separate us from the LOVE of God. (Romans 8) Therefore, if we fear rejection from others, we have lost sight of the ultimate truth –that we can never lose the love of our Heavenly Father, who is more than enough for us.
Additionally, if someone threatens leaving or rejecting us because we lovingly set a limit with them, this may indicate their love and respect for us was conditional on how we complied with their desires. We want to surround ourselves with those who will value us as we value them.
2. FEAR OF LONELINESS
–We fear losing companionship or potential relationship with others and don’t set boundaries so we can end our loneliness. We compromise.
TRUTH: Loneliness is not our enemy. It is a tool that the Lord uses to draw us closer to him and reveal his deep love for us. It is in some of my loneliest times that He has revealed his “enough-ness” for me. (Psalm 34:9-10)
I love the quote by Henri Nouwen:
“As Christians we are called to convert our loneliness into solitude. We are called to experience our aloneness not as a wound but as a gift –as God’s gift –so that in our aloneness we might discover how deeply we are loved by God.”
3. FEAR OF ANGER
–An angry reaction can be enough to send some of us over the edge. The potential of someone being mad at us will keep us from standing firm.
TRUTH: NO ONE likes to be told no or experience disappointment. This reality will help prepare us to expect resistance when we set a boundary. By sticking to your limit and riding the wave of anger or disappointment, you reinforce your value by not compromising and you demonstrate to the other that they can handle their disappointment and make adjustments accordingly.
“A person with great anger bears the penalty; if you rescue him, you'll have to do it again.” Proverbs 19:19
“Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed--without remedy.” Proverbs 29:1
4. FEAR OF HURTING OTHERS
–If I say “no” it will hurt their feelings and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be labeled as “mean.”
TRUTH: There is a difference between hurt and harm. The boundary may “hurt” their feelings just like a trip to the dentist to get a cavity repaired may hurt –but ignoring the cavity would cause harm to your entire body.
Setting limits with those we love keeps others and us from ultimate harm and destruction. We see this in the life of Jesus, who took time to go away and pray even though he was surrounded by a multitude of needs. We also see this in a Biblical depiction of relationships.
“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, Reprove a wise man and he will love you.” Proverbs 9:8
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid.” Prov. 12:1
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Prov. 27:17
5. FEAR OF BEING MISUNDERSTOOD
–Whether it’s being seen as selfish, ungrateful (to others who have given to you), or unkind, we will give-in to avoid being misunderstood.
TRUTH: The Lord knows you because he formed you, he knows the way that you take, he knows your heart and motives, your desires, your fears and he understands even when the world does not. The reality of living as Christ-followers on this earth is that just as He was, we will be misunderstood, even by fellow believers. The key is remembering that He is our defender and judge, not the world.
“The Lord is your mighty defender, perfect and just in all his ways; Your God is faithful and true; he does what is right and fair.” Deuteronomy 32:4
I can honestly say that ALL of these have been reasons I’ve either avoided setting or enforcing boundaries with others at some point in my life. But when I zoom out from my fear and remind myself of what is true, I can live the life that God designed for me –a Free one. Free from fear.
Let me invite you to zoom out of your fears today and soak in these truths, so you too can live freely!
“The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” Prov. 29:25
Audrey Hardin is a Staff Therapist at The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology in Dallas, TX.