I know it sounds like a contradiction. Surely freedom means there are no boundaries?
God always defies human logic. As soon as we grasp it, it seems so obvious. However, we have to see it first!
I had heard a lot of this term being thrown about. Boundary this, boundary that, you need more boundaries. “Great, I need better boundaries, but what does a boundary even look like?”
Thankfully we have a whole universe, earth and the entirety of its inhabitants to draw inspiration from.
When we examine the basis of our existence, light, we can observe that there is either light or no light i.e. darkness. Night is very separate from day. There is a clear division between land and the sea, what is water and everything that lives in the water, or what lives on the land. We can easily identify that trees and plants are different from one another and that our food can be classified. Species of animals are clearly defined and separate from each other. Gravity is the best boundary I can think of in the natural world – no one is immune to its effects, yet we have freedom to move within its constraints. Boundaries are good. Each and every one of us was created with a purpose, a story, a calling, a goody bag filled with treasures and gifts and the ability to unpack it. We are not all blended into each other, we are very clearly separate.
However, there is something that stands in our way. The proverbial “rescuer”, or “people pleaser” is in actual fact just another term for someone who has no boundaries.
This next bit is filled with some hard truth, but I believe that there is freedom in truth.
2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
This is a very good guideline for where your giving should begin and end, a boundary for giving if you will. If you are doing anything for a friend or loved one, reluctantly or because it feels like you must, or your heart is not cheerful, you shouldn’t be doing it. It means you have disrespected the boundary of your own heart. It means you have put someone else’s needs above your own and in so doing, are abusing yourself.
This may sound familiar:
Sally: “Jane, can you give me a lift after work today?”
Jane: “I actually have an appointment straight after work today that I cannot be late for… *thinks
deeply, BUT maybe if you finish 10 minutes earlier today, I can still drop you off?”
I am sure you know how this ends. Sally will be late, Jane will be late for her appointment and the end result, will be seething anger directed at Jane for having “taken advantage” of Sally’s good nature.
The truth is, the moment Jane used the word, “But”, she cancelled out her boundary to Sally. The word “But” signaled to Sally that she had a boundary, but was willing to move it for her, and in so doing made her appointment less important.
Many people pleasers will explain the consuming guilt they feel for having to say no. I am going to simplify this for you. This is fear talking – fear of man. If we feel like someone is going to punish us, it is because we are operating from a position of fear. Once again, God’s logic is the opposite. He tells us that there is no fear in love and that love casts out all fear. The Lord is our helper, we will not fear, what can man do to us? The truth is, man can only do to us what we allow him to do. If we fear, we are not walking in power. You might think, “I didn’t allow him to hit me, who wants that done to them?”
This is the end result you are looking at, the beginning is much more subtle. Pleasing someone else at your expense, thinking it will make them happy, allows a boundary to be removed. In time, the offence escalates because there is no limit to how far your boundary can be pushed.
Why do these rescuers seem to be magnets of abuse? Let’s look again to nature for an example. A river of water flows along the path of least resistance. This might be debatable, but imagine two rivers flowing. One river is met by a dam wall whose gates are closed. Another is met by a dam wall with one of the gates open. We don’t need a degree in engineering to know what will happen. The water will surge through the open gate. In human terms, when a child asks a parent for a sweet and knows one parent will allow it and the other will not; who do they always end up asking? The parent who will enable them to eat sweets. In fact, they will avoid asking the parent who enforces boundaries.
Let’s make this relevant to abuse. Having a clear and defined understanding of your gifts, the things you enjoy, the things that are unique to you, your calling and your identity in Christ, are your boundaries!
When you realise the importance of protecting and nurturing yourself before others, the abuse to self and by others will stop, because you won’t allow it.
When the time is right, you need to be honest with yourself and take responsibility for what you allowed. I am well aware that this is no easy feat. Understanding, consciously how you got there in the first place will ensure it doesn’t happen again.
So where does your freedom lie? In establishing your own boundaries.
I realise this is a large subject to cover, so here are other resources to relieve you from the guilt and empower you to courageously look inward.
Name: Codependent No More
Author: Melody Beattie
Author: John Townsend, John Sims Townsend, Henry Cloud
While you get hold of the books, here is a checklist to see if any of these codependent traits apply to you?
- Think and feel responsible for other people.
- Feel compelled - almost forced - to help others solve problems, offering advice, suggestions, etc.
- Anticipate other's needs, even before they ask; wonder why others don't do the same in return.
- Say yes when I mean no, doing things I really don't want to be doing.
- Doing more than my fair share of work & doing things other people can do for themselves.
- Try to please others before seeking to please myself.
- Feel safest when giving to others and insecure and guilty when others give to me.
- Feel sad because I spend my whole life giving to others and nobody gives to me.
- Feel attracted to needy people and attracted to them in dependent ways.
- Get bored and feel empty when there is not a crisis or a problem to solve or someone to help.
- Overcommit myself and feel controlled by events and people.
- Believe deep inside other people are somehow responsible for me.
- Try to control events & people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, advice, manipulation, etc.
- Pretend circumstances aren't as bad as they are; "things will be better tomorrow."
- Stay busy so I don't have to think about things.
- Get confused, depressed or sick to stop doing things.
- Become a workaholic.
- Sometimes think God has abandoned me.
- Don't feel happy, content or peaceful with myself.
- Desperately seek love and approval.
- Equate love with pain and stay in relationships that don't work.
- Find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous.
- Say everything is my fault yet believe nothing is my fault.
- Spend money compulsively or overeat, abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Lie to cover up and protect people I love and lie to protect myself.
- Don't trust myself, my feelings, my decisions or other people.
- Ask people for what I want and need indirectly - sighing, for example or subtly suggesting.
- Afraid of my own anger and frightened of other people's anger.
- Have sex when I would rather be held, nurtured and loved or when I am angry.
- Extremely responsible, a good martyr, sacrificing my own happiness for others.
- Don't say what I mean and don't mean what I say. Don't even know what I mean.
- Can become withdrawn and isolated - afraid of being hurt by others.
- Give appearance of being depended upon, but are very dependent on others for approval.