How to Forgive: Setting Four Levels of Boundaries

Four Levels of Boundaries

I’m continuing to talk about HOW to forgive… practical advice to get you free of your past and back to building your future. So far I’ve talked about making a heroic choice to forgive and the importance of setting boundaries. Check out those posts.

These posts are adapted from my book STUCK…how to overcome your anger and take back your life.

Today I want to give you a few examples of what boundaries in relationships look like.

Why Boundaries Help You Forgive

Boundaries give you the separation you need to be clearheaded enough to forgive. If you are continually being offended you often get pulled down to the level of your offender. Boundaries identify what is an offense and warns of consequences to people who enter your personal space without your permission. Effective boundaries keep you sane by keeping intruders out of your life.

Four Levels of Boundaries

Here are four levels of boundaries. Pick the one that is appropriate for your offender:

  • Velvet rope – This is what you use with a reasonable person. All you have to do is tell them your concern and they get it. They respect your space and stop offending.
  • Picket fence – This is a little more defined than the rope. There are no gaps in the fence. It’s very clear who you are and who they are.
  • Eight foot cement wall – This is what happens when people don’t get it. You have the conversation and they keep offending so you make it almost impossible to offend you again without a lot of work on their part. When you find them on your side of the wall there is no excuse and they understand that they deserve any consequences promised.
  • Razor Wire and Guard Towers –  You do what you have to do to be safe. You no longer appeal to your offenders good will or assume they are reasonable. Their past behavior has proven that they are untrustworthy and possibly evil and dangerous. Subtlety is out. Clarity is in.  Author Henry Cloud says that some people require “lawyers, guns  and money”, that’s the only way to get their attention and shut down their negative behavior.  Guns, by the way, refer to calling the police when necessary.

This might seem harsh. It might not seem very “Christian”. But to the contrary…Razor Wire and Guard Towers give you the distance you need to be gracious. When you are continually being offended by someone it’s hard to have a good attitude toward them and not want to lash out. These people bring out the worst in us and it’s embarrassing. The best thing you can do for yourself and for them is get the distance you need so you can act rationally and they learn to respect your space.

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Question: How might these various levels of boundaries help a current relationship of yours? Leave your comment below.

  • Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three) (
  • Moving On From the Hurt (

14 thoughts on “How to Forgive: Setting Four Levels of Boundaries

  1. Steve Jett

    These are good helps to explore what forgiveness is/is not. Will you also cover the steps in the process of ‘how’ to forgive?

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      Setting boundaries is par of the “how”. But there is more to come too. Be sure to read the past posts. I’m breaking the teaching up into small parts. Thanks for following along. Be sure to ask for more if you don’t get what you need.


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  3. Teresa

    Thanks for organizing the levels of boundaries. This is a simple format to put in a daytimer or wallet. In case you can’t think clearly in the moment. Would make a great handout.

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  10. Kim Walker

    This is exactly what I needed to read. I have already implemented razor wire and guard towers, but was never really able to articulate it as beautifully as you have done here. I put distance between myself and my abusers, geographically as well as emotionally. Now interaction is on my terms alone, and I choose when to terminate interaction. I would not say that I have reached forgiveness, because old wounds still bleed from time to time.

    1. F. Remy Diederich

      That’s great to hear (that you’ve been able to put boundaries in place). Don’t feel bad that you aren’t able to forgive yet. At least you’ve put yourself in a position so you can forgive. In STUCK I talk about how that’s a first step, enabling you to forgive eventually. And, you may have forgiven but don’t know it. Forgiveness happens when you refuse to get back/retaliate. You may still hurt from the loss…that’s part of the grieving process. But the pain doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. It just means you are still recovering from an injury.

  11. Andrew J. Schmutzer

    Thanks for these practical steps, especially when the concept of a boundary may be strange to some people of faith. These discussions are always a bit raw for me. No one speaks of reconciling with with a stranger or even distant cousin who sexually abused them. But what kind of boundaries have you seen work if one’s abuser was a parent?

    1. F. Remy Diederich

      Good question. I can’t speak to that from experience. I’m not a full time counselor nor an expert on abuse. So I don’t want to misrepresent myself. Maybe some other readers would have some good advice. My thought is that you use the same approach to boundaries with parents as you would with anyone. With a parent, their is great reason to pursue reconciliation. But in some ways the danger is greater of letting the parent too quickly back into your life just because you, or they, feel they have the “right” to be there. They have to earn that right back, just like anyone else. They don’t get a shortcut. They have to earn back your trust. Don’t feel guilty setting boundaries. You wouldn’t have to if they had respected you to begin with. It’s not your fault. They need to own that.

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