Setting Boundaries: More Questions

A friend of mine surprised me with his comment about setting boundaries. He said the idea of setting boundaries has caused as many problems as it has solved.setting boundaries

That caught my attention. He said setting boundaries has given some people the idea that they have the right to cut people out of their lives rather than engage and resolve problems.

He’s probably right to some degree. There probably are some people who will use any excuse they can find to do what they want to do. For them, boundaries justifies their actions. But, in general, I’d like to see more people using boundaries, not less, as long as they are applied with wisdom and grace.

I started out my list of questions by referring to Jesus’ story of the “Good Samaritan”. This was a man who wasn’t afraid to drop everything to help someone. He didn’t use a boundary to save himself from helping the man. This is our starting point. This is the norm. But setting boundaries becomes important when you encounter destructive people. They aren’t victims like the Good Samaritan encountered. They are victimizers who take advantage of their relationship to you. When this happens you need to set boundaries to protect yourself from their abuse.

Questions to Help in Setting Boundaries

Here are some final questions to ask yourself when people ask you to “take their rope.” Track back to hear the original analogy.

  • Am I trying to escape another responsibility by picking up this one?  Check your motive. Caretakers love to take care of other people so they don’t have to deal with their own issues.
  • Do I know how long a time commitment I’m signing up for? Am I being realistic? What if things don’t work out? What if it takes twice as long?  Am I prepared for that? Do I have an exit plan? Be careful. Many people are overly optimistic and fail to count the cost.
  • Who can I ask to help me? Just because you say “yes” doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Form a team.
  • Am I responding out of guilt? Good Christians should do this. My mom would do this. Am I responding out of obligation? You “owe” them. Am I responding out of shame? What will people say if I don’t? If the answer is “yes” that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t do it. It might just mean you need to change your motive.
  • Can I do this and not be resentful? Play the martyr? Expect payback?  Again, the answer might be “no” but maybe you just need to change your attitude. Learn to be a cheerful giver.

Setting Boundaries is About Investing Well

You get the idea. I’m sure there are other questions to ask yourself. I’d love to hear what questions you ask yourself. The goal here is to be a wise investor. You don’t want to just invest your money wisely but your time and talent as well. We all have to answer to God for how we spend our time, money, and talent. Be careful not to let people manipulate you for their personal gain at your expense. But, as my friend warned, don’t use “boundaries” as an excuse to walk away from a hard relationship. God might be asking more of you than that.

You might find my book STUCK helpful in dealing with hard relationships. Subscribe to this blog in the right margin and I’ll send you a 60 page preview of the book.


10 thoughts on “Setting Boundaries: More Questions

  1. Caralyn

    You lost me as a reader in the second paragraph. You’ve written a book on boundaries, right? I’m assuming you’ve counseled many people in this area. You know many stories, I’m guessing. Why does it surprise you that your friend made this comment? My response? Typical. It’s a typical answer to the boundary problem, one that I’ve heard over and over once I finally made the *excruciating* decision to cut someone out of my life. To me, this kind of pat answer is made by a Guilt Inducer – a person who thinks it’s ok to be a doormat.

    And really, in the context of the series, the comment is out of place and unhelpful.

    I hesitated to leave a comment, lest I be made an example of in the next blog, but I’m assuming you want a dialogue in this blog, not simply a monologue, so here I go…

    Nine times out of ten, people don’t just hand you a rope and jump. If they do, they’re likely a new friend and the whole scenario is quite obvious and much easier to deal with. Nine times out of ten I’d like to think that it’s as I described in the comment section the last time I wrote: it’s someone who hands you the rope slowly and the process of jumping is more like a slow descent, so imperceptible day-by-day that it’s hard to tell what is happening. It’s like watching a child grow…you can’t see the development each day but year-to-year when you look back you don’t realize what has occurred. (Nine times out of ten the situation is with a family member, someone who you’re quite enmeshed with, and leaving the relationship means changing a HUGE family dynamic that involve way more than just that one family member…quite different than leaving a friendship.)

    I feel like this entry is similar to what I’ve been taught in (evangelical) churches my whole life…a sermon may start out seeming that it’s going to go one way, that you may finally get an answer to problems that have been plaguing you, then in the end WHAM! the helpful answer takes a 180 by comments like, “Well, most likely it’s just an excuse to cut people out. God couldn’t possibly be asking you to do that because it’s a selfish thing to do and God’s not like that. You must give every ounce of yourself to the resolution, you must turn your cheek 77×7 times, because that’s God’s nature. If you have the courage to cut off a relationship, it’s most likely because people like you will find an excuse to do anything you want to do, and that’s not what God would want.”

    Double-minded sermons.

    Double-minded blog entry.

    It’s really not helpful. People are most likely reading this because they’re hurt, confused, and have not been taught the part of the Bible that talks openly about FOOLS. A Boundary Breaker is a fool. A Boundary Breaker more often than not does NOT want the relationship to change. They don’t want to be held to task. They’ve created what they have because they’re unhealthy and comfortable the way things are. They’re used to manipulating, getting their own way, and heaven forbid something healthier come into the relationship. It’s not what they want. You try for years to do the right thing, but what you’re doing is banging your head against the wall. You cannot win against a Boundary Breaker.

    Then your friend comes along and gives his flippant answer to a hurt person that’s tried for years to change the relationship and the kind of comment he gives is actually taken as yet another person that shovels on guilt. And you agreed with him! So now, to me, anything you’ve said that was helpful has now been followed up with a HUGE caveat. The comment puts those that have had the courage to let go of the rope back into chains of guilt. Basically we’ve gone full circle, nothing learned, same old crap I’ve heard all these years in church.

  2. Caralyn

    I thought I was done, but I’m not.

    Putting boundaries around someone is like trying to catch a wild animal. Once those boundaries are up it’s like you’ve thrown them into a small cage. You think you’ve finally done the right thing. The problem is, you didn’t realize that while you finally caged this wild animal, you actually locked yourself into the cage with it. And it’s going ballistic trying to get out. Cutting the relationship off is like opening the door of the cage to spare you life because you’re getting maimed in the process of this wild animal trying to escape.

    But then a person (or two or ten) comes along, not knowing the finite details of the situation, and while you’re lying there broken, trying to heal, they say “you should have tried harder…you made an excuse to open that door.” And THAT pours salt and vinegar into the wound.

    Putting boundaries around my mom led to a letter saying I was demanding, treating her like a child, controlling, a bully, disrespectful, dishonouring, and punishing. And that was just one sentence.

    So I put up more boundaries.

    That led to her lying about me to others. Word got back to me that people were saying I was an absolutely horrible person. How could I do such a thing to my mom?

    What is now my identity? I know it’s supposed to be “child of God, loved, etc” but when your own mom says your identity is the list I wrote about, above, then a different kind of battle ensues. Especially when there TRULY isn’t support. Because Christians and the church are SO double-minded on this issue.

    Do you want to know the REAL reason people don’t make an effort to restore other, lesser-important relationships (and most times it’s friendships, work relationships, church relationships)? People in general are so TIRED of managing their family relationships, relationships which are SO INCREDIBLY HARD to break from, that when it comes time to engaging and resolving problems in other, less-important relationships, they are so terribly DONE. Done. No more left to give to it. It’s not about finding an excuse to do what they want to do, it’s about preserving your very life.

    You showed today, by the comment and your agreement in the second paragraph that there really, truly isn’t support for those that choose to cut off relationships. Only condemnation. And that opens the wounds…again.

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to reply. I don’t know if I said it poorly or you read too much into what I wrote. You seem to think that my agreeing with my friend negated my book and weeks of blog posts on the importance of boundaries. I recounted his words because I think they bring balance to the discussion on boundaries. Some people…note the word “some”…will use any excuse they can get to jettison a relationship. The idea of boundaries offers a nice excuse to them. It’s easier for them to fly the boundaries flag than engage in the relationship. That does happen and it’s important to acknowledge that reality. It would be disingenuous of me to ignore it. Some people have been hurt by people walking away without making any attempt to make peace. Others have misused “boundaries” as a way to punish their offender. To ignore this reality is not fair to the discussion. People who understand this will look at my posts and say, “There’s another side to the boundaries equation that he isn’t addressing.” They will see it as one-sided.

      You can take any teaching to an extreme, and in doing so, move yourself fully away from what you ever intended. That’s why I brought up the story of the Good Samaritan. That’s our marker. We don’t want to get so far away from the “shoreline” that we lose that marker and lose our way. I’m a follower of Jesus. Jesus calls me to love, humility, and peacemaking. There may come a time that I have to cut people out of my life because they are so destructive and unwilling to engage with me in healthy ways but I want to make sure I’ve tried everything else first.

      I hope this clarifies for you what I meant and why I said it. It was a brief acknowledgement of the counter argument before I continued my discussion on the importance of boundaries.

  3. Caralyn

    Who is your audience? Are you writing to those that struggle in relationships and are needing to put up boundaries or are you writing to those that have had boundaries put up and need to listen to them or are upset that others have needlessly put up boundaries, thus destroying a relationship? If you think you’re writing to both audiences, an argument could be made for including the comment.


    If relationships get to the point where boundaries need to be put up, usually it’s already a pretty enmeshed relationship. Like that previous commenter posted, she’d never let someone put the rope around her to begin with. That’s easy to say when it’s a fresh relationship or aren’t emotionally tied to someone. Much easier to be objective. Much easier to let go of that rope.

    From what I’ve read, your audience is those that have had that rope slowly wrapped around them and the other person is slowly making the way down into the valley. So here’s the thing: if I were an editor I’d tell you that what you wrote didn’t belong where you put it. It was out of place. Ninety-nine percent of people that are reading this have never learned about boundaries, or have learned on their own but don’t have the language for it, or know it but haven’t been supported from others while putting up those boundaries. I think your friend’s words do not bring a balance to your audience. I don’t believe people that really care about boundaries and your blog entries are the ones that are willy-nilly dropping the rope and moving on with their lives. I think those people are not enmeshed with loved ones and are making excruciating decisions that will affect not only their lives but lives of many around them.

    My experience and the experiences of those that I talk to with regards to broken relationships is that people aren’t using “boundaries” as an excuse. They’re using the “God” word. God told them it’s time to move on. But in a way, we’re talking about two different things. I’ve had relationship breakups with other families and they’ve used God as an excuse. But we weren’t enmeshed with one another and it wasn’t a boundary issue. Therefore that would be a different audience.

    In all the relationships I’ve had, I known a very few people have ever, ever dared to cut off a relationship because of boundary issues, and it wasn’t without deep thought, reflection, and a world of hurt that went with it. And in every case it had to do with family members, not friend/work/church relationships. So in the case where there are many ways to cut off a relationship, to me, and to the select few that I know that have had the courage to cut the rope, the comment your friend made was cheap and hurtful and didn’t belong in the heavy discussion. That’s my take. I do agree that in some ways I read more into it but that was because the comment was out of place for your audience and the message I thought you were trying to deliver.

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      I have no idea who my audience is so I have to assume that I’m reaching people on both sides of every issue I address. My comment was to merely acknowledge that there is another side to the story, not to negate anything I’ve said. It’s easy for me to get so invested in my teaching that I fail to see that there are other ways to view a topic. Thanks for taking the time to share your concern.

      1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

        I’ve reread what I wrote a few times now. I can see how my brevity might have allowed for people to read too much into what I wrote. So I added more thought to bring clarity. Hopefully this addresses your concern. I was basically trying to say, “Wow…look at this…someone thinks there’s a downside to boundaries. Interesting thought. Okay, that might be true in some cases, but let me keep telling you why boundaries are important.”

  4. Caralyn

    Sorry, I was unclear. What I meant by “who is your audience” is who are you trying to reach. You must have a thesis and follow it through and you write based on what your thesis is (you know this, I know). I don’t expect you to know every single person who is reading this, but by what you’re writing I’m assuming you’re meaning to touch a certain demographic, not multiple demographics. To me, I was following you all along, which is why I felt excited and couldn’t wait to hear what you had to say after that first blog entry (and don’t get me wrong by my passionate entries today, I HAVE liked what you’ve said all along and I DO appreciate your ministry!!!!). I felt like finally someone understands, and they’re a Christian at that. (Non-Christians are much less judgmental with this issue…it would be nice to be supported within my supposed community of believers.) But if you actually outlined all the entries I think you’d find that the comment that was put in there today was out of place and is confusing. Maybe if you had left it for a completely different entry and didn’t put it in with the boundary issue it would have made more sense. I just think if someone is using “boundaries” as an excuse to cut off a relationship, they’re likely not someone who’s reading your article (not your audience) and are doing it for reasons that wouldn’t necessarily fall within someone who’s struggling with creating or maintaining boundaries. If your audience is those that struggle with the boundary issue because they’ve never been taught what it looks like, then the comment is disheartening and would be a typical comment I’ve heard multiple times from pastors, pastor’s wives (yes, plural), and well-meaning church goers.

    Ok, so THANK YOU for dialoguing with me and allowing me to express myself. I really don’t mean to be rude and I know this comes off as that. When I am passionate about something it comes out in my writing (or they way I speak). Imagine lots of hand movement and an expressive face as I’m talking but I really am saying all this with a pure heart, wanting answers so I can have peace in my own life. It’s not meant as an attack. <3

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      Well, yes, it did feel a little rude. But I chalked that up to what I guessed was a series of bad experiences with abusive people and bad encounters with Christians who gave you pat answers. Giving pat answers is the LAST thing I want to do. I really love the dialogue…and it did force me to reread what I wrote until I finally saw what you were talking about and how I wasn’t clear. I was trying to be provocative…trying to give a brief glimpse of another viewpoint to give us fresh eyes into the subject. But it fell short with you. We’re good. Keep reading. Keep commenting.It’s nice to know SOMEONE reads this.

      As for my audience…I see what you were getting at. I’m writing to people that may have gotten off track in life and want to get back on and might consider including God in that process if I present God in a logical way…not weird or hyper-spiritual. Thus the tag line…reclaim your life. With that in mind, I think it’s fair to have included my friend’s comment because it was warning to use boundaries with care. If you use boundaries improperly they can actually take you away from reclaiming your life. I just didn’t introduce the idea well. It was provocative…but not helpful.

  5. Caralyn

    I just read your last two responses – I didn’t see the second last one until now so you must have posted it while I was writing up my last dissertation. 😉

    I do like the change in the second paragraph of the original blog entry.

    Yes, I know I come off as rude and I don’t mean to. For me, when I wrestle with something, like Jacob wrestled with God, I know I’m in the process of birthing a revelation but sometimes I get lost in that process and just talk/write without much diplomacy. Please forgive me – if we’d spoken on the phone you really would have heard the same passion, and it may still have felt that I was taking you to task, but you would have seen that I need to challenge others and to be challenged as well as my own theology changes (which I LOVE, btw…because as God reveals Himself to me my theology has to change…but it can be messy).

    Once I heard a speaker say that we stand and fall at our definitions, so if we’re defining things differently we’re not going to see eye to eye. That’s why I needed that paragraph to be more concise (and why I asked what your audience was…I needed that definition), so that I could stand back and see the bigger picture instead of the smaller point you were making.

    (If you want to get another glimpse of my passion, see my Oct. 23, 2012 status in which I ruffle a few feathers, including the youth pastor of our church…plus the pastor at my former church messaged me about. Oh dear!)

    Re: the last paragraph of your last comment…see THAT *was* what I was getting at. Based on the title of your two books and your tag line, you’re mostly dealing not with problem causers but problem solvers – people who’ve been hurt. Yes, of course we’ve hurt others, but mostly I think your audience is trying to get “unstuck” from problems in the past so I think the original wording, while necessary to give that other side, wasn’t as concise as it is now, especially combined with the last paragraph of your last comment.

    Ok, phew, I feel like I’ve had an emotional workout today. Thanks so much for dialoguing with me and challenging me, and graciously allowing me to challenge you without cutting the rope. lol

  6. Pingback: Setting Boundaries in Seven Steps - F. Remy Diederich

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