Boundary  noun, bound·ary \ˈbau̇n-d(ə-)rē\

  1. : something  that shows where an area ends and another area begins
  2. : a point or limit that indicates where two things become different.

What is it?

A boundary, defined by Dr. Brene Brown is, “what’s ok and what’s not ok.”  I like to think of boundaries as that which I say “no” to in order to protect what I’ve said “yes” to.  It’s a place of accountability that tests my integrity to my core values. Boundaries are proactive, not reactive.

 Why does it matter?

Personal holistic health: One of the most effective ways to reduce overall stress is to set boundaries. Stress is our body’s automatic response when we perceive a situation to be threatening or highly demanding. So when there is unrestricted access to our time, our emotions, our energy, etc., we are constantly in a situation of threat and demand assessment. This results in chronic stress, which has been directly linked to negative physical, mental, emotional, relational, behavioral, and spiritual consequences. The security that comes from knowing there is a boundary in place to protect me from constant unfiltered threat or high demand is a significant stress reducer!

Effectiveness in our calling: In a spontaneous discussion I had with Harmon recently about boundaries, he says that, for him, boundaries replace ‘busy-ness’ with ‘focused intentionality.’ Boundaries allow us to direct our energy and attention toward that which we’ve identified as our core values and purpose.

Compassion: “Compassionate people are boundaried people ” (Dr. Brene Brown). Dr. Brown’s research has revealed a striking connection between compassion and boundaries. Boundaries give me security and in that security, differing perspectives or opinions are not threatening to me, even if I disagree. When we don’t have healthy boundaries in place, we tend to resort to blame and judgment for our self-protection, leading us to become resentful, cynical, and judgmental. Brown’s research shows that “Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming… but it’s more effective”… and this creates a safe space for us to cultivate compassion. She goes on to say that empathy and compassion are infinitely available to us – they are not commodities that we risk running out of –  as long as we’ve done the work of creating boundaries. This has huge implications when we talk about BurnOut (but that’s another article).

Relationships: Regarding boundaries, probably the most significant implication to me has to do with my relationships. Usually, those who are most important to us are the ones that suffer most when we fail to keep healthy boundaries in place. Even with the best of intentions, without boundaries, we slowly carve away at the time and attention we give to God, our family, and our most meaningful friendships. Without boundaries in the ways that we allow others to emotionally impact us, we are only able to offer tired, stressed, depleted attention to our most precious relationships.

harmon_schmelzenbachRev. Harmon Schmelzenbach, Field Strategy Coordinator, Melanesia South Pacific Field, on “boundaries.” 

What Can I Do About It?

Values Clarification: Boundaries reflect our core values. So the first step in creating boundaries is to clarify our values so we can identify what we want to protect by setting healthy boundaries. Here’s a “Values Clarification” activity to help you get started on the work of values identification.  Sometimes, just a transparent and intentional conversation with God, our spouse, or a trusted friend can bring the clarity we need.

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Alignment: Once we’ve done the work of clarifying our values, we can then identify where we need to make changes by setting healthy boundaries. What will those boundaries look like? What conversations will I need to have? How much flexibility do I have to set the boundaries I need? How much flexibility do I want to allow? What keeps me from saying ‘no’ when I wish I could? How can I keep my ‘yes’ in sight so I know what my boundaries are protecting? When we fail to do the work of values clarification and alignment, we feel it’s just being selfish to say no and then we can’t figure out why we are resentful.

Boundary Repair:  Elizabeth Scott gives some great guidelines to help us know when we need to do some ‘boundary repair.’

  • I feel resentful of people asking too much of me.
  • I find myself saying yes to things I’d rather not do, just to avoid upsetting or disappointing others.
  • I find myself feeling resentful because it feels I am doing more for others than they are doing for me.
  • I tend to keep people at an arm’s length because I am afraid of letting them get too close and overwhelming me.
  • The stress I feel from disappointing others is greater than the stress of doing things that inconvenience or drain me in an effort to please them.
  • When I think of someone I feel has very healthy boundaries—the kind I would like to emulate, how do I think they would respond in my situation?

Negotiation: “Quite often in the real world, boundary-setting involves some negotiation, and it doesn’t always go smoothly.” (Elizabeth Scott) Therefore we need to prayerfully consider issues such as fairness, agreed expectations, and implications for others, especially if we are implementing new boundaries. Always we need to ask Jesus to examine our motives and trust him to lead us in ways that are healthy for ourselves as well as those we serve.

 We invite your thoughts on boundaries.  What do you think?  Comment below.

 More on Boundaries:

— Cindy Schmelzenbach – Regional Member Care Coordinator