March 2, 2010
The Ten Laws of Boundaries
One of the books I’m reading as part of my therapy is “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Itbasically teaches you about setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with yourself and other people, and addresses issues that arise when boundaries are not maintained. It helps you learn what you are responsible for and what you’re not, and when to say “no.”
The lack of boundaries has always been an issue for me, and until I started therapy, I really had no grasp of the concept. I didn’t understand that I wasn’t responsible for everyone else, and that others did not have a right to invade my “space,” in a sense. I didn’t even understand that I had the right to say “no” without feeling guilty, or that I could be in control of what (or who) does or does not have a place in my life. This book has been very educational and has helped me to recognize the need for boundaries in my life and the tools to create them (and stick by them despite pressure from others).
Last night I read the chapter on “The Ten Laws of Boundaries.” The principles described here really hit home with me, so I wanted to write about them and how they apply in my own recovery:
Law #1: The Law of Sowing and Reaping
Basically, this is the law of cause and effect. This is simple reality. You can’t avoid consequences. If you overspend, you will most likely get into debt. If you eat right and exercise, you will have better physical health. Obvious, right?However, in human relationships, some people try to save others from this law by stepping in and reaping the consequences for someone else. For example, if every time you overspent, your mom stepped in and covered for you, she would be keeping you from experiencing natural consequences, and you’d never learn anything. You would do it over and over again.
I’ve found that I have a tendency to “step in” when it is not wise that I do so. Sometimes I have this “savior” mentality where I feel like I want to save those I love from ever being hurt. I’ve gone to great lengths to “fix” something for someone else, but by doing that, I not only drain myself, but I take power away from them – I keep them from experiencing the consequences and learning from them. This is called codependence. I have also been in relationships where my partner attempted to do the same for me – to “rescue” me from pain naturally occurring from the choices I made. In those relationships, I never really grew… I assumed that whenever I “messed up,” my partner would step in and “save me” (usually in an emotional sense).
Law #2: The Law of Responsibility
Cloud and Townsend write: “We are to love one another, not be one another. I can’t feel your feelings for you. I can’t think for you. I can’t behave for you. I can’t work through the disappointment that limits bring for you. In short, I can’t grow for you; only you can. Likewise, you can’t grow for me… You are responsible for yourself. I am responsible for myself.”
This kind of goes right along with Law #1.We are responsible “to” people but not “for” people. This was an important thing for me to learn, as I have always felt responsible for other people’s happiness. I felt if I couldn’t make everything all better for them, I was failing them. In reality, they are responsible for their own feelings. I am ultimately responsible for mine.
Law #3: The Law of Power
Under this heading there is a Bible verse that really hit home with me. It expresses my own feelings about my struggle with the thoughts, feelings, urges, tendencies brought about by depression, borderline, etc:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keeping doing…waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members (Romans 7:15,19,23).
This is a state of powerlessness, a state I know very well and fight against every day. Though I do not have the power in and of myself to overcome these patterns, I do have the power to do the things that will bring the fruits of success later on:
- I have the power to agree with the truth about my problems.
- I have the power to submit my inability to God. (I cannot make myself well, but I can call the Doctor! I can ask for help from my therapist and those I trust.)
- I have the power to search and ask God and others to reveal more and more about what is within my boundaries. (Communicate and be open to evaluating myself).
- I have the power to turn from the negative I find within me. (Not that I’ll be perfect, but I can recognize that those things aren’t good and take the steps I need to replace negative behaviors with positive).
- I have the power to humble myself and ask God and others to help me with my developmental injuries and leftover childhood needs.
- I have the power to seek out those that I have injured and make amends.
The serenity prayer says: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In other words, “God… help me to clarify my boundaries and to know what I have the power to overcome myself, and what I need to turn to You and others for help with. Help me to know what is me and what is not me.”
Law #4: The Law of Respect
If we want people to respect our boundaries, we must respect theirs as well. Hearing “no” has always been hard for me. But if, we love and respect people who tell us no, they will in turn love and respect our no. “Freedom begets freedom.” When we accept that others have the right to set boundaries with us, we feel better about setting our own.
Law #5: The Law of Motivation
We fear that other people won’t respect the boundaries that we set with them. This is quite an issue that I struggle with. I’m afraid if I tell people no, or be specific about my needs, they will be disappointed, angry, or hurt (I’ve learned to fear this from past experiences). I’m afraid I will be abandoned. Sometimes we do a lot for other people, not out of love, but out of fear. Fear that we will not be loved anymore if we confront them or say no. This is a false motive that keeps us from setting boundaries, and it includes:
- Fear of loss of love, or abandonment.
- Fear of others’ anger.
- Fear of loneliness.
- Fear of losing the “good me” inside. (“I’m being selfish/unloving”)
- Guilt (When I say no, I feel bad)
- Payback (You receive things with a guilt message, so you feel obligated to give back)
- Approval (The other person becomes a symbolic “parent”)
- Overidentification with other’s loss. (Haven’t dealt with their own losses so they feel someone else’s sadness to a much greater degree)
If I do things for others for any of these reasons, I’m not really free. I’m not doing it out of love and being a good person. I just get bogged down more and more. “Let God work on the fears, resolve them, and create some healthy boundaries to guard the freedom you were called to.”
Law #6: The Law of Evaluation
Sometimes we assume that if we set boundaries, we will get a negative response. Though this is sometimes true, that doesn’t mean we should avoid boundaries. Ultimately, when we set boundaries, the result is good for both you and the other person (in the long-term). It leads to honesty, relief from guilt, and better communication of who you are and what you need. Though it may be difficult because setting boundaries sometimes requires confrontation and hurt feelings, if we do not do this, anger and bitterness will set in because we are not being open about our own limits and needs. Doing so also gives the other person permission to be honest as well.
Law #7: The Law of Proactivity
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Cloud and Townsend give the example of someone who has spent years being passive and compliant, and then suddenly exploding out of nowhere. Though this reactive phase of boundary creation is helpful (especially for victims) and frees that person from a feeling of powerlessness, being stuck in this phase does not allow for the development of proactivity. “This is where you are able to use the freedom you gained through reacting to love, enjoy, and serve one another. Proactive people show you what they love, what they want, what they purpose, and what they stand for. These people are very different from those who are known by what they hate, what they don’t like, what they stand against, and what they will not do.”
I went through my own phase of “reactivity” and “rebelliousness,” in a sense, where I felt like I was fighting against people and ideas all of the time. While it made me feel powerful, it was also a very negative place to be. I started to pass off judgments about people without even really thinking, and I just felt like arguing all of the time. I eventually realized that’s just not where I wanted to be and needed more positivity and love in my life.
Law #8: The Law of Envy
Envy focuses on what others have or have accomplished, or in other words, outside of our boundaries. It can lead us to neglecting our own responsibilities can become a destructive spiral downward. Instead of envying what someone else has, look at yourself and figure out why you feel like you’re lacking so much. Why are you resentful? Do you really want that? Then you need to work on yourself, instead of focusing so much time and energy wishing you could be like someone else. Comparing yourself to someone else never leads to growth. Taking inventory of your life and your desires does.
Law #9: The Law of Activity
God gave me the ability to take initiative. He will match my effort, be he doesn’t do my work for me – that would be an invasion of my boundaries. Passivity and “shrinking back” never pays off. I am supposed to try, to put the effort in. I’m going to fail and make mistakes, but at least I’m trying… And that’s what’s important. The “trying” part is completely my responsibility. When a baby bird is ready to hatch, if you break the egg for it, it will die. The bird needs to peck its own way out of the egg. This strengths the bird and allows it to function in the outside world. If you rob the bird of this responsibility, it will die. If God or others “hatch” for me, I will ultimately fail. I won’t have my own strength to get through life. That’s why problems and struggles are so important, and why God doesn’t fix everything for us. If He did, we would never learn and grow.
Law #10: The Law of Exposure
“The Law of Exposure says that your boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them.” Because of the fears described earlier, we set “secret” boundaries. We withdraw, resent, or experience the pain of someone’s irresponsibility instead of being honest about how they effect us. If boundaries are unexpressed, relationships suffer. Nothing good ever comes from lack of boundaries. If they’re not exposed directly, the will be communicated indirectly (passive-agressiveness) or through manipulation.
We need to make sure people can see us clearly. Boundaries help us to be seen and heard. If we do not communicate our needs, desires, things we are uncomfortable with… we hide parts of ourselves in the darkness. “When our boundaries are in the light, that is, are communicated openly, our personalities begin to integrate for the first time. They become ‘visible’ and then they become light. They are transformed and changed. Healing always takes place in the light.” This was incredibly eye-opening to me. It helped me to understand at least part of the reason why I struggle with feeling like a real person and why I’m different depending on who I’m with or what situation I’m in… It’s my lack of boundaries and communication. I’m so afraid of “losing” people, of being rejected or abandoned, I “hide” myself and allow anything and everything into my person. My personality is not integrated. Once I start setting boundaries, being honest about who I am (my needs, wants, beliefs, values, etc), I will start to feel “real” and I won’t “lose” myself around other people. And this will allow myself to heal and discover who I really am. Amazing!
I wanted to share all of this because it has taught me so much. My goal is to work on having healthy boundaries with other people, so I can feel better about myself and have successful relationships. This is just one chapter of the book… The rest talks about boundary myths, boundary problems, how boundaries develop throughout your lifetime, etc… I might be writing about this book again sometime soon. There’s just so much information to process… Wow, I just pretty much wrote a book of my own. They’re going to kick me out of the library here in a minute so… Goodbye!