As children we are taught certain boundaries and given many “do’s” and “don’ts” for our protection and the protection of others. But as we grow into adults, the idea of setting boundaries seems somewhat un-Christian. Aren’t we supposed to do unto others as we would have others do unto us? Aren’t we supposed to serve, bless, and be kind to those around us? There are many misunderstood concepts regarding these questions that have, and are causing each of us spiritual, emotional and physical troubles.
While there are many types of boundaries, I believe the hardest boundary to understand and practice is what is within our individual stewardships and what isn’t. Too often we feel burdened, worried sick, depressed, anxious and emotionally hurt when we choose to carry the burdens of others, instead of letting the individual and Christ work them out.
I love the quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell often used from Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.” King Benjamin taught, “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. – Quentin L Cook
I learned this lesson the hard way as I started down my journey to restoring my health. I learned that many of my allergies were caused because of how I was “stomaching life”. Instead of living in faith and allowing Christ to play the role He came and died for, I was running around, carry everyone’s problems, absorbing much of their negative energy. It was mentally and physically taking a toll on me. I grew up with a false belief that saying “No” was wrong, and that the more I took on my plate and the more burdens I carried for others, the more Christ- like I was being.
It wasn’t until later in life I was able to look back and see how far this false belief pattern had gotten me. I was the “yes” girl to everyone. Many people came to me with their problems, their emergencies, procrastinated projects, and unloaded everything on me.
While it is important to be there for others and lend a listening ear when needed, I was consciously choosing to let their problems weigh me down. I didn’t have any boundaries, nor did I understand my lack of utilization of the Atonement and faith that Christ was already there, helping and carrying those loads. It was not my job, and it was making me unhappy and unhealthy.
People with poor boundaries are easy to spot. They struggle with saying, “No” and often blame their inability to say, “No” on others. The control, pressure and demands of others make boundary-less people feel shackled; prisoner to their every bidding.
Unfortunately, what they cannot see, is they put the shackles on themselves. Often these people will say, “Yes” out of fear of offending, while inwardly resenting it greatly. These people are often afraid to set boundaries because they hold a deep fear of being alone. They are afraid that their boundaries will chase others away, thus leaving them without love in their lives. Boundary-less people also have a hard time forgiving, because they hold grudges for things that happened outside of their control and chose to react to it. When we react to others, this shows we don’t have a boundary in place and are allowing others to control our emotions and happiness.
The difference between responding and reacting is a choice. When you are reacting, they are in control. When you respond, you are. – Dr. Henry Cloud
When it comes to boundaries, it is imperative that we understand Heavenly Father’s plan of progression for us, along with a wonderful gift He gave us known as agency. We are all given our agency to choose for ourselves, and when someone we love doesn’t make (what we perceive as) a right choice – we must be quick to recognize the boundaries needed in our life to not be affected, nor burdened by their choices. It isn’t wrong to feel sad for them, and I encourage prayer and fasting in these challenging times to help, but it is extremely important to realize that we must choose to not let the choices of others thwart our eternal progression.
This principle was demonstrated beautifully by Dr. Henry Cloud as he explained the principle of boundaries to two parents who were falling apart because of their son’s choices and all the problems it was causing them as they ran around after him, constantly “cleaning” up the messes he made with his life…
“I think that the solution to this problem would be to clarify some boundaries so his actions cause him problems and not you … Look at it this way. It is as if he’s your neighbor, who never waters his lawn. But, whenever you turn on your sprinkler system, the water falls on his lawn. Your grass is turning brown and dying, but he looks down at his green grass and thinks to himself, ‘My yard is doing fine.’ … If you would define the property lines a little better, if you would fix the sprinkler system so that the water would fall on your lawn, and if he didn’t water his own lawn, he would have to live in dirt. He might not like that after a while. As it stands now, he is irresponsible and happy, and you are responsible and miserable. You need some fences to keep his problems out of your yard and in his, where they belong.”
This has become a daily motto in my life as I often have to remind myself, “Not my yard. Not my problem.” There are many healthy ways you can help someone – such as serving them, listening to them, or praying for them. But sometimes the best way to help that person is to set a boundary and let them learn the lessons they are running away from. Setting boundaries helps us understand that we hold the stewardship for what is in OUR YARD and our property lines, not our neighbors.
If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. However, if I do not “own” my life, my choices and options become very limited. Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. God also limits what He will allow in His yard. He confronts sin and allows consequences for behavior He guards His house and will not allow evil things to go on there. – Dr. Henry Cloud
The freedom that accompanies boundary setting is inspiring. Once I taught myself to step back, help as needed, but allow the Savior to step into the lives of others and help them through their problems, I felt free; free from other’s choices and also free to continue to plant the flowers in my yard.
The scriptures have many examples of times that God set a boundary, and then those who stepped outside of it were punished. Just as God sets boundaries for our protection and growth, we must set boundaries for our own protection and for the growth of others. Instead of feeling bad for saying, “No”, recognize it as a healthy step in your life by putting YOU in the driver’s seat, and possibly giving someone else a chance to plant flowers in their yard.
Elder Bednar spoke of another kind of boundary in one of my favorite talks, And Nothing Shall Offend Them. He shared this example of someone who had left the church or chosen to stop being happy because of someone else’s choice,
Most of the “less-active” people I have ever visited had a discernible and tender testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. However, they were not presently participating in Church activities and meetings. And then I would say something like this. “Let me make sure I understand what has happened to you. Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament. You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple. You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow. And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.” Many times people would think for a moment and then respond: “I have never thought about it that way.”
How many of us put our own happiness and future in jeopardy when we don’t set healthy boundaries, and then blame our lack of boundaries on someone else?
All too often the adversary confuses us with what is and what isn’t in our stewardship. He causes us heartache, anxiety, depression, and many sleepless nights when he can convince us that 1) it’s our fault we are powerless when someone else is making choices we don’t agree with, or 2) our problem’s are not our fault. Both of these deal with misusing our stewardship, the agency God has given us to learn with.
We can choose to be affected by the choices of others or we can choose to take ownership of our own lives. I hear far too many people complaining and blaming others for their lack of happiness and problems in their life. “He never listens to me …”, “She never does what I ask…”, “He is making choices that give me anxiety…”, “They are always making me late…” where a healthy individual with boundaries would be quick to take ownership for their emotions, their life, and their situations. Others will choose what they will choose, but YOU choose how you react to it.
Feelings should neither be ignored nor placed in charge. Your feelings are your responsibility and you must own them and see them as your problem so you can begin to find an answer to whatever issue they are pointing to. – Dr. Henry Cloud
I believe it is a great offense to God when we try to blame others for our problems. He gave us agency for a reason, and yet many spend their lives complaining about “the plan” we agreed to so long ago. When we choose to victimize ourselves, our situations, and blame others for our problems, we are offending God by not taking ownership of the agency He has given us. Have you willingly given your agency to others? Does your happiness depend on the choices of others? If so, then Satan’s plan must be in full force in your life.
A cunning part of [Satan’s] strategy is to dissociate anger from agency, making us believe that we are victims of an emotion that we cannot control. – Lynn G. Robins
A common boundary problem is disowning our choices and trying to lay the responsibility for them on someone else…we live an illusion that we are not active agents in many of our dealings. We think someone else is in control, thus relieving us of our basic responsibility. We need to realize that we are in control of our choices, no matter how we feel. – Dr. Henry Cloud
It’s a powerful lesson (and may take some humility on our part) as we strengthen our agency by recognizing what is and what is not within our boundaries. No matter how much we try to give our agency away or blame others, in the end it is still ours. We choose. And in the end, we will be held accountable for what we did with that agency – whether we used or abused it.
In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond… – Elder David A. Bednar
More people suffer from trying to change others than from any other sickness. And it is impossible. What you can do is influence others. But there is a trick. Since you cannot get them to change, you must change yourself so that their destructive patterns no longer work on you. -Dr. Henry Cloud
As we set healthy boundaries and turn to the Lord, He will help give us the courage that we may be lacking. He also will empower us with knowledge and revelation as to the things we can improve within our boundaries. This life is for us to have joy. True joy can only come once we learn to use our agency wisely, set healthy boundaries, and stay in the driver’s seat. Life is beautiful and eternal progression is a must, so why not turn to the Lord for His help while you determine what is within your stewardship and what is not yours to carry?