A few months ago, I launched a series on biblical boundaries that received a positive response from my audience. However, soon after, I started receiving disheartening messages from people who claimed that their boundaries weren’t working. It left me wondering if my advice was off or if some individuals are immune to boundaries. In this blog post, I’ll be addressing the panic and frustration surrounding boundary-setting by discussing five reasons why your boundaries may not be effective, including the role of biblical counseling narcissism. By identifying these roadblocks and offering solutions, you can start to create healthy boundaries that work for you.
You don’t understand, boundaries don’t work with my mother! You just don’t get it! My husband…. I will not tolerate boundaries. My friend, I hear this remark all the time. Maybe it’s a manipulative mother, an obnoxious boss, or whoever it is that you’ve likely reached your breaking point and you realized that you need boundaries. You finally realize, “I need boundaries with this person.” So, you set out with apprehension in one hand and some disgust in the other and you declare your NO, only to get met with a variety of reactions ranging from rage to the silent treatment. What went wrong? Maybe you’re thinking that boundaries are hopeless. Boundaries are necessary for every relationship. Yes, even healthy ones! Even Jesus had boundaries.
So before you give in and give up, let’s talk about five reasons that your boundaries aren’t working and what we can do to fix them.
#1 – Your boundaries are to get others to change.
The purpose of boundaries is to protect you. Whether the protection is for your physical body, your mental health, or your emotional well-being, boundaries are for you and boundaries can include a request for someone else to change. They can’t be dependent upon it. For example, maybe your sister is super disrespectful of your time and she feels that she can just contact you anytime she wants, day or night. Instead of telling your sister to stop texting you all hours of the night, tell her that you will be turning your phone off and you will get back to her when you’re available. And one requires that she change for you to have peace and the other take matters into your own hands. I’d be careful that your boundaries aren’t dependent on someone else changing for you as this will still leave you powerless.
#2 – Your boundaries are extreme.
If I had a nickel for every fed-up woman that said that “I’m putting up boundaries, I’m divorcing him.”, my friend, I’d be a really rich woman. Look, I get it. You’ve likely tolerated toxic behavior for a long time and now you’ve had enough. The problem may also be that you should have been setting biblical boundaries all along and since you didn’t have that problem. Be careful. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that this is your fault and that this person is behaving badly because of you, nor am I encouraging you to stay in the case of abuse. But in regular relationships, where you just can’t take it anymore, it’s unreasonable to expect the other person to understand when there’s been no, clear, direct communication all along. And you might be saying, “Oh, Kris I’ve been telling him for years.” I get it. You’ve been telling him, but you haven’t laid down a boundary to protect your mental and emotional health, have you? Have you put the parameters in place to guard your heart?
In the case of a marriage, maybe hubby struggles with pornography and you’ve just been begging and threatening to go to counseling and maybe you yell and cry and you scream and you threaten him. But you never take action. Instead of filing for divorce, a more appropriate boundary would be to say that “we will be separating if we don’t go to counseling.” Now, I’m not telling you to separate. I’m just giving this as an example and many would view this maybe as a manipulative threat. It’s not. It’s actually a Biblical approach to bringing healing and change. In 1st Corinthians 5:1, we’re told a story where they demanded that the son who was sleeping with his stepmother be asked to leave the church and the hope was to bring him to repentance and change. Not in some manipulative manner, but in a Godly approach for repentance and restoration and he did.
#3 – Your boundaries are reactive.
Blocking someone’s number one minute only to block them the next three days later says that you react on emotion rather than principle. A reactive person will settle ultimatums as punishments, disguised as boundaries and this is typically the case when you just can’t take it anymore. But like discipline, boundaries should be done in peace and with a calm mindset, not in anger or angst. Unless, of course, you’re in immediate danger. And boundaries should be consistent and persistent, not flaky. They shouldn’t be based upon someone’s short-term actions, but rather on long-term behaviors.
For example, if you know that your friend always takes advantage of you; the one who takes a mile when you give an inch;, then a good boundary would be to not give her things unless you are positive that you won’t care when she takes advantage. But many will go by some good feelings at the moment. “I just feel so good, and I want to bless this person.” And then, when the person acts the way that they always acted, you find yourself, frustrated and victimized, and then you react with an extreme boundary. Only to let this person back in when your emotions have cooled down. My friend. don’t let momentary good moods cause you to back down your boundaries and don’t let a momentary reaction cause you to create boundaries that you’re not willing to keep. All this teaches the other person is that you react emotionally and your boundaries aren’t serious.
#4 – Your boundaries are weak.
Sometimes people may respond to your boundaries with anger. They will let you know directly or indirectly that they don’t like your boundaries and they’re not going to respect them. However, just because others don’t agree with your boundaries, doesn’t mean that your boundaries aren’t working. It doesn’t mean that your boundaries are wrong or that you even need to change them. And many people will adjust to your new boundaries if you continue to set them consistently. If you give in, only to set a boundary when it’s easy, people will realize that they can get their way by pushing on you. It kind of sounds like a child nagging their parents for a treat in the line at the grocery store. My friend, hold firm! And remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your boundary. Instead of saying, “I can’t help with the bake sale this time because my schedule has been so hectic”, “Hubby’s been working some overtime” and “little Timmy has a project due and I just can’t seem to find enough time in the day.” My friend, you’re really trying to justify your No, so that the other person gets it usually so you can feel okay about disappointing someone. Well, the problem with over-explaining is that it leaves room for the other person to invalidate your reason. The truth is, that’s just no one’s business why do you need to say no. Simply say, “I’m sorry I can’t help with the bake sale this time.”
#5 -Your boundaries have no consequences.
If a burglar broke into your home, you would call the police and you and this burglar would then suffer the consequence of crossing your boundary by getting arrested. Unfortunately, if your boundaries have no consequences, it’s the equivalent of getting really, really, really, really upset and yelling and screaming at the burglar and threatening, and then letting him go, hoping he’ll never do it again. Your boundaries must have consequences. Scripture tells us “Those who don’t work, don’t eat.”
What is the consequence? Somebody doesn’t want to work and earn their keep. They’re not going to eat. The sister in our first example, texts you all hours of the night; you tell her that you’re turning off your phone and in some cases, she may get the message and respect your boundary, but she might not. So now your sister started banging on your front door and that’s the point where you would say, “See, the boundaries don’t work. My sister’s not respecting my boundaries.” No, it’s that your sister is testing your boundaries as most boundary stompers do. So when she starts banging on your door, you simply ask her to stop and if she doesn’t, kindly let her know that you will be calling the police and then do it. Many would say, “oh, no, no, I can’t do that. She’s my sister” and therein lies the problem. As you can see, boundaries, my friend, are complex and fluid.
The role of biblical counseling narcissism
Setting boundaries as a Christian can be difficult and frustrating, especially when they don’t seem to work. However, there are several reasons why boundaries may fail, including unrealistic expectations, extreme reactions, and reactive behaviors. By identifying these roadblocks, we can take steps to create healthy boundaries that work for us.
Additionally, it’s essential to be aware of the role of biblical counseling narcissism, which can cause people to resist boundaries and manipulate others for their benefit. Therefore, it’s crucial to seek wise counsel and guidance from trusted individuals who can offer biblical principles to create healthy boundaries that protect our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Remember, boundaries are necessary in every relationship, including healthy ones, and with proper implementation, they can lead to more fulfilling and healthier relationships.