One of the hardest issues for many people, especially in today’s society, is to know when to trust other people. What I am about to write comes from the books, Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, and Safe People by the same authors. It is what I have learned along my healing journey, and I can assure you that I am by no means anywhere near the end of it. I believe healing is a lifelong journey. I highly recommend reading ALL of their books. Believe me when I say they have an endless supply of good Christian books that will help you grow and mature both spiritually and emotionally.
Many people teach that we are to trust nobody. After all, look what it gets us a lot of the time. Girls, boys and women raped because they trusted somebody enough to simply speak to them. Now, not every encounter is a bad one, but we cannot guarantee that any meeting will be a safe one. Who is willing to risk their life on a chance meeting?
On the other hand, we have to put a little trust in those around us. Consider the people we work with, go to church with, attend school with, are friends with, and are our family and so on. If we do not trust them, what kind of relationship would we have? Ultimately, we would NOT HAVE a relationship for trust is one of the fundamental qualities we rely upon to build and uphold our relationships. Even the Bible tells us to trust no one, but I will not get into religious rhetoric. So how do we know when to trust? Consider what Dr.’s Henry Cloud and John Townsend have said in their two books I have mentioned. Please note that these authors are Christians, so there are some notations of a God. You may interpret God as to whomever or whatever you believe your Higher Power or God to be, if you have one. Here is what they say:
WHAT SAFE PEOPLE DO
We like to think of a safe relationship as one that does three things:
Draws us closer to God.
Draws us closer to others.
Helps us become the real person God created us to be.
When asked to describe what people consider a “safe person” to be to us, they answered:
a. A person who accepts me just like I am.
b. A person who loves me no matter how I am being or what I do.
c. A person whose influence develops my ability to love and be responsible.
d. Someone who creates love and good works within me.
e. Someone who gives me an opportunity to grow.
f. Someone who increases love within me.
g. Someone I can be myself around
h. Someone who allows me to be on the outside what I am on the inside.
i. Someone who helps me to deny myself for others and God.
j. Someone who allows me to become the me that God intended.
k. Someone who helps me become the me God sees in me.
l. Someone whose life touches mine and leaves me better for it.
m. Someone who touches my life and draws me closer to who God created me to be.
n. Someone who helps me be like Christ.
o. Someone who helps me to love others more.
And in picking good friendships, the authors suggest that several qualities are important:
Acceptance and grace
Mutual struggles, although they do not have to be the same ones
Both parties need other support systems as well to avoid the same kind of toxic dependency on each other that led to the problems
Familiarity with the growth process where both parties have “entered in” and have some knowledge of the process so as to avoid the blind leading the blind
Mutual interest and chemistry, a genuine liking
An absence of “one-up and one-down” dynamics
Both parties in a relationship with God
Honesty and reality instead of “over spiritualizing”
An absence of controlling behaviour
Friendships of this kind are an absolute must for our spiritual growth.
WHAT UNSAFE PEOPLE DO
(note that he is used but she can also be applied)
1. He pushes too far, too fast, planning your future together right away.
2. He hates his mother and is nasty to her.
3. He wants your undivided attention.
4. He must always be in charge.
5. He always has to win.
6. He breaks promises all the time.
7. He can’t take criticism and always justifies his actions.
8. He blames someone else for anything that goes wrong.
9. He’s jealous of your close friends, family members, and all other men.
10. He always asks you where you went and whom you saw.
11. He has extreme highs and lows that are unpredictable.
12. He has a mean temper.
13. He often says you don’t know what you’re talking about.
14. He makes you feel like you’re not good enough.
15. He withdraws his love or approval as punishment.
16. He pushes you to do things that make you feel uneasy, like taking the day off from work or even breaking the law.
Now that we know what to look for in safe and unsafe people, we must learn what we are responsible for in almost every situation in our life. We find this out by looking at the issues surrounding boundaries.
EXAMPLES OF BOUNDARIES
Skin. The most basic boundary that defines you is your physical skin. Your physical self is the first way that you learn that you are separate from others.
Words. In the physical world, a fence or some other kind of structure usually delineates a boundary. In the spiritually world, fences are invisible. Nevertheless, you can create good protective fences with your words. The most important boundary word is “no.” It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you. Being clear about your no – and your yes – is a theme that runs through the Bible.
Truth. Knowing the truth about God and his property puts limits on you and shows you his boundaries. There is always safety in the truth, whether it be knowing God’s truth or the truth about yourself. Honesty about who you are gives you the biblical value of integrity, or oneness.
Geographical Distance Sometimes physically removing yourself from a situation will help maintain boundaries. You can do this to replenish yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually after you have given to your limit6, as Jesus often did.
Time Taking time off from a person or a project can be a way of regaining ownership over some out-of-control aspect of your life where boundaries need to be set.
Emotional Distance A temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never a permanent way of living. People who have been in abusive relationships need to find a safe place to begin to “thaw out” emotionally.
Other People You need to depend on others to help you set and keep boundaries. People are subject to another person’s addictions, control, or abuse are finding that after years and years of “loving too much,” they can find the ability to create boundaries only through a support group. It gives them the strength to say no to abuse and control for the first time in their lives.
WHAT’S WITHIN MY BOUNDARIES
Feelings – Feelings have gotten a bad rap in Christian circles. They have been called everything from unimportant to fleshly. Feelings should neither be ignored nor placed in charge. The Bible says to “own” your feelings and be aware of them. They can often motivate you to do much good. Feelings come from your heart and can tell you the state of your relationships.
Attitudes and Beliefs – Attitudes have to do with your orientation toward something, the stance you take toward others, God, life, work and relationships. Beliefs are anything that you accept as true. People with boundary problems usually have distorted attitudes about responsibility. They feel that to hold people responsible for their feelings, choices, and behaviours is mean. However, Proverbs repeatedly says that setting limits and accepting responsibility will save lives (Prov. 13:18, 24).
Behaviours – Behaviours have consequences. A man reaps what he sows – Gal. 6:7-8. If we study, we will reap good grades. If we sow idleness, irresponsibility, or out-of-control behaviour, we can expect to reap poverty, failure, and the effects of loose living. The problem comes when someone interrupts the law of sowing and reaping in another’s life. A person’s drinking or abuse SHOULD have consequences for the drinker or the abuser. To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behaviour is to render them powerless.
Choices – We need to take responsibility for our choices. This leads to the fruit of self-control (Gal. 5:23). We need to realize that we ARE in control of our choices, no matter how we feel. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.
Values – What we value is what we love and assign importance to. Often we do not take responsibility for what we value. We are caught up in the valuing the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43). When we take responsibility for out-of-control behaviour caused by loving the wrong things, or valuing the things that have no lasting value, when we confess that we have a heart that values things that will not satisfy, we can receive help from God and his people to “create a new heart” within us.
Limits – Two aspects of limits stand out when it comes to creating better boundaries. The first is setting limits on others. This is the component we most hear about when we talk about boundaries. In reality, we setting limits on others is a misnomer. We can’t do that. What we CAN do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right. Our model is God. He does not really “set limits” on people to “make them” behave. God sets standards, but he lets people be who they are and then separates himself from them when they misbehave, saying in effect, “You can be that way if you choose, but you cannot come into my house.”
Talents – Contrast these two responses:
1. “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
2. “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.” (Matt. 25:23, 226-28).
No other passage better illustrates God-ordained responsibility for ownwership and use of talents. Although the example is of money, it also applies to internal talents and gifts. Our talents are clearly within our responsibility. Yet taking ownership for them is often frightening and always risky. The parable of the talents says that we are accountable – not to mention much happier – when we are exercising our gifts and being productive. It takes work, practice, learning, prayer, resources, and grace to overcome the fear of failure that the “wicked and lazy” servant gave in to. Not confronting our fear denies the grace of God and insults both his giving of the gift and his grace to sustain us as we are learning.
Thoughts – Our minds and thoughts are important reflections of the image of God. No other creature on earth has our thinking ability. We are the only creatures who are called to love God with all our mind (Mark 12:30). Paul wrote that he was taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). We must own our thoughts. We must grow in knowledge and expand our minds. We must clarify distorted thinking.
Desires – Each of us has different desires and wants, dreams and wishes, goals and plans, hungers and thirsts. We all want to satisfy “me” but why are there so few satisfied “me’s” around? Part of the problem lies in the lack of structured boundaries within our personality. We can’t define who the real “me” is and what we truly desire. We often do not actively seek our desires from God, and those desires are mixed up with things that we do not really need. God is truly interested in our desires; he made them. We are commanded to play an active role in seeking our desires. We need to own our desires and pursue them to find fulfillment in life.
Love – Our ability to give and respond to love is our greatest gift. The heart that God has fashioned in his image is the centre of our being. Its abilities to open up to love and to allow love to flow outward are crucial to life. Many people have difficulty giving and receiving love because of hurt and fear. The Bible says to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). Many people do not take ownership for how they resist love. They have a lot of love around them, but do not realize that their loneliness is a result of their own lack of responsiveness. We need to claim our hearts as our property and work on our weaknesses in that area. It will open up life to us.
Compliants – Saying “Yes” to the bad. To feel safe in the world we need to have the power to say things like:
I will not
I choose not to
I don’t like it when you touch me there
Adults with handicaps like this have this first boundary injury – they says yes to bad things. This type of boundary problem paralyzes people’s no muscles. Whenever they need to protect themselves by saying no, the word catches in their throats. This happens for a number of different reasons:
fear of humiliation
fear of abandonment and separateness
a wish to be totally dependent on another
fear of someone else’s anger
fear of punishment
fear of being shamed
fear of being seen as bad or selfish
fear of being unspiritual
fear of one’s overstrict, critical conscience
When we give in to guilty feelings, we are complying with a harsh conscience. This fear of disobeying the harsh conscience translates into an inability to confront others – a saying yes to the bad – because it would cause more guilt.
Saying No to the Good
Avoiding the opportunity for others to love you as they’d been loved by you. It’s called avoidance; saying no to the good. It’s the inability to ask for help, to recognize one’s own needs, to let others in. Avoidants withdraw when they are in need; they do not ask for the support of others. Boundaries are to be like gates – to let the good in and the bad out. Individuals with walls for boundaries can let in neither bad nor good. No one touches them.
Controllers: Not Respecting Others’ Boundaries
Controllers believe the old jokes about training top sales people: no means maybe, and maybe means yes. Controllers are perceived as bullies. The primary problems of individuals who can’t hear no – which is different from not being able to say no – is that they tend to project responsibility for their lives onto others to carry the load intended by God to be theirs alone.
Aggressive controllers – these people clearly don’t listen to others’ boundaries. They run over other people’s fences like a tank. They are sometimes verbally abusive, sometimes physically abusive. But most of the time they simply aren’t aware that others even have boundaries.
Manipulative controllers – Less honest that the aggressive controllers, manipulators try to persuade people out of their boundaries. They talk others into yes. They indirectly manipulate circumstances to get their way. They seduce others into carry9ing their burdens. They use guilt messages.
Nonresponsives: Not hearing the Needs Of Others – a lack of attention to the responsibilities of love, these individuals exhibit the opposite of the pattern exhorted in Proverbs 3:27. We are responsible to care about and help, WITHIN CERTAIN LIMITS, others whom God places in our lives.
SUMMARY OF BOUNDARY PROBLEMS
|CAN’T SAY||CAN’T HEAR|
|NO – The Compliant. Feels guilty and/or controlled by others; can’t set boundaries||The Controller. Aggressively or manipulatively violates boundaries of others.|
|YES – The Nonresponsive. Sets boundaries against responsibility to love.||The Avoidant. Sets boundaries against receiving care of others.|
TEN LAWS OF BOUNDARIES
The law of Sowing and Reaping. You reap what you sow.
The law of Responsibility. Loving others as Christ loved us.
The law of Power. You have the power to:
agree with the truth about your problems
submit your inability to God
search and ask God and others to reveal more and more about what is within your boundaries
turn from the evil that you find within you – repentance
humble yourself and ask God and others to help you with your developmental injuries and leftover childhood needs
seek out those that you have injured and make amends
The law of Respect. Respect others’ boundaries and your own
The law of Motivation. What is your motivation for helping other people?
The law of Evaluation. To evaluate the effects of setting boundaries and be responsible to the other person but not avoid setting boundaries because someone responds with hurt or anger.
The law of Proactivity. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The law of Envy. Envy defines “good as “what I do not possess,” and hates the good that it has.
The law of Activity – Remember the parable of the talents and how the ones who had initiative went forth and further in life.
The law of Exposure – you do not exist in a vacuum. You exist in relation to God and others. Your boundaries define you in relation to others.
COMMON BOUNDARY MYTHS
If I set Boundaries, I’m Being Selfish. Selfishness has to do with a fixation on our won wishes and desires, to the exclusion of our responsibilities to love others. Our needs are our responsibilities.
Boundaries Are a Sign of Disobedience. In religious circles you will often hear statements such as, “Your unwillingness to go along with our program shows an unresponsive heart.” In actuality, lack of boundaries is a sign of disobedience.
If I Begin Setting Boundaries, I Will Be Hurt By Others. Being terrified of the consequences of setting boundaries.
If I Set Boundaries, I Will Hurt Others. You fear you will injure someone else. Boundaries are a Defensive Tool not an Offensive Weapon.
Boundaries Mean That I Am Angry. Emotions or feelings have a function. They tell us that we’ve lost something – a relationship, an opportunity, or an idea. Anger tells us that our boundaries have been violated. Boundaries decrease anger.
When Others Set Boundaries, It Injures Me. When we have a person we can’t take no from, we have, in effect, handed over the control of our lives to them.
Boundaries Cause Feelings of Guilt. What do we owe not only our parents, but anyone who’s been loving toward us? What’s appropriate and biblical, and what isn’t? Whatever we received causes us to feel obligated. Gift implies no strings attached. All that’s really needed is gratitude.
Boundaries Are Permanent, and I’m Afraid of Burning My Bridges. It’s important to know that your “no” is always subject to you. You own your boundaries. They don’t own you. Changing and renegotiating boundaries has many biblical precedents: God chose not to destroy Nineveh when the city repented.
So now we have guidelines to use and refer to when it comes to meeting new people and evaluating the people who are already in our lives. We also need to use these guidelines to develop our own safeness as people in the world – as people that other persons are able to trust and confide in.
Trust is something that must be earned and not given freely. If you can trust somebody with something small like how your dentist appointment went, then try trusting them with something bigger like a problem you are having. If word gets around, you know you can’t trust them. But if they keep their word and their mouth shut, then you can trust them with bigger and bigger things. It is like taking steps. If you can see that they take one step and do not falter, then you can trust them with the next step and so on.
Take your time when learning to trust somebody. Don’t just freely give them every ounce of trust you have. Believe me, it won’t work. Make people work at earning your trust because they are sure to make you work at earning theirs.