The topic of boundaries is one that I find myself coming back to time and again with clients and one that I believe can be challenging for us all at one point or another as we learn how to love others and build healthy and lasting relationships.
In their classic book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Henry Cloud and John Townsend outline ten laws of boundaries that are helpful for us all, especially those who grew up in dysfunctional homes and/or unfamiliar with boundaries as God established them.
In this blog, we will look at the first five laws: 1) The Law of Reaping and Sowing, 2) The Law of Responsibility, 3) The Law of Power, 4) The Law of Respect and 5) The Law of Motivation.
The Law of Reaping and Sowing
The principle of reaping and sowing basically states that a person reaps the consequences of what they sow. When it comes to boundaries and the law of reaping and sowing, Cloud and Townsend point out that when others step in and interrupt the sowing and reaping process, it can ultimately lead to the development of an unhealthy dependence on others. For example, a child falls asleep and the parent does their homework rather than encouraging the child to do the work themselves. The consequences experienced are a result of the parent’s actions. Repeated enough times, children will mostly develop an unhealthy dependence on the parent and ultimately suffer in adulthood as they fail to take responsibility for their lives. The parent who continually rescues the child by doing the homework lacks boundaries. One way to help those who are dependent is to allow them to experience the pain of their consequences. This will motivate them to make a change and become more engaged and responsible for their choices.
The Law of Responsibility
In the Bible, God tells us to love one another and help each other. However, He does not tell us to live another person’s life. The law of responsibility puts forth the fact that we are each called to live our own lives and be responsible to each other. We are to exercise stewardship over every aspect of the lives that have been entrusted to us. Being responsible “to” others is about helping others when they are in need but not indulging them in a way that perpetuates irresponsibility and allows them to not experience the consequences of their actions. Cloud and Townsend states that living other’s life for them stunts their growth and learning.
The Law of Power
Helping a person identify and understand what they have and do not have power over is another great function of boundaries. Cloud and Townsend referenced The Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr, as “the best boundary prayer ever”.
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.
When we try to change other people, oftentimes we are the ones who end up suffering. While we cannot change people, we can work on changing ourselves. As we change, we, by our new ways of behaving, thinking and being, are establishing new patterns of relating that others will have to make so adjustments if they desire to remain in relationship with us. This may in effect cause them to make changes of their own. As these changes take place what becomes clearer in the process is what makes us different from them and vice versa.
The Law of Respect
Do we respect the boundaries of others? This is the key question to ask when it comes to boundaries and the law of respect. Treating another person how we want to be treated goes a long way in terms of building a healthy relationship and mutual respect. Cloud and Townsend assert that it is difficult to establish and maintain our boundaries when we are afraid of having them violated by others. Also, that we create a cycle of fear when we disrespect the boundaries of others and expect them to do the same to us. Respecting the boundaries of others sets us up to have our boundaries respected. We are free to be ourselves and allow others the same respect.
The Law of Motivation
Cloud and Townsend highlight a verse on giving from the Bible that states, “It is more blessed to receive than to give,” when talking about the law of motivation. They point out that some people give out of a fear of losing love and being abandoned and have false motives associated with giving that result in unhealthy boundary setting. Motives such as loneliness, guilt, and approval, believe loving means saying yes every time and that they are responsible for the feelings of others.
Rather than allow our fears to control us, Cloud and Townsend encourage others to work on resolving their fears while creating healthy boundaries to guard the freedom to be their authentic selves.
As you consider your relationships, how would you rate them in terms of boundaries? Would you say most of them are healthy or are you lacking boundaries? As you read through these laws of boundaries, which one stands out the most to you and why?
Do you need help learning to identify boundaries issues and establishing healthy boundaries in your relationship? We would be happy to come alongside you through individual counseling or in a group setting to help you learn how to take ownership and steward your life more effectively. Give us a call.
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