March 2, 2023

Spiritual Trauma Part 2: Boundaries in Faith

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In part 1 of this series, I defined spirituality and some of the challenges that can become traumatic experiences over time. One reason why spiritual trauma occurs is because people who live in close, intentional community with each other become like family to one another. As with all family systems, healthy boundaries need to be set in order for the group to grow and treat each other with respect.

If these boundaries are not put in place or followed properly, people can harm each other, either intentionally or unintentionally. Many conflicts in faith communities arise because people didn’t know how to respect boundaries, causing resentment to build over time.

What are Boundaries and Why Do We Set Them?

Simply put, boundaries are our limits. They are the things we will not allow other people (or ourselves) to say or do to us. For example, a boundary we may set for ourselves is to go to bed before midnight every night. This boundary is necessary because you cannot perform well at work, school, or whatever environment you are in, if you do not get enough sleep. If someone pushes you to stay up past midnight, it may feel more offensive to you than someone who does not have this boundary for themselves. The point is that the boundary is necessary for you, whether or not you have made yourself aware of it.

According to Dr. Henry Cloud, boundaries are set so that we can be in healthy, loving relationships with other people. If we feel resentment building toward another person, it may be because we have not set healthy boundaries with them. We may also have unspoken boundaries or expectations that we have not brought awareness to, which still trigger us to feel resentment.

When we are made aware of the need to establish boundaries with someone, the intention is to allow us to continue our relationship with them in a safe manner. Boundaries are set for ourselves, regardless of how the other person behaves. Healthy boundaries may change the other person’s behavior, but they are not set with that intention. Manipulative boundaries are set with the intention of punishing the other person or forcing them to change. These lines can be blurry, but it is important to understand why we need boundaries for ourselves.

When Do We Set Boundaries in Faith Communities?

In faith communities, it is helpful to start with the boundaries for ourselves that allow us to be healthy members of our community. This requires understanding our capacity for engagement and service. This way, we know when to say “no” to something that is asked of us that we are unable to deliver.

It is also helpful to set boundaries with other people in our communities. This can look like letting people know when a question has been too personal or an expectation they have is not something you are able to meet. For example, someone may choose not to tell you that they are going through a challenging breakup. This is not meant to be an insult you, but they are drawing the boundary because they are not ready to talk about it in certain capacities.

When Boundaries are Not Respected

When someone in your faith community does not respect one of your boundaries, it is important to politely express your boundary. If they repeat the behavior, you can choose to remind them again that the boundary is important to you. If they continue to violate your boundaries, you may need to involve other people in the conversation. Over time, it may become clear that you can no longer be in relationship with that person or that you need to find another area to serve them.

Sometimes, violations of our boundaries in faith communities become so serious that our safety is called into question. It may also be clear that you will not be respected by other members of the community. In these instances, you need to consider what it looks like to establish safety and respect again. I will examine this more closely in part 3 of this series.

If you need help determining how to establish boundaries in your faith community, I can help you with this process. Call today to begin identifying your values and ways to lower resentment in your spiritual life.

Written by therapist Elise Champanhet

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