What it means to have boundaries with yourself

This one single topic I believe can change your life forever.  Stay with me here, this isn’t an infomercial.  I want to share with you the idea that the boundaries you have with yourself can drastically affect the relationships you have with yourself, with God, with your friends, family, coworkers.  How in the world do you have a boundary with yourself?  What is a boundary anyways?

First we need to define what a boundary is.  It’s much like a house with a yard and a fence.  I often think of my emotional self as a “house” with different “rooms” (parts of myself).  I also have a “porch” where decisions take place: It’s there that I decide what I’m willing to take inside my “house” (my emotional self).  For example, when someone gives me a compliment I literally picture it as someone giving me flowers on my door step.  I choose to bring them inside to admire them for a while. Those flowers (compliments) look good, smell good, and brighten my day in my home but do not determine its worth or valueMy house is the same whether or not there are flowers inside.  Another example would be when some people try to hand me a heaping pile of steaming poo that also looks like a guilt trip.  I can choose to bring it inside into my house where I have to smell it and hold it and cry over the effects of this lingering gift.  Or I can stand on my porch and hand it right back to them and say “currently I am not accepting guilt trips.”  No poo in my house!  But outside my house is my yard with a fence. It separates me from other people, everyone in fact.  I am the only one who lives in my house and it is my job to protect it.  Sometimes I have neighbors on the other side of my fence that I call friends and family who help me from time to time but ultimately this is my responsibility to decide who comes in and out.  If someone crosses that line without being invited there will be consequences.  Now, don’t get me wrong I do let people in.  Those people have my trust and I allow them into my home, some people different rooms than others.  This is the vulnerability glue that holds us together with other humans.  It is part of our ingrained primal instincts to be a part of our herd, our humanness.  Some let others come and go in and out of their house, leaving it in ruins, with little value because they didn’t protect their fence line and then resent them for ruining their house.  Others have let no one in their house in years because someone tried to burn it down once- so they live like hoarders with piles of stuff they haven’t gone through.  So much so, they can’t even walk around, they just stay in one room.  (Are you following, this analogy is getting deep…)

So now we are operating under the assumption that our emotional selves are a house with one owner and it is our job to protect the house, yard and fence.  What happens when someone crosses it uninvited? It really depends on what it is. Maybe the person didn’t see it – they didn’t know it was there and you just need to bring it to their attention- in a kind way.  Like “Hey I saw you texted me last night.  I turn my ringer off at 8:30 so I won’t be answering any texts or phone calls after that.”  Or maybe you need to reinforce it:  “Like I said before, I don’t want your wet bathing suit to be left on the floor.  Please respect our household rules or there will be consequences.” But sometimes people do not respect your boundaries and mow over them- almost challenging you to enforce them: “Next time you choose to come to my house without calling me first you will not be allowed in.”

The main thing that makes a boundary a boundary isn’t the fence – it is what happens if someone crosses it. Otherwise, why would it be there? Consequences to boundaries ideally should be considered at the same time of placing the boundary; Although, sometimes you don’t have time to think about it, because you thought it wouldn’t be crossed. For instance, a guy grabs your butt at a party- do you slap them?  Tell them off?  Call the police and file a report?  The last one is a bit extreme but you get the point.  The consequence should be one that “fits” your conviction to the boundary. If you don’t want your mother-in-law absolutely to not give your children ice cream, and this is extremely important to you, then you may threaten that they may not spend time together unsupervised.  But this may not be an issue for others.

One reason I am in love with PD (personal development) is because I realized I get to grow and learn and become a better version of myself through teaching myself things like boundaries.  A fascination with psychology of humans, I suppose.  Because, like many others, I didn’t grow up in a household where these things were talked about, or even known about.  I am so grateful and honored that I get to be the one to stop these patterns of behavior and instill them in later generations.  I get to alter the course of my own family and help others do the same.  I am by no means perfect and need do overs, permission slips to be human, and have to clean up messy deliveries of information.  But that’s ok because that means that I’m trying and that I care.

Which brings me to my main point- we know how to have boundaries with other people and the consequences but how do we have boundaries with ourselves?  This is something so many people struggle with and it looks like self-control– which is a piece of boundaries anyways. It takes self-control to not blow up on your husband for not putting his dishes in the sink.  Instead of yelling (which is what we want to do because we probably feel unappreciated) is realizing first that it is NORMAL that we want to yell- we are being human.  But we have evolved and realize that he is also human, we assume he did not have ill-willed intention toward you, we give him grace and say “Hey babe, I saw you left your dishes in the sink after dinner.  It would really mean a lot to me if you put them in the dishwasher next time.”  Chances are when your husband, who loves and cares for you, hears that kind request, instead of yelling, he will probably respond with a willingness to help- rather than look for a spiteful defense from the attack of all the yelling.

Grace + Self-control + Kindness = Boundaries with self (aka a term I’m going to coin as Autogenous Boundaries).

What does this look like?

I go through a process in my head.  For an easy example let’s say there’s a warm chocolate chip cookie in the breakroom at work. I’ve been on a diet and lost two pounds and really I don’t want to eat the cookie because I know it will derail the rest of the day.  But my salad is gone from my stomach already and I have 3 hours left of work.  So first I acknowledge my primal human self: “Of course you want to have that cookie! It looks and smells so good and you’re hungry!”  Then I set the Autogenous Boundary: “But the reality is you know what will happen if you eat the cookie, it negates the salad you worked so hard to choke down and will probably come with a autogenous guilt trip which will mean a stop for some fried chicken on the way home.  So if you decide to eat that cookie you will regret it and not lose the weight OR you will have to have that protein shake for dinner (consequences).”  It sounds simple because it is.

Something I was not taught, but now that I am in my thirties, I am fortunate to have learned what types and flavors of abuse there are: physical, emotional, spiritual, verbal, sexual, and there may be more.  I wish everyone was taught not to accept certain behaviors but also how to have Autogenous Boundaries to avoid it themselves.  Behaviors I may have used to but no longer tolerate without exception are:

  • Violations of my body (physical or sexual aggression or threats)
  • Name calling and belittling
  • Violent intimidation, threats, or violent behavior (slamming doors, throwing things, breaking things, punching things)
  • False accusations of my intentions
  • Snarky comments
  • Blaming
  • Guilt trips
  • “Always and never” statements
  • Cursing
  • Voice raising
  • Actual finger pointing
  • Threat of harm to myself or other living things, including suicide

These things stay on the other side of the fence and if they occur all kinds of alarms get set off. Once, I went to buy a clock from someone.  It was not as described and was broken.  I politely declined to buy the piece.  They then started cursing, yelling, and threatening to “beat up” my husband who was not present.  I quickly removed myself from the scene and filed a police report.  While some might say “he called you a mean name get over it,” he threatened the safety of my husband and disrespected my boundary of how I feel I deserve to be treated.  You teach people how to treat you based on what you tolerate- what you allow will continue. That is a necessary piece to drive the whole idea of boundaries- your house has to be worth protection TO YOU, regardless of the value others place on your house.  (Click on What God Says About Me for how to find value in your house).  It is how you (and God) value your house- whether it is a pristine mansion or a shaky shack- it’s up to you to place enough value on it to protect it.  Whatever kind of house you have emotionally it is worth protecting at all costs.  Until you can believe that, you will not have the stamina to protect it.  If you don’t currently identify with that statement: “my (emotional) house is worth protecting at all costs,” you can use progressive language like “I’m figuring out how to value my house,” or “I’m on my way to see what it looks like to value my house in order to protect it.” If you are consistent then eventually you can believe it.

So now we have our valuable house with a yard and fence and we are standing on the porch with a gun. Okay, maybe not a gun, maybe welcoming arms with a discerning alarm system.  These alarm systems are like muscles – the more you use them the better they become.  So don’t beat yourself up if you are “trigger happy” when you first start to protect your fence line.  But trust your gut- if it smells fishy it’s usuallya fish.

All this lead up to say: Autogenous Boundaries are like boundaries with others, except with yourself. Acknowledge the human wants and gut reactions.  Give yourself grace and an allowance to be a human.  Then understand the consequences and don’t allow yourself to fall into patterns of behavior because you didn’t have good boundaries with yourself.  This is how people gain weight, get lazy at work, gain additions, quit brushing their teeth, live their life being swallowed in unnecessary guilt and shame, and tolerate being a people-pleasing doormat.  (How to be a Christian without being a doormat). I have heard myself in an argument say in my head “no self, you’re not going to say that!” Or “If you don’t brush your teeth I’m going to spank you!”-not a real consequence.  But what about a mom who has a child with an addiction: “Of course you want to give him money to get his car out of impound, but we are not going to do that because he has to suffer the consequences of his own actions.”  Or the very rampant problem, infidelity?  Go through the process: “Of course you want to go flirt with the security guard at work. You have been going through a lot in your marriage lately.  It’s human to crave belonging.  BUT there are some SERIOUS consequences to that- so we are not going to do that.  We will instead avoid the temptation and take the stairs.”  (Just to clarify that was a made up scenario). But you get the idea.

If we can give ourselves grace for our human wants, and even primal needs, then we can better set behavioral boundaries with ourselves- whether it’s about our weight, our arguments, our addictions, or our relationships. That understanding will then free us to live our best life- one that we can be proud of.

 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us. power, love, and self-discipline.” -II Timothy 1:7

Photo credit: Lauren Garrison Photography

How to be a Christian without being a doormat

Hi, my name is Lauren and I’m a recovering doormat.

Through my growth in Christ I have come to wonder- Where is the line between service to others and “doormatism?” It is a very grey area to me. We are supposed to serve others with a willing heart but also not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I do something for someone I didn’t want to do and then shame myself for resenting them- “you shouldn’t be annoyed, you’re doing what Christ wants!” But am I really?

This post has been as much as the Holy Spirit revealing to me areas I need to work on as much as it is a blog post on the fruits of the Spirit. How in the world are we to be the hands and feet of Christ without being a doormat-people-pleaser?! On my way to work this came to me as a blog post idea. At first I thought maybe I could identify 3 areas to describe. But the Holy Spirit had more to say. Don’t worry I only made notes at stop lights. Mostly. Please don’t tell my husband.

1. the state of your heart

Wouldn’t it be great if every time we were about to do something we stopped and thought about our motives for doing it?

“The sacrifice of a wicked person is detestable — how much more so when he brings it with ulterior motives!” Proverbs 21:27

When we accept the Holy Spirit, He resides in us. He begins to go to our dark, hidden basement with a flashlight, sorting through the moldy junk we’ve been putting down there and ignoring. He reveals to us at the right time certain things we either need to dust off and bring to life, or just throw away the things taking up too much space.

“Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

1 Corinthians 2:10

Even the depths of God. Wow.

Sometimes if I think about it before I say yes to something- whether it’s cookies for the art show or committing to a project- I ask myself: “Can I do this thing without resenting them later for it?” If the answer is “I don’t know.” It’s a no. (If it’s not “shoot yea” it’s a “shoot no.”) This is my way of evaluating my motives. Can I do this thing for THEM because I want to help and be of service? Or am I doing it because I should? Am I ‘shoulding’ all over myself? I do this more times than I’d like to admit.

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’” Matthew 25:40

This is a great reminder that when I’m cleaning up the mud off the floor and want to curse the person who left it there (probably was me, let’s be honest). I’m reminded I’m not doing it for me, for us to have a clean house, or for our visitors’ judgments of how well I can keep house. I’m doing it for God. My King wants me to serve others with a willing heart because ultimately I’m serving pieces of Him.

2. personal boundaries

If you have not read the Boundaries books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, I highly recommend them. Everyone could benefit from these life-changers: Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries, Boundaries With Kids, Boundaries With Teens. This is one way being a Christian and a doormat are not the same. We do not have to put up with certain behaviors in the name of God. As the body and temple of Christ we are called to, not only be intolerant of, but to bring light to abuse, mistreatment, and inhumanity. We have an obligation to stand up for and protect ourselves.

I struggle with finding the line sometimes between being a part of a family and codependency. I think it’s possible, according to the right motives, to care for, help, and serve others but to also have boundaries with knowing when it’s gone too far into “saviordome.”

“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Matthew 18:1

3. your yes is yes and your no is no.

“But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (This was our son’s Bible verse one week- never know where you’re going to get revelation!)

We’ve all done it- or had that friend do it- where we ask something of them. Then we see them grit their teeth and say “suuuuure…” You know good and well that they DON’T want to do it. And every time you ask them for something you never really can trust them to tell you the truth. You would rather hear: “Thank you so much for asking, that means a lot. But right now I’m going to have to pass. I hope you can understand.” That puts a marble in the trust jar. You know their yes is a yes and their no is a no. Saying no does not mean you are being unkind. There’s no need to explain your reason or make excuses. When we don’t speak up or say our truth –it makes us a liar. Truly evaluate your motive (#1) and say your truth. We can’t be perfect. We can’t do everything. But if we prioritize we can be awesome at some things. If we are spread so thin trying to say yes to everything that comes our way we are going to be resentful, joyless, and burned out.

4. others needs are more important than your own consistently over time

Notice I said consistently over time. There will always be those moments when you have to pee but your toddler has to go first. You have a need from your husband but he’s not in the headspace to be there for you in that moment. Those moments I go back to letting it be a way that I can give selflessly without resenting and move on.

But if this is something you’re doing over and over and never choosing to make your own wants and needs voiced- that invites resentment.

Serving the body of Christ includes self service- you are part of the body. You matter. Your health and wellness matters. Many times the Bible says Jesus went away by himself to pray. #introvertgoals

5. pleasing people instead of God

“For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

I don’t know about you but that one hits me hard. This explains why I have allowed the staff I worked with to play dirty music. This is why I’ve laughed off racist jokes to win the approval of those around me. Or why girls think it’s cool to watch porn with their boyfriends. Or why couples move in together before marriage. Or why spouses justify flirting with their coworker. It’s so hard to stand up and create a new path in the wilderness because we all are searching for belonging. It’s not a bad thing to need belonging- it’s innate. Standing alone creates this uneasy, lonely feeling. You might be rejected by everyone in the room and that’s hard. Cry it out if you have too. But then pat yourself on the back because our loving God is smiling and pleased with you. Angels are clapping for you and high-fiving each other at your sacrifice of pleasing God over man.

A few months ago someone said to me: “you’ve taken His Spirit with you wherever you’ve gone.” I’ve had a dark decade of my life. Grosssss. I am so sorry Lord for taking you all those places physically and mentally.

“Nevertheless, many did believe in Him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, so they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” John 12:42-43

6. you can’t fully love others if you don’t know how to love yourself.

“The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” Mark 12:31

This begs the question: how do you love others as yourself if you don’t love yourself?!

First I want to define love. In my humble opinion, it is not a feeling. A feeling is a feeling and those come and go faster than a hot knife in butter. The poets had it all wrong. Love is an action verb. Love does. He GAVE His only son. Love MAKES coffee for your spouse. Love CROSSES the street to help someone else stranded. Love SAYS kind and encouraging words. No one would have any idea you love someone if you don’t SHOW it. How do you show love to yourself? By taking care of your own needs. There’s no need to feel guilty if you need time to yourself to workout, to put makeup on, paint your toenails. Look in the mirror and compliment yourself. You wouldn’t look at your friend and say “oh those thighs are so gross!” (When we speak poorly of the art we are really speaking poorly about the artists’ abilities). Are you speaking to yourself like you would a friend? Whatever it is- acknowledge your need and speak up. This goes back to #3&4 – There is no gold metal for letting everything else get in the way of taking care of yourself. You’re the only one in charge of that. An empty cup can’t pour. Refill your own cup so you can refill others. For those who have accepted Christ- you are a vessel for His Spirit. This is a duty to protect it and treat it well. You are perfectly and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Treat yoself with kindness like the incredible temple you are.

7. purposeful grace instead of resentment

None of us REALY deserve grace. We purposeful or unknowingly hurt others. But they forgive us (hopefully) and we all move on. Sometimes it is “doormatism” to totally forgive a friend or spouse or family member who done did you wrong. But it’s also part of being a Christian. Love covers a multitude of sins. Kindly express how their actions made you feel. Then forgive. At one season of my life I had to look up the definitions of forgiveness, grace, and mercy no less than 20 times. It doesn’t dismiss the person’s actions or require you to forget. Maybe some boundaries need to be placed. But for me, forgiveness means not holding it over their head, not dwelling my thoughts on it. It’s a choice to choose grace over resentment. Jesus asked God on the cross while he was actively dying to forgive those doing this to Him because they don’t understand the impact of what they’re doing. I haven’t been nailed to a cross lately but I can assure you I wouldn’t want to forgive those who were hurting me.

8. assuming good intentions of others

Brené Brown described in one of her amazing books that everyone is doing the best they can with the (emotional) tools they have at the time. That mentality makes me more empathetic. It makes me move towards the person instead of put up a wall. We all need to be loved, especially when we are being ugly. Judgement immediately puts a wall between you and the receiver. Sometimes just reframing the way you think about certain situations can move you from the doormat to the hugger.

9. believe that you too are worthy of service

This is an extension of number 6. We must believe that we all are worthy of being forgiven, being served, being loved in order to give these things to others. If we cannot fully comprehend the love and grace of God that we have received then how do we know to give it to others??

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

10. my identity is in Christ not the doormat

Notice I refer to myself as a recovering doormat- I don’t want to associate with something I don’t want to be. If I constantly identify with it it becomes part of me. (I’m really into semantics y’all). Something I didn’t realize until I was 32 is that everyone has a “God-shaped” hole in their hearts that only He can fill. We all have this longing for something more. More love, more belonging, more joy and good feels. We all try to put things in there to fill it: accolades, selfie likes, medications, alcohol, sex, porn, hoarding, shopping, vanity. None of us are immune. We all want to feel whole. Only Christ can do that for us.

I have been heart broken, on the bathroom floor, repeating Bible verses to myself as I cry. Believing this is easier said than done at times. And then there’s those moments when I don’t let others opinions affect my mood and I call it a win.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

11.victim chair

I went to a retreat recently. While I was there God showed up. I know He tells me things when stuff pops into my head unprovoked, with no linear thought. It’s usually one word or small sentence. He values brevity, hah. As God revealed things to my heart I drew a victims’ chair. It was a throne, beautiful, comfy, and familiar. The crown was labeled “pride.” The umbrella shielding me from the sun light was my pain. The handcuffs keeping me there were labeled “shame” and “fear.”

All that to say that being a victim will always make you a doormat. You’ll always be the intended or unintended receiver of everything negative. You won’t be able to fully give to others without resenting because you’ll always be the victim. I know this because I love sitting in that familiar chair. “Well I wouldn’t have _____ if you wouldn’t have _____…”

So join me in getting out of that familiar and comfy chair and walk over to that person who needs love and love all up on em. Be the person you needed when you were needy. Not because any of us deserve it but because it’s what we are called to do as disciples.

Photo credit: Lauren Garrison Photography