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How to Practice Boundaries with Yourself

Apr 08, 2020

If social distancing has you feeling inclined to over-indulge in a particular vice, a little mindfulness and setting a boundary can go a long way right now. Once you have identified your boundary problem and owned it, you can do something about it. Here are some ways to begin practicing setting boundaries on yourself.

Address your real need. Often, out-of-control patterns disguise a need for something else. You need to address the underlying need before you can deal with the out-of-control behavior. For example, impulsive eaters may discover that food is a way to stay separate and safe from romantic and sexual intimacy. Their fear of being faced with those kinds of emotionally laden situations may cause them to use food as a boundary. As their internal boundaries with the opposite sex become firmer, they can give up their destructive food boundary. They learn to ask for help for the real problem – not just for the symptomatic problem.

Allow yourself to fail. Addressing your real need is no guarantee that your out-of-control behavior will disappear. Many people who address the real issue underneath a self-boundary problem are often disappointed that the problem keeps recurring. They think, “Well, I joined a support group at church, but I still have problems being on time, or viewing pornography, or spending money, or talking out of turn. Was all this for naught?” No. The recurrence of destructive patterns is evidence of God’s sanctifying, maturing, and preparing us for eternity. We need to continue to practice to learn things. The same process that we use to learn to drive a car, swim, or learn a foreign language is the one we use for learning better self-boundaries. We need to embrace failure instead of trying to avoid it. Those people who spend their lives trying to avoid failure are also eluding maturity. We are drawn to Jesus because “He learned obedience from what He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). People who are growing up are also drawn to individuals who bear battle scars, worry furrows, and tear marks on their faces. Their lessons can be trusted, much more than the unlined faces of those who have never failed – and so have never truly lived.

Listen to empathic feedback from others. As you fail in setting boundaries on yourself, you need others who will let you know about it in a caring way. Many times, you are unaware of your own failures. Sometimes you may not truly understand the extent of the damage your lack of boundaries causes in the lives of those you care about. Other believers can provide perspective and support.

Biblically based support groups, which provide empathy and clear feedback, keep people responsible by letting them see the effect their actions have on another. When one member tells another, “Your uncontrolled behavior makes me want to stay away from you. I don’t feel that I can trust you when you act like that,” the out-of-control person isn’t being parented or policed. He is hearing truth in love from a peer. He’s hearing how what he does helps or damages those he loves. This kind of confrontation builds an empathy-based morality, a love-based self-control.

Welcome consequences as a teacher. Learning about sowing and reaping is valuable. It teaches us that we suffer losses when we aren’t responsible. The impulsive overeater has medical and social difficulties. The overspender faces bankruptcy court. The chronically late person misses plane flights and important meetings, and loses friendships. The procrastinator faces losses of promotions and bonuses. And on and on.

Learning how to develop better self-boundaries is an orderly process. First, we are confronted about the destructiveness of our behavior by others. Then consequences will follow if we don’t heed the feedback. Words precede actions and give us a chance to turn from our destructiveness before we have to suffer.

Need a safe place to relate to others about this topic? Join one of Dr. Henry Cloud's Boundaries Peer Groups. 

Boundaries in Marriage
Boundaries with Codependency
Boundaries in Dating
Boundaries with Parents
Boundaries with Adult Children
Boundaries After Divorce
Boundaries with Narcissists
Boundaries with Kids and Teens
Boundaries in Church


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