If you’ve been on the journey of recovery from sexual betrayal for any length of time, you’ve probably come across the term “boundaries.” That’s because betrayal trauma experts know that boundary work is one of the most important skills you can learn to not only survive the betrayal, but to regain sure footing and confidently live beyond it. Today on the blog, I want to give an introduction to boundary work. We’ll look at what it is and why we need it, as well as what God says about it. There is no way I, nor anyone else, could cover all there is to know about boundaries in a single article or even in a book! But, I hope this will be helpful for now, and at the end, I’ll give you some resources so you can continue your work.
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “boundary” as “a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.” The simplest way for me to understand the concept of a boundary early on was to think about a fence around my property. “What does the fence do?” my therapist asked. “Well,” I responded, “it keeps out people and animals we don’t want on our property, and it keeps us safe within our property.” Bingo! From there, I could easily agree that I needed some boundaries in my life…physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual boundaries. I wanted to keep IN things like peace, safety, and joy, and I wanted to keep OUT things like deceit, manipulation, and anything harmful. Sometimes in my practice, a betrayed spouse would misunderstand boundary work, thinking that she could manipulate or force behavior change by setting boundaries. But creating and maintaining boundaries is not about forcing behavior change in another person. Instead, boundaries help create safety in each of us and in our relationships. They say “This is where I start and stop,” “This is what I will/won’t accept,” “This is what I will do if you choose to ___ “, and so much more.
There are several versions of this quote floating around out there, but it’s worth sharing, even though I’m not sure where it originated: “How people treat you is a reflection of them. What you accept is a reflection of you.” Read that again. This is Boundaries 101.
As I said before, if you’ve been in recovery, you’ve heard of boundaries. It’s kind of a pop-term that has definitely gained interest since Henry Cloud and John Townsend released their book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes; How to Say No, in 1992. But, as culturally popular as it may be, it’s more important to understand that setting and enforcing boundaries is a Biblical principle. As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and boundaries are no different. Cloud and Townsend didn’t actually come up with this concept; the Holy Trinity did before the heavens and Earth were formed. You only have to look at creation to see the existence and use of boundaries: oceans stop, lands begin; days are numbered; Adam and Eve have free reign in the Garden except for the forbidden fruit, and God enforced consequences when they didn’t honor His boundary. We can also look at Jesus’ life to see how he dealt with boundaries, remembering that He was without sin and completely loving. Jesus said “No” to inappropriate behavior such as demands (Luke 5:15-16), entitlement (Matthew 12:46-50), cynicism (Luke 23:8-9), pride (Matthew 13:58), abuse (Luke 4:28-30), baiting questions (Matthew 21:23-27, 22:15-22), and manipulation (Matthew 16:23). Jesus knew that he had needs that could only be met through time with the Father (Matthew 6:6; Mark 14:32-42). Jesus was honest and direct (Matthew 5:37). Jesus set priorities (Mark 12:29-31; Mark 1:38). Jesus sought to please God, not people (John 5:44). Jesus met His own personal needs (Matthew 26:18, 20; Mark 1:16, 3:23, 4:38; Luke 7:36; John 10:40, 12:2). And finally, we are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 to “control our own body (or possess our own vessel) in holiness and honor.” I’m going to end this section with a quote from one of my favorite modern-day theologians, Rachel Jankovic. It really summarizes what should inform all of our boundary work:
God’s Word is the perfect law of liberty because it both commands us and protects us. It is a Living Word. To know your boundaries, know your God and His Word.”
In addition to understanding what boundaries are, why you need them, and what God says about them, I also want you to know that there are many challenges to doing this work. The part of your brain that has been damaged by betrayal trauma needs boundaries in order to create safety, in order to heal. But, it’s the damaged part of your brain that makes it so difficult to do that. This is why getting support for this work is absolutely essential. It is priceless to have an experienced, trusted person tell you that you’re not crazy, that your needs and wants are valid, and to help you navigate through setting boundaries that will help you heal.
It is for this reason that I am inviting you to plug into Hope Online, a community of Hope Redefined. A webinar and group course on boundaries is coming soon, along with lots of other great resources to help you on your journey. As I said at the beginning of this blog article, there is no way to cover everything here. However, we will get super practical and give you chances to ask questions and get lots of guidance and practice in doing your own boundary work in the webinar and group course.
I hope you’ll join us!