In my last blog I shared how to spot a bully, and gave some specific ways to combat the manipulation of a bully. This week, I would like to talk about using personal boundaries to protect yourself from these sharks.
Many women are not taught how to stand up for themselves. Our society encourages women to be passive and congenial. Strong women are often ostracized. Here is a blog I wrote about how to teach our daughters to use boundaries.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not an avid proponent of women’s rights. I am a “girly girl.” I enjoy dressing femininely and having my husband open doors for me.
What I don’t promote is women accepting bad treatment from others. God does not call us to accept abuse. Tweet This
The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell others when they are acting in ways that are unacceptable to us. The first step is realizing we have a right to protect and defend ourselves. We also have a duty to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us. Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to ourselves. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, who lies, and cannot communicate directly and respectfully.
I never heard of “boundaries” until the last few years of my abusive marriage. At that time, a friend gave me the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.* I confess that I didn’t see the value in using boundaries until years later when I finally decided I needed to leave that relationship. When I wrote my first book A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom, I devoted a chapter to describing what boundaries are and how we can/should use them. This is an excerpt from that chapter.
The authors explain how relational boundaries show where I end and someone else begins, just as the boundary lines in my yard show where my property ends and my neighbor’s yard begins. I am only responsible to mow, fertilize, and water the grass on my property, not that of my neighbor’s.
I learned relational boundaries are also like the boundary of the skin on my body. My skin is designed to keep good things in my body, and keep potentially harmful things out of it. So, too, a relational boundary helps me keep in the good things in my life (happiness, joy, and peace, for example), and keep the bad things (pain, abuse, sorrow, and similar negatives) out.
Problems arise when one person tries to control the feelings, attitudes, behaviors, choices, and values of the other; things only each individual can ultimately control. To try to control these things is to violate someone’s boundaries. In the end, it will fail. Any successful relationship—and our relationship with Christ—is based on freedom.
Setting boundaries may seem anti-Christian, but in reality, having boundaries with people is quite biblical. The best example of this is God’s boundaries with us. He will not allow sin to be near Him. Since we are all sinners, the only way for us to spend eternity with Him is by being washed in the sinless blood of His own Son, Jesus. We are also allowed to have boundaries with God. We are given the choice to choose Him or to say, “No, thanks.” God is a gentleman; we are able to choose our response to His invitation.
Boundaries rely on the law of sowing and reaping. Galatians 6:7 says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Unfortunately, in an abusive relationship, the abuser usually does not reap what he** sows. For example, my husband used to yell at me often for no good reason. Because I feared him, I went out of my way to behave more lovingly toward him. In this case, his evil (yelling) produced good things (more loving) for him. This is not how the natural world works. In the natural world, if a farmer plants poor seed, he receives a poor crop.
The way to begin using the law of reaping and sowing in an abusive relationship is to allow the abuser to receive the natural consequences of his behavior. For example, you could tell your overly critical partner if he continues berating you, you will go into another room until he can discuss the problem rationally. Or, you could say, “If you start yelling at me again, I will go to Jane’s house to spend the night.” In this way, you would be letting your out-of-control partner suffer the consequences of his actions. This move is not manipulative, though he would probably accuse you of trying to manipulate him. Rather, this response is simply an example of limiting how you allow yourself to be treated. The natural consequences are then falling on the shoulders of the responsible party.
Before I learned about boundaries, I might have said something like, “You’ve just got to stop yelling. It’s ruining our family. Please listen. You’re wrecking our lives.” After I learned about boundaries, I might say, “You may choose to not deal with your behavior if you want, but I will not continue to expose myself and the children to this chaos. The next time you begin raging, we will go to the Wilsons’ for the night, and we will tell them why we are there. Your behavior is your choice. What I will put up with is mine.”
As this example shows, a boundary always deals with you, not with the other person. You cannot demand your spouse do something, or even respect your boundaries. You are setting boundaries to say what you will do or will not do. Only these kinds of boundaries are enforceable, for you only have control over yourself. Do not confuse boundaries with a way to control your partner. It is the opposite. It is giving up control, and beginning to love. You are giving up trying to control him, and allowing him to take responsibility for his own behavior.
Should an abuse victim always use boundaries with their abuser? No. Sometimes this will put the victim in danger. Each person must weigh the risks for themselves. If a victim is not in danger, perhaps in the beginning stages of a relationship, boundaries can be very helpful. If you are in a relationship where you have been abused for a long time, you might want to go through the steps I outline in my blog series called Holding Your Abuser Accountable. If you have left an abusive relationship, your abuser will likely use all types of manipulation tactics to get you to return. To combat that, please see my blog on having NO Contact with the abuser.
Question: Have you ever used personal boundaries to protect yourself from a bully/abuser? What happened?
I firmly believe that having boundaries is biblical. Here are a few verses from the bible about having boundaries.
Better to live in a desert
than with a quarrelsome and nagging [person].
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn their ways
and get yourself ensnared.
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
If you are in an abusive relationship and would like to talk to someone about it, please contact me via my contact form. I pray God will protect and strengthen you.
*Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992)
** Abusers and their victims can be male or female. In this example, I portray the abuser as “he.”