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Boundaries: A concept commonly misunderstood by many, but imperative for healthly relationships

Insights from Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
Summarized by Molly Pierce, MA, LPC, NCC

What are boundaries?
What does a boundary look like?

Boundaries help us to define what is NOT on our property and what we are NOT responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people. Nowhere are we commanded to have “other-control,” although we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get it!

People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that if they say no to someone, they will endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. Sometimes a person is pressuring you to do something; other times the pressure comes from your own sense of what you ‘should’ do. If you cannot say no to this external or internal pressure, you have lost control of your property and are not enjoying the fruit of ‘self-control.’

Boundaries can take on many different shapes and forms for different people. However, some of the common factors of boundaries include geological distance, time, emotional distance, other people, consequences, feelings, attitudes & beliefs, behaviors, choices, limits, talents, thoughts, desires, and love.

Geographical Distance:
Sometimes physically removing yourself from a situation will help maintain boundaries. You can do this to replenish yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually after you have given to your limit, as Jesus often did.

Taking time off from a person, or a project, can be a way of regaining ownership over some out-of-control aspect of your life where boundaries need to be set. Adult children who have never spiritually or emotionally separated from their parents often need time away…They need to spend some time building boundaries against the old ways and creating new ways of relating that for a while may feel alienating to their parents. This time apart usually improves their relationship with their parents.

Emotional Distance:
Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe…People who have been in abusive relationships need to find a safe place to begin to ‘thaw out’ emotionally. You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment. To continue to open yourself up emotionally to an abusive or addicted person without seeing true change is foolish. Forgive, but guard your heart until you see sustained change.

Other People:
Fear of being alone keeps many in hurtful patterns for years. They are afraid that if they set boundaries they will not have love in their life…Many people have been taught by their church or their family that boundaries are unbiblical, mean, or selfish.

Just as the Bible sets consequences for certain behaviors, we need to back up our boundaries with consequences. God does not enable irresponsible behavior. Consequences give some good ‘barbs’ to fences. They let people know the seriousness of the trespass and the seriousness of our respect for ourselves. This teaches them that our commitment to living accordingly to helpful values is something we hold dear and will fight to protect and guard.

What’s Within My Boundaries:
We may be moved with compassion to give to someone in need. But sometimes a person may manipulate us into giving more than we want to give. We end up resentful and angry.

The Bible says to ‘own’ your feelings and be aware of them. They can often motivate you to do much good. Feelings come from your heart and can tell you the state of your relationships. They can tell you if things are going well, or if there is a problem. If you feel close and loving, things are probably going well. If you feel angry, you have a problem that needs to be addressed. But the point is, your feelings are your responsibility and you must own them and see them as your problem so you can begin to find an answer to whatever issue they are pointing to.

Attitudes & Beliefs:
People who have never questioned their attitudes can fall prey to the dynamic that Jesus referred to when he described people holding on to the ‘traditions of men,’ instead of the commands of God (Mark 7:8; Matt. 15:3). People with boundary problems usually have distorted attitudes about responsibility. They feel that to hold people responsible for their feelings, choices, and behaviors is mean. However, Proverbs repeatedly says that setting limits and accepting responsibility will save lives (Prov. 13:18, 24).

Behaviors have consequences. As Paul says, ‘A man reaps what he sows’ (Gal. 6:7-8). To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behavior is to render them powerless. Parenting with love and limits, with warmth and consequences, produces confident children who have a sense of control over their lives.

We need to take responsibility for our choices. This leads to the fruit of ‘self-control’ (Gal. 5:23). We need to realize that we are in control of our choices, no matter how we feel. This keeps us from making choices to give ‘reluctantly or under compulsion,’ as 2 Corinthians 9:7 says. We have been so trained by others on what we “should” do that we think we are being loving when do we things out of compulsion {or reluctance}. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.

What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right. We are not being unloving. Separating ourselves protects love, because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love. We need to be able to say no to ourselves. This includes both our destructive desires and some good ones that are not wise to pursue at a given time.

We should not be chastised for being afraid; we are all afraid when trying something new and difficult. However, we should confront our fears and do the best we can. Not confronting our fear denies the grace of God and insults both his giving of the gift and his grace to sustain us as we are learning.


1. We must own our thoughts.
Many people have not taken ownership of their own thinking processes. They are mechanically thinking the thoughts of others without ever examining them.

2. We must grow in knowledge and expand our minds.

3. We must clarify distorted thinking.
Taking ownership of our thinking in relationships requires being active in checking out where we may be wrong. Also, we need to make sure that we are communicating our thoughts to others. Many people think that others should be able to read their minds and know what they want. This leads to frustration.

We need to own our desires and pursue them to find fulfillment in life.

Many people have difficulty giving and receiving love because of hurt and fear. Having closed their hearts to others, they feel empty and meaningless.

We need to take responsibility for all of the above areas of our lives. These areas all lie within our boundaries. Taking care of what lies within our boundaries isn’t always easy; neither is allowing other people to take care of what lies within their boundaries. Setting boundaries and maintaining them is hard work, but is well worth it for a healthy you and for your relationships.

Physical Risks of Depression

Most people realize all of the emotional, mental and social tolls that Depression takes on a person and his or her loved ones.  I.e. Extreme feelings of sadness, excessive guilt, isolation, changes in eating patterns, changes in sleeping patterns, and so forth.  However, most people fail to realize the physical risks that Depression has on a person’s physical health. The article below does a great job of pointing out the physical risks of Depression in addition to the emotional, mental and social risks.  – Molly Pierce, MA, LPC, NCC

Depression Treatment: Your Heart and Mind Depend on It
Author: Dr. Kira Stein, MD and Erin Yates, Bsc
(kirastein.com; westcoasttmsinstitute.com)

You likely know the impact that depression can have on a person mentally. However, it’s important to note that depression takes a physical toll as well, and it’s important for a person suffering from emotional difficulties to realize that seeking treatment is essential for his or her overall health and well-being.

It’s common knowledge that living with major depression has its mental health risks, including suicide, anxiety, fibromyalgia, and difficulties with attention; but these are not the only implications associated with depression. In fact, recent research has shown that depression can be linked with a number of physical conditions, including heart disease, stroke and decreased cognitive functions. And, the more severe the depression symptoms, the higher the risk for these illnesses.

Physical depression risks

When inadequately managed or untreated, the physical toll depression takes can be significant for sufferers. In fact, these individuals can find themselves at a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease or even death, and studies have proven that even people who did not previously have any type of coronary artery disease before suffering from depression had an increased risk of developing the condition after the onset of depressive episodes.

One study looked at patients aged 60 and older diagnosed with high blood pressure, and found that these people had 2-3 times the occurrence of heart failure when they were depressed. In addition, those who had been hospitalized before for heart failure and also suffered from depression had a higher mortality rate three months (7.9 percent) and a year (16.2 percent) after being hospitalized.

There are also alarming numbers when it comes to depression and the risk of stroke. Studies indicate that untreated clinical depression also increases the risk of having an ischemic stroke and of dying from a stroke. Plus, individuals who suffer from chronic depressive symptoms for several years often experience a decline in cognition, even if the individual’s depression is in remission.

Seek Treatment for Depression

Considering these studies, it’s important for individuals suffering from clinical depression to also look at the physical ramifications of leaving their conditions untreated. After all, people commonly take supplements, engage in exercise and start healthy diets to improve their physical health, but don’t realize that they need to take into account their mental health, as well. Thus, if you or a loved one feel that depression has become a problem, you should have that person seek treatment in order to prevent further health problems in the future.

If you feel that you may need treatment for depression risks, help is available to you. Contact us if you feel you would like to look into your depression risks, set up a consultation and explore your options further.

Abramson, J., et al. Depression and risk of heart failure among older persons with isolated systolic hypertension. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jul 23;161(14):1725-30.
Empana, JP., et al. Clinical depression and risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Arch Intern Med. 2006 Jan 23;166(2):195-200.
Jiang, W., et al. Relationship of depression to increased risk of mortality and rehospitalization in patients with congestive heart failure. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Aug 13-27;161(15):1849-56.
Mojtabai, R. & Olfson, M. Cognitive deficits and the course of major depression in a cohort of middle-aged and older community-dwelling adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2004 Jul;52(7):1060-9.
Pan, A., et al. Depression and risk of stroke morbidity: a meta-analysis and systematic review. JAMA. 2011 Sep 21;306(11):1241-9. Review. Erratum in: JAMA. Dec 21;306(23):2565.

Pearls of Wisdom from Experts Across the Nation

Making Marriage a Success“A large part of marriage is about meeting each other’s needs. Most spouses within a healthy marriage want to meet their spouse’s needs, but they don’t always know how. This is why it’s so important not only to strive to meet your spouse’s needs, but also to voice your own; therefore, giving your spouse the opportunity to meet your needs. For example, if you need comfort from your spouse, say to him or her, ‘I am feeling vulnerable right now and I would like for you to give me a hug.’ Now your spouse knows exactly what you need, and they are able to provide that for you.”

Take Control of Your Anxiety

Everybody deals with stress and anxiety at different points in their life. It’s normal to feel anxious or nervous before taking an exam, having a performance review at work, or when faced with a difficult decision. But when worry and fear consume your life or cause so much distress that it interferes with normal functioning, it begins to become a problem. More than 40 million American adults struggle with some form of an anxiety disorder, which is about 18% of the population in a given year.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and generalized anxiety.

Panic Disorder consists of sudden attacks of fear or nervousness, which are accompanied by physical symptoms, such as sweating and a racing heart. Most people with panic disorder develop a constant fear of having another panic attack, which impacts daily functioning and quality of life.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder consists of recurring and distressing thoughts, fears, or images (obsessions) which create anxiety, causing the person to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions) in an attempt to make the obsessive thoughts go away. People with OCD often realize that their obsession-compulsion cycle is irrational, but they can’t seem to control it.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder develops after a person has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event in which harm occurred or was threatened. It causes intense feelings of fear, helplessness, shock, anger, nervousness, horror, and sometimes guilt. For people with PTSD, these feelings last for more than one month and cannot return to normal functioning as it was prior to the traumatic event.

Social Anxiety (also known as social phobia) is an intense, irrational, and persistent fear of being negatively evaluated by other people. Some people are just shy, but those with social anxiety can become completely overwhelmed in the context of a simple social situation. People with social phobia tend to be sensitive to criticism, have difficulty being assertive, and suffer from low self-esteem.

Phobia Disorder involves a persistent, excessive fear of a specific situation or object. Phobias are one of the most common types of anxiety disorder. The difference between a fear and a phobia is that people with a phobia are actually physically and/or psychologically impaired by it.

Generalized Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry about everyday life events – such as health, money, family, work, or school – with no obvious reason for it. People with generalized anxiety can’t seem to stop worrying and they live in a near constant state of worry, fear, or dread.

For people suffering from anxiety disorders, worry and fear are constant, overwhelming, and sometimes crippling. At True Self Counseling, we teach relaxation exercises and coping techniques so that you can effectively manage the stress in your life, rather than let it consume you. The choice is yours: you can let your anxiety control you, or you can take control of it.