When one speaks of setting boundaries, setting limits can sound harsh and cold. Yet good fences make good neighbors, and boundaries are needed in all relationships to keep them strong and healthy. When we go to the beach, there are clear markings in place to let us know where we can park, where we can picnic, and how far we can safely swim. If those boundaries were unclear, weak, or easily broken, the situation could become dangerous for many people. We need clear boundaries in place so that good things can flourish where they belong.
A small part of setting boundaries is being able to say no. For some, drawing a hard line is a hard thing to do. It might feel like we’re being mean, or we might fear the other person will react badly. But boundaries are a kindness in relationships. If someone gets upset because we have set boundaries, then that may be a sign to investigate the balance of that relationship a little deeper. If we are constantly being a “yes man” for everyone, doing everything for everyone else, then there is no way that we can have time to say yes for ourselves. It’s ok to say no, and there's no need to feel guilty about it. There’s also no need to apologize or give an explanation for saying no. This may be very difficult for people who are natural givers, but the love you so desperately want to give out must be given to yourself as well. Loving yourself and taking care of yourself is not selfish, but proper emotional hygiene.
Sometimes people in our circle (family, friends, neighbors, etc.) will feel like they deserve special privileges over others. The may assume that it's okay for them to cross your boundaries because you’re their family. And there are differing expectations for friends from strangers. But it is perfectly okay to gently remind them that your boundaries don’t disappear for family.
There is no need for you to alter the parameters that you have prayerfully and carefully set in place. You put them in place for a reason and they should be respected. We sometimes even convince ourselves that it’s okay for our loved ones to overstep boundaries just because we love them. Love (romantic or otherwise) does not negate healthy boundaries, and vice versa. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be finding ourselves in situations where we are renegotiating or justifying our boundaries continually. Our carefully established boundaries are non-negotiable and we are not require to provide explanations.
Some of us are natural givers who are reluctant to set boundaries. Whether it's our time, resources, money, etc., some of us feel a need to constantly do for others, even when it causes detriment to ourselves. Once our giving becomes unhealthy to us, we know that we are overstepping our own boundaries. Have we somehow deemed ourselves to be superheroes? Do we feel like we have to do everything for everybody, or else? Well, or else what? What do we fear that causes us to overextend? If other people will be disappointed and have to solve their issues without our help, what’s so bad about that?
Perhaps instead of trying to help a friend with car trouble by renting a car for them, you can offer a link to a list of car rental companies for them to look through and they can choose one to rent. Or instead of going to your neighbor’s house and cooking dinner for them every night because they don't know how to cook, you could advise them on how to cook so they would be able to prepare their meals whenever they wanted.
There are still plenty of ways to be helpful and giving without causing disruption to your boundaries. When we constantly over function for others, it is actually doing more harm than good by denying them the chance to learn to be self-sufficient. If you are constantly the “go to” person for everyone else when something goes awry, what do you think will happen if (God forbid) something happens to you? Suddenly, they will have no choice but to haphazardly try to figure things out on their own. Better to teach a man to fish than catch all the fish for them, right?
Assertiveness is not aggression, it simply a calm resolve in setting healthy boundaries. You may still find yourself invited to many guilt trips, but you can respectfully decline the invitation to meet their every expectation. People sometimes tend to think that they can guilt or bully us into breaking our boundaries. They might see our meekness as Christians as equivalent to weakness. They might cry or shout that their expectations are not being met. Yet, we shouldn’t be guilted into meeting their every desire. Even Jesus showed examples of setting boundaries. When he was out in large crowds, teaching and healing, he would slip away when he tired, even while people were calling for him to heal them. He needed some alone time with the Father. When Jesus put those boundaries in place, it allowed him to take care of his needs in order to continue doing the work that he was sent to do. That may be something that we could try.
When we are approached with a situation that may possibly overstep our boundaries, ask God to guide the next steps. Let the Holy Spirit be the determining factor for the situation, rather than the guilt that may be thrown your way. It may not always be easy to stay strong in the boundaries you have set, but it is possible with the help of the Spirit. A good reminder to use during this time is encouragement from the Psalmist: “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from The Lord, which made heaven and earth” (Ps 121:1-2). Ask the Lord to show you the areas of your life in which you need to strengthen your boundaries, and he will begin to reveal them to you.