I confess – I’m probably the only Christian in the world who hasn’t read the Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend. I own a copy but I just haven’t gotten around to reading it. Last year my best friend tried to convince me of its hallowed greatness, demanding I read it, or at least part of it, while I was out in Colorado visiting him. And I did read a bit, but apparently it wasn’t enough to peak my interest at that time, because my copy still remains untouched.
He explained some of his interpretation of it to me. So that’s the idea I have in my head as I consider what it looks like to redraw boundaries with people already in my life. He explained that when someone has a disproportionate reaction to something you say or do, that’s how you figure out what their boundary is – in a nutshell, leave that subject alone and don’t bring it up with them again. That’s a boundary with them.
I don’t know that I have a person in my life with which I don’t have a boundary. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad… I really don’t know (as I haven’t read the book.) But I know that as you grow more intimate with some people, it does seem necessary to redraw boundaries for your own mental health. Or maybe even in response to boundaries they appear to be drawing with you. I say this because as you begin to see how they react to the greater intimacy, it’s revealed to you just how much they can deal with and just how much you can deal with. (I really don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it does in my head.)
It’s all so messy and confusing. When you have someone in your life that you share a lot of yourself with, it can be hard to step back from that. I’ve discovered recently that there are some people in my life who simply don’t have a way of relating to me when I talk to them about something profound or even life-changing. But they will happily respond to something stupid or silly that I say. Because they used to respond to the profound stuff, I find myself at a loss in understanding what changed in me or in them.
I discovered this chart recently, in some research for a workshop I’m giving this weekend at a women’s conference.
It’s from the book, Cry of the Soul, by Drs. Dan Allender (one of my favorite authors) and Tremper Longman III. They wrote the book Bold Love, which was an incredibly painful yet powerful look at Godly love for others in the midst of a sinful world. Cry of the Soul helps us understand how our emotions reveal our deepest questions about God.
Anyway, Allender and Longman created this chart. “Although feelings often seem unpredictable and irrational they are neither random nor unprovoked.” They say. Here is a quick explanation of this chart:
Our emotions are based on our responses to how others deal with us. Our feelings are provoked when people relate to us in one of three ways: 1.) They move against us; attack 2.) They move away from us; abandonment 3.) They move toward us: love.
In the context of a sinful, fallen world, our emotional responses to these relationship movements can generally be characterized as fight or flight. The chart shows how these responses give rise to our difficult emotions.
Attack: anger revolves around the question “IS God just – will He let the wicked win?” Fear centers on the question, “Will God protect me?”
Abandonment: Jealousy asked the question, “Is God good, or will He leave me empty and bless others?” Despair asks, “Will God leave me isolated and alone?”
Love: Contempt asks, “Does God love me or will He turn away in disgust?” Shame vocalizes the core question, “Does Go love me or will He hate me if He sees me as I really am?”
I bring this all up because I can’t help but wonder about how this connects to the boundaries others place on us or that we place on them. If someone redraws a boundary with you, and stops responding to the painful comments and questions you have about life, is this a relational movement of abandonment? And if so, what kinds of feelings of despair do they have toward you? Toward God?
Or in a far more accurate interpretation of the chart, what feelings of jealously and despair am I having (since I’m the one who feels like part of the relationship has been abandoned) toward the person or toward God?
Like my friend/cousin Meredith says, This. Sh*t. Is. Hard.