Personal boundaries mark where we end and where someone else begins. They are limits we set and defend in life and relationships.
- Codependency: What is it?
- The Dance That Takes Two: How Codependency Develops
- The Personal Costs of Codependency
- Codependency: The Importance of Personal Boundaries
- Overcoming Codependency
- Codependency in a Dysfunctional Marriage: Healing and Hope
Heather was part of a support group at church. She listened as Celeste described how she locked her cheating husband out of the house — and suddenly Heather couldn’t contain her rising anger. “Well I’m fighting for my marriage! I don’t want to be the reason my husband leaves. I’ll never push him out the door because he can’t stop looking at porn.”
The group grew silent. Then Celeste graciously replied, “I want to save my marriage, too. We all have unique circumstances, but let me explain: My husband continually disrespects my most basic values and boundaries with his infidelity. My decision to lock him out communicates that I deserve respect.”
Picture the fence around your property — or the front door of your home. It protects what’s important to you. It delineates what you’re responsible for. And it limits others from encroaching on your personal space. Without it, you’d have difficulties with careless neighbours, stray animals, and anyone who wanted to take advantage of what’s yours.
Personal boundaries mark where we end and where someone else begins. They are limits we set and defend in life and relationships. Boundaries define who we are, protect what we value, show what we’re responsible for, and keep us safe. We have the right and the obligation to safeguard our own well-being.
When we have healthy personal boundaries, we enjoy relationships characterised by respect and fair treatment. However, if we don’t voice and enforce our boundaries, we’re vulnerable to being used or abused.
When Understanding Breaks Down
In any type of dysfunctional relationship, one person lacks boundaries, and the other lacks respect for boundaries. In codependent relationships, people often lack both personal boundaries and respect for other’s boundaries. It’s not that they chose this path — they simply don’t know any other way. The family they grew up in modelled a flawed way of relating to each other.
Christians can get confused about the goodness of boundaries as easily as anyone else. The Bible does teach us to care for and help others Galatians 6:2. And God does expect us to help those who are truly overburdened (widows, orphans, the poor, and the disabled).
But the Bible doesn’t teach us to be enslaved to someone’s felt needs. (Felt needs are self-perceived wants or desires — not genuine lack of basic or true needs.) After all, people are obligated to take care of their own day-to-day life responsibilities Galatians 6:5.
So it’s not hard to see why we struggle with boundaries. Our own false beliefs and fear-based feelings create confusion. We might think, for example:
- I need to fix others because it’s the primary way I feel good about myself.
- I have to rescue others because it’s not right to allow people to suffer.
- I must control others’ behaviour, or I’ll end up sharing their consequences.
- I’ll feel guilty if I’m not a “good” Christian/parent/spouse/friend.
Can you imagine Jesus helping others for those reasons? Of course not. He helped others because He was doing His Father’s work for His Father’s glory. He willingly met the needs of those who were hungry, sick, and demon-possessed — but He didn’t help everyone, and He didn’t help all the time.
Boundaries Are a Must
Jesus set personal boundaries and prioritised self-care. He wasn’t driven by false beliefs or fear-based feelings. He didn’t allow anyone to use Him for their selfish agendas. He stood up for Himself when no one else would. Jesus set limits, and He never felt guilty about enforcing them.
In the same way, setting and maintaining personal boundaries is a critical step in overcoming codependency. If we’re going to be healthy people and have healthy relationships, we must have our own limits. If we don’t, we lose self-respect, the respect of others, and even our own identity.
Next in series: 5. Overcoming Codependency