Strategies for boundaries


By Barb Bolin
When someone is called a “people pleaser”, it almost always has a negative connotation. Shouldn’t we want to please others?  Doesn’t the Bible refer to situations where it is said that an act is pleasing to God?  Obviously, we want to please God.  That is a good thing! 
In ministry, it seems that there are a myriad of people to make happy.  Not only does one have an entire congregation, but then there are the supervising administrators.  And it is important to have a good relationship with members of your community.   We also need to have family and friends who are pleased with us and our decisions.  It seems there are a so many people to keep happy.
How do you please all these people and still attend to your own needs?  Yes, it is important to also please yourself!  I think this is when that crucial word, “boundaries” comes into play.  I recently read two short articles that I think could be helpful in reminding us how to set good boundaries.  One article was written by a group called Mind Tools and is titled, "Yes" to the Person, “No” to the Task: Asserting Yourself While Maintaining Relationships. This article frames our daily interactions as negotiations.  It encourages us to hone our assertiveness and negotiation skills.  It gives us ideas about how to assess when to say “No” to the task.  Some of the questions they pose are:

  • Do I have time to do it?  How urgent/important is it?
  • Am I the right person for the task?  Is someone else best suited to the job?
  • Does this request fit with my goals and objectives?
And they present questions for determining how to say “Yes” to the Person but “No” to the task.  Saying yes to the person means that you are genuinely listening and considering their request.  It may not necessarily mean that you will meet their needs on their timeline.  But, you may be able to help them find another alternative.  The questions they pose to ponder are:
  • What does this person really need?  Find areas of flexibility and determine priorities.
  • Is there another way their need can be met?  Find a different frame of reference or approach to the problem.  Look for time and resource alternatives.
  • How can I support this person to have the need met?  Define the larger goal. 
The second article I read is available on PsychCentral, 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries by Margarita Tartakovsky.  Her recommendations for setting good boundaries are:
  • Name your limits:  Take time to decide what you can and want to do.
  • Tune into your feelings:  Listen to what feels comfortable to you.  Trust “your gut”.  If it feels bad, say “no”.
  • Be direct: Answer in a way that is clear, honest, timely and respectful to the other person and yourself.
  • Give yourself permission to respect your own boundaries:  It is crucial to make decisions that are in keeping with your own values and needs.
  • Practice self-awareness:  Take time to listen to how you are reacting to situations.
  • Make self-care a priority:  Recognize what are healthy boundaries for you.  Become aware of what you need physically, emotionally, and spiritually to be a healthy individual.
  • Seek Support:  Obviously, we have our Heavenly Father to help guide us.  Take time to ask Him how to handle situations.  But, find people who are able to help you process difficult or confusing situations.  Sometimes, we just need to talk through things so that we can view things more clearly.
  • Be assertive:  In a kind and caring way, communicate what you are thinking and feeling.  Do it in a way that helps the other person feel heard and valued.  But, try to help them understand why you made the decision you did.
  • Start small:  Like any new skill, setting up good boundaries take time.  Pick an item or two and try to implement them into your relationships.  Build upon your success. 
The article expands on each of these points.  There are good ideas about how to help put these recommendations into practice. 
In summary, we will be faced with challenging situations where we feel that it will be difficult to meet the needs of the person who has approached us.  Most of us want to please others.  It feels like the Christian way to treat “our brothers and sisters”.    But, it is important to make sure that we are also being respectful to our own needs. 
In Tartakovsky’s article she states that “Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship: they’re a sign of self-respect”.  I think that points out how important it is for one to also consider our own personal needs. 
Relationships are such a blessing, but can also be challenging.  Whenever, we face challenges, please remember that there are communication tools that can help us. God is always available for guidance and we can count on others to help us through these times.  We are always “a work in progress” as we strive to carry God’s message to others.