Did You Set Boundaries for Yourself as a Teenager?

by | Jul 23, 2021 | Uncategorized | 27 comments

How Teen Girls Can Learn to Set Boundaries
Merchandise is Here!

Healthy teenagers learn how to set boundaries.

Well, healthy PEOPLE learn how to set boundaries! And it’s good to learn while we’re still young.

Rebecca and I are deep in the throes of writing our mother-daughter book combatting harmful teachings for girls in the church, and talking about how to raise girls who are emotionally healthy, spiritually mature, and wise. That’s why I haven’t been as active in the comments here and on Facebook lately–we’re just feeling a tad overwhelmed!

All week I’ve been working on our boundaries chapter, and I’ve been thinking deeply about how girls are taught about boundaries–how we’re taught that God wants us to love others first; how we’re supposed to be nice and kind; how we’re supposed to be at peace with everyone around us. And that can make girls feel as if they have no right to their feelings. If the most important thing is other people praying the prayer and letting Jesus into their heart, then we can’t cut anyone off, and we can’t end any relationship, because what if we were supposed to show them Jesus?

But this lack of boundaries can lead to girls making very unwise decisions about relationships and even marriage. And it can lead to a lot of anxiety.

So I asked on Facebook, “Anybody have an example of setting a boundary with a friend as a teenager?”

And I got some great answers! I want to post some below, and then leave it open for all of you to comment.

​My daughters have set some boundaries with a friend.

After giving her and her boyfriend a ride home and being uncomfortable with how physical they were being in the back seat (at ages 15 and 16), we told the friend’s mom that she wouldn’t be driving the two of them together anymore.

A friend tends to spend all of her time on the phone with online friends even when my daughters are at her house in person. They’ve now told her that they love to spend time with her, but they’ll leave if she is constantly on her phone.

I had a band director that repeatedly selected underclassmen for leadership opportunities despite me showing up for all the trainings my senior year. That particular director would make passive aggressive comments about me to other students and parents, so I decided it would be good for me to step away from that group. In doing so, I established a standard for how I would allow myself to be treated, even with adults and authority figures. It really helped.

I had a friend who, whenever we would hang out, it would inevitably turn into a sobbing cry-fest about whatever drama was going on in her life. I eventually got tired of trying to be her emotional sponge and one day told her “Look, I care about you and I want to be there for you, but this is too much. I can’t handle all of your problems, and I actually want to have a good time with you when we’re together. Maybe you should find someone to talk to who can actually help you, like our guidance counselor, but I just can’t take this anymore. I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, she did not like hearing that and we parted ways soon after.

My oldest is quick to stand up for what she thinks is right even if she’s alone or loses friends over it. She told the drama teacher that she didn’t think it was appropriate to do a play about a girl being raped despite pretty much the entire rest of the class declaring that she’s wrong and they’re old enough to deal with it. She had a few friends thank her later cause they had been raped and it felt like they had someone in their corner.

As a teen, I worked in a male dominated work environment. They were quite crude at times. When they’d tell dirty jokes, for example, I’d leave the circle and find jobs to keep me occupied. I sought to work hard and represent Christ by my actions first, and of necessary, my words. They’d ask me why I didn’t swear and if it bothered me. I would explain that only the words related to God bothered me because I’m a Christian… Because of the way I carried myself, they stayed treating me with respect and became super gentlemanly towards me. They also started to encourage others to respect my boundaries too. It was really neat to watch.

I asked the probationary driver of a car I was a passenger in to stop and let me out as I didn’t feel safe with the aggressive way he was driving. He took it well and drove safely after that. Had to speak up again as a young adult and the much older driver was mortally offended and wouldn’t talk to me for years. Be prepared to lose relationships but remember your boundaries are more important than their ego.

I had a friend who, whenever we would hang out, it would inevitably turn into a sobbing cry-fest about whatever drama was going on in her life. I eventually got tired of trying to be her emotional sponge and one day told her “Look, I care about you and I want to be there for you, but this is too much. I can’t handle all of your problems, and I actually want to have a good time with you when we’re together. Maybe you should find someone to talk to who can actually help you, like our guidance counselor, but I just can’t take this anymore. I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, she did not like hearing that and we parted ways soon after.

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

And here, as an example, is why boundaries are so important:

I had a friend in highschool who was very clingy, needy, and manipulative. Though I’m not certain she was aware of her manipulative and gaslighting behavior, it was there, and it was a catalyst for me going down a not so great phase/path. Anyway, at the time, I was friends with her and remained friends because she didn’t have, like, any. My mom sort of enforced this not realizing how bad she was for me until I had a complete emotional breakdown, shaking and bawling under a blanket on the living room floor. Then we attempted to set boundaries. If mom noticed a phone conversation going to a point that I wasn’t comfortable with, I could use my mom as the excuse to get off the phone. I stopped hanging out outside of school. And after school, I ended up blocking her for a long while. I got back in touch with her more recently and now have some quiet boundaries. I won’t give her specific details about where I live. I won’t agree to hang out. I won’t call or talk on the phone. And I leave a text convo whenever I darn well please and for however long I please. Having that incredible distance helps me to keep grounded and maintain a sort of acquaintance-ship with this person. Nothing deep. Just some pop culture stuff. Which, honestly, is somewhat refreshing sometimes when most of my people are close, deep, also talk about my life people. I kind of like having someone left on the surface level.

Many people gave a variation of this one, which I think is important!

I never set boundaries with my friends that they knew about, but I had a code word for my mom to just say “no” if I felt uncomfortable doing something. I would call her in front of my friends to ask to “hang out” (which could’ve meant anything), and if I said “pretty please”, she would say no and give some excuse. Got out of a lot of parties and situations because my mom was “mean”. I wish I was brave enough then to set boundaries with friends, but I’m not sure many teenagers are.

And I really liked these two pieces of advice, or guidelines:

Red, yellow, and green light people. Green we can trust (empathetic, honest, and authentic), yellow we trust with some things (I can laugh with this person) but perhaps not everything (don’t share intimate secrets) , and red lights – they’ve broken trust in many ways and I need to not have them in my inner circle.

Former high school principal here (and huge fan of teens) I always suggested them saying (when in a tough spot) “it’s not that i wouldn’t like you/don’t like respect you/participate in x it’s that I wouldn’t like me, thank you so much for understanding.” Then get out. Leave.

They can use (and have) in peer pressure situations or w adults who push too hard.

When I’ve “befriended” post graduation or if someone is sharing too much etc a good reminder on both ends is a smile and jokingly say, “oh boy on this one you are staying in your lane and I’m definitely in mine.”

I thought those were great! But I’m left with a few more questions:

Was there something particular that you believed in high school that made it harder for you to set boundaries?

Did you feel like boundaries would be “mean” or unChristian in any way? And if so, can you explain what you mean? Or did you just never have an example of it in your own life so you had no idea how to go about setting boundaries?

Did your parents ever help you set boundaries?

And if so, what particularly did they do?

Boundaries are the foundation of emotionally healthy relationships.

And if we aren’t taught from a young age that our own safety and comfort matters, it’s so much harder to set those boundaries later in life. 

It’s always going to be a balance: we do need to love others, and we do need to live lives that are not focused primarily on our own comfort and our own happiness, but rather with bringing the kingdom of God to earth. That means we need to be others-focused. 

But if we’re so others-focused that we lose ourselves, and we feel exhausted, sad, overburdened, and everything else that goes with living a boundary-less life, we won’t be able to do the things that God has specifically called us to. 

So how do we teach our teens? I’d love to hear from you!


You may also enjoy:

How Teen Girls Can Learn to Set Boundaries

Let me know: What made it harder for you to set boundaries? What made it easier? Or anyone else have a good example? (And thank you for helping us with our chapter!)

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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27 Comments

  1. Hannah

    My parents didn’t teach me how to set boundaries. I had to learn to do it myself – which has been hard, because my mom had no boundaries. She couldn’t say no to her emotionally manipulative parents and passed that on to her kids.

    I’ve had to set very quiet boundaries with some of my friends and my dad/stepmom. One of my friends genuinely cares for me but has trouble not complaining all the time, so I limit the amount of time I spend around her. For my dad/stepmom, I refuse to share personal information like my struggles or my walk with the Lord – we have very different theological views and whatever I share with them would end up being repeated to other people.

    Therapy helps, y’all!!

    Reply
  2. Anon

    As a teen, the hardest thing about boundary setting was the kickback I got from some adults in church.

    For example, when I was in my mid teens, we were going to a church where the teaching was really helpful and practical – the sermons were really helping me understand and grow in my faith a lot more. Then the church decided they were going to run a teenage ‘Bible study session’ during the main service, which sounded great, but all it involved was sitting round drinking coffee and talking about general stuff like school, pop music or else boys & girls flirting with each other and I felt quite uncomfortable with some of the stuff that was being said. I decided I’d rather be in the main service because I didn’t want to miss the Bible teaching. The other teens thought I was a bit weird to miss the excuse to ‘get out of church and have fun’ but they were ok with it. But the adults…I was told I was ‘self righteous’ and ‘holier than thou’ and I need to ‘lighten up and stop taking my faith so seriously’.

    I also learned to say ‘no’ to invites if I was worried that behaviour would get out of hand – I went to one friend’s house and her mother was dishing out alcoholic drinks like they were cups of tea. None of the kids were used to drinking, so it got wild pretty quickly and then the mother just wandered off and left us to it! So I never accepted invites there again.

    My father was brilliant at helping me set good boundaries – I could always trust him not to go off the deep end if I shared a situation I was concerned about (my mother would end up panicking and overreacting and leaving me feeling guilty and ashamed for asking in the first place). And he always brought the focus back to Jesus – what would Jesus want me to do? Plus he had my back if I got grief from anyone for boundary-setting – he’d tell them I had his full support and would they please back off! And he told me that making good decisions could be hard and sometimes unpopular, but it was always worthwhile in the end.

    And whenever I’m in doubt (this is true in adult life too), I always ask myself “If I did x and Jesus walked in at that point, how would I feel?” Because the reality is, He sees us all the time anyway!

    Reply
  3. Jen

    Oh, goodness! While I made it through high school just fine and with my boundaries in tact, it was college that did me in.

    A series of boundary pushing roommates from my college Christian group chipped away at my autonomy like an artist with a chisel. (Like the girl who thought it was ok to regularly come into my bedroom at 2am under the guise of “spiritual warfare” to wake me because she thought Satan was in her closet trying to get her.)

    Or the older brother of a friend who started hanging out 8n the group and latched on to me. He was nice enough, but I was not interested in more than friendship. But chip, chip, chip…over three years he became my primary friend. After repeated rejections by me, he issued a massive emotional ultimatum that if he couldn’t be with me, he was moving out of state the next week. Faced with loosing my primary friend and all the emotion that came with that, I mistook all those emotions for “love” and started to date him.

    We were married a year later and within a year of that, I knew I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. He was immature, manipulative, would literally run to the bathroom to throw up after the rare times we had sex, and was an absolute joy-sucker of anything that took the full attention off of him.

    The slow dismantling of my boundaries and the “love like Jesus…by which we mean do whatever other people want” schtick of my college years left me locked in an abusive marriage for 8 years.

    It was by the grace of God that my business partner secretly paid for counseling with an amazing counselor who had me read all the Boundaries books and pointed out how often Jesus said no.

    I eventually left him with my parents VERY enthusiastic support, but it results in my parents and I basically being cast out of our extensive family network.

    🤷 Oh well. God has sent new family for all of us. And you can absolutely bet my four teens know and utilize boundaries.

    Reply
  4. A2bbethany

    So my parents weren’t bad, and had some boundaries themselves, however they didn’t really help me make boundaries. My family doesn’t teach emotion skills much and it shows. We all can get angry with each other fairly easy! And because the 3rd oldest, who says she’s a Christian has a verbally abusive style when angry, it’s rubbed off on all 12 of us to some degree. My parents messed up alot because of how they went about dealing with her. Nobody except for me ever even tried standing up to her tirades, because it’s exhausting and seemingly pointless. Her favorite tirades are body image related and that’s scarring for all of us! When I was a teenager, I started thinking of myself as my own best friend. And that lead me to completely cut off this sister. I don’t have anything to do with her, unless it would directly harm another family member. I’ve barely spoken to her in 7(?) Years and it feels good being free! I miss her, but I don’t miss her earth scorching rants. Even so, she managed to slip into my shaky mental health and 8 month pregnant life. To insult my weight, 3 times in 5 minutes (?), Because I happened to be in proximity. I put it on social media and she apologized! But I knew it was ONLY because of the publicity. Boundaries are vital for children to learn! My parents enabled her to live at home indefinitely in spite of it harming everyone.
    My mom actually told her my abuse secret, without asking permission from me, and then told me. Thinking that it would bond us, as she had some too(?). I was shocked and knew that she would of course use it against me. At that point it was a secret, and within the week it happened. That’s when I cut her off for good, because anything else wouldn’t stick. Because she does the love bombing and that’s hard to resist!

    Reply
  5. Phil

    I wasnt good at setting boundaries as a teen which carried over to adulthood But there were a few instances where I could. One area was drugs. I lost a really good friend to drugs in High School. I refused to hang out with him because of his drug use. He even came to my house and had a discussion with me about why we cant hang out anymore. I gave him a choice. Me or drugs. He chose drugs. Recently my daughter started having an issue with one of her friends. She states that the girl is “not good for her” to hang out with anymore. My answer? Friendships are important. But nothing is permanent. I call it the cycle of friendship. Most of my relationships cycle. We can be hard core buddies for a long time and then for any one reason become distant. What usually happens is we pick up right off from where we were when the relationship resumes or becomes non stagnant. It is funny – because when my wife and I got married I would have never imagined the folks that were part of our wedding day would not be part of my life today. However, there are reasons many of them are not part if my life today. Im not mad at them but most of the reasoning are my boundaries and there stuff and what I feel is best for me and my family. The very first thing I learned in recovery from sex addiction was boundaries. Self comes first – not selfishness but self care. That is how I operate today. Today there are relationships that I can count on “forever”. They are my wife and kids and family even though some family is toxic and I limit my presence around them. The only true forever is Jesus. That one I know I can count on!

    Reply
    • Phil

      You know I was thinking about this here quick and even God has boundaries. You can do what you want but its on you!

      Reply
      • S

        Sheila,

        I’d love it if you could speak more to what Phil has said here about God having boundaries. I didn’t struggle with boundaries so much when I was a teenager. I stood up for myself and did what I needed to do for myself pretty well. But I grew up with bad examples in my family. The women in my family often lack boundaries due to guilt. Guilt and a feeling that Jesus would want them to help someone. Or “she has nobody”–even if that “she” doesn’t respect the few boundaries my mom has tried to set.

        I spent a little time in the scriptures looking for examples of how God sets boundaries a few years back when I was really wanting to implement them. But with a developing understanding of boundaries I didn’t trust my own insights. I’d love to do a study like this again now that I have a more solid understanding of boundaries. But I’d love it if you’d speak to this a bit.

        Reply
  6. Vanessa

    I felt a lot of pressure as a teen to be “the perfect Christian.” I was taught to override my own intuition and ignore my inner wisdom and “trust God to keep me safe.” So I would try to be friends with unsafe people, especially lonely boys who ended up stalking me, calling me, sending me letters with things that made me uncomfortable… all because I needed to be “nice” or help them or save them. Nobody seemed too worried about me…. After all I was a “strong Christian” (ie. I knew a lot of Bible facts) I went on to a life I’m ministry where I was often run over by others, I ignored my inner voice, and “just trusted God” when I could have just said NO. I got my hands on Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality in my early 30s and that might have saved my life. Putting pressure on teens to be precociously perfect Christians is deeply troubling. It creates an identity to live inside when you are trying to figure out who you are, but it’s not necessarily real and it’s too much to live up to when developmentally, what you really need is a chance to make mistakes, be imperfect and still be loved and valued.

    Reply
  7. Jane Eyre

    My parents taught me that I was “mean” for setting boundaries. They really did NOT like it, even if it was other people. The mantra of my youth was “People aren’t going to like you” and “be nice.”

    I was never taught intermediate steps between just shutting up and cutting the person out of my life. I was taught that if someone was mad at my boundary, it was always my fault.

    There were things like: I dated someone who was sleeping with his ex-girlfriend at the beginning of our relationship, and my parents told me that it wasn’t my business and it was not an adequate reason to dump him. (In general, they acted like unless God Himself handed down stone tablets with permission to break up, I was not really allowed to do so.)

    Obviously it was not healthy. I have a son, not a daughter, but he will be raised to respect and enforce boundaries.

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      In retrospect, there were also problems with how personal information was handled. My father’s wife would very confidentially tell people other people’s business. I didn’t need to know which version of the Pill someone was on or who owed money on a credit card or what grade a sibling got in Spanish, but it would come out in a one one one conversation. It was always presented as “this problem this person has and how she is heroically solving it,” which made it seem like the fault of the person whose privacy was being violated.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow! Were your parents just afraid you wouldn’t get a guy or something? That’s awful! I’m glad you’ve developed boundaries regardless!
      ve

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        They are bullies, in many ways, and, since I’m not a bully like them, they wanted to shove me into the weakling-who-deserves-it box. They don’t like the idea that people like me can have justified complaints about mistreatment.

        (I was meek, for lack of a better word, growing up. As an adult, it is a struggle to learn how to systematically and rationally draw boundaries.)

        Reply
  8. Betrayed

    This is going to be long, I need to tell someone.

    By nature, I am highly sympathetic and committed in relationships. So, setting boundaries is hard for me, but I’ve been having to work on that. At times I’ve gotten emotionally abused as a result.

    I found out 2 days ago that my husband of 11 years did not stop his porn use before we got married as he led me to believe. Going through old emails I came across where I had told him he had to choose between me or porn. That I couldn’t go any further with him in our relationship if he kept using it. That was it. That was my one boundary I set for him. So, he went a little without it, told me he was done, but started it back up in no time. I worked so hard at trusting him again before we went into marriage. I’ve had blind faith in him this whole time. Now I feel like the fool. He was incredibly good at hiding it. You can imagine how hurt and betrayed I feel. What also hurts is that he did porn more than being with me. It’s totally unfair. I have a high drive. I’ve been going without my needs met. I’ve left tempting situations and have confessed to him my week moments and messups. I even have my own strong porn temptations, although I have never actually done it. I keep myself from it knowing the harm, the pull and it’s cheating nonetheless. I’ve been honest with him. I’ve tried connecting with him on every level. I want full intimacy with him. But he had been distancing himself from me emotionally and is supper grumpy/angry all the time. I try to get him in the mood when I need it myself, but often he pushes me away and makes me feel bad for wanting sex with my own husband, telling me that it’s not an important thing, it shouldn’t be prioritised. No matter what I’ve tried, I couldn’t break through to him. I’ve been incredibly lonely in this marriage. Well, now I know why that is. We had a long talk last night about it. He feels deeply ashamed, he didn’t tell me because he never wanted to hurt me, kept trying to break free from it, loves me more than his addiction, but has been chained to it’s affects (he started it as a teen). He WANTS to be free from it, just hasn’t been able to on his own. This has been tormenting him. My boundaries now are that he gets actual sex addicte therapy. He has no internet or tv access. He will be on a sex fast for a while, to clear his mind and reboot his sex drive. I’m not looking forward to that myself, as I have a high drive. But our talk was so good last night, we connected well, and well, we were both in the mood and in a good place, so we started his fast with a good night. I debated it, but it felt right and needed. It said “I love you” on so many levels. This is a man who never cries, but I saw him cry yesterday. He is deeply broken and was so afraid I would leave him. Please say a prayer for us if you will. We’ve just begun this journey of healing, I hope it’s for real this time. I just want to see where this takes us. I hear that healing and breaking this addiction is possible. I want to give this marriage another chance.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Betrayed, I’m so sorry! I did just say a prayer for you. I know it seems so bleak right now, but you’re closer to healing today than you were a week ago before you found out. I’m so sorry for the betrayal. I’m glad he’s agreed to get help, though. Michael John Cusick’s book Surfing for God is very good, and Andrew Bauman’s The Sexually Healthy Man is very good as well. My prayers for you!

      Reply
      • Betrayed

        Thank you for your kind response. I’ll take a look at those books!

        Reply
      • Amber

        I just said a prayer for you and him too. I was in your shoes a few years ago and like Shiela said, I’d encourage you that you’re closer to healing now that it’s all on the table than you ever were when we led his double-life. It took a reckoning, but our marriage has never been better. My husband said that finally having freedom is like seeing in color for the first time. May God bless you both and may you feel His love, comfort and presence throughout this journey you never asked to take. I’ll keep praying for you, dear sister.

        Reply
  9. Kathryn

    Growing up my siblings and I were never allowed to have boundaries, much less, even knew about how to set a boundary. It was disrespectful and not Christ-like. We never really had friends we hung out with a lot, so any attempts on setting a boundary was with our parents. Which was always squashed immediately with manipulation, guilt and shame. It was the kind of home where you earn God’s blessings and forgiveness, men were more valuable than women, and all those other lies Sheila talks about in The Great Sex Rescue.

    Even now years later as an adult it’s still very hard to set any boundaries with my Mom, or anyone else, because of the dysfunctional way I grew up. (My Dad’s in prison for child molestation, so he’s out of the picture).
    But I’m learning how to speak up and stand my ground, a little bit at a time.

    Reply
  10. Marian

    Was there something particular that you believed in high school that made it harder for you to set boundaries?
    Sooo many things:
    1. Specific Christian teaching regarding selfishness or, really, about being “selfless.” Aka without a self… you know, the unique-in-all-the-world expression of God’s image that He intentionally created and sent into the world to be inhabited by his spirit? Yes, kill that off. Let Jesus live through you, be Jesus… but of course we– Christian teachers or others **outside of yourself** — will tell you what that looks like and evaluate if your self looks like it’s letting Jesus live through you (God’s voice sure did start to sound a lot like church culture voices after a while)
    “JOY = Jesus, then Others, then a distant last, Yourself.”
    “You have no rights.”
    Also teachings regarding male headship.

    2. Further teaching, modeling and treatment that declared it wrong to trust or incorporate the information contained in your emotions, “gut” or God-given intuition. This came from…
    Christian teaching (e.g. using “the heart is deceitful above all things”),
    our cultural false dichotomy between left and right brain functions (elevating the superiority of “pure” reason, rather than the balanced whole-brain integration for which we were designed),
    related misogynistic biases against being “emotional” (e.g. being rightfully angry or assertive) or even believable
    parental override of individual preferences, emotions, thoughts which functionally invalidated them as valid or trustworthy.

    3. Related to Great Sex Rescue themes, also– kind of ironically– Christian messaging that portrayed males as all automatically lustful, sex-crazed boundary pushers, and females as gatekeepers.
    Already so well trained to be self-less, unable to trust oneself or one’s own evaluations, and ***needing to look outside of oneself for definition and worth***, combined with worldly male-driven beauty standards and customs, a teen girl may look to male attention as a significant measure of worth. And, with the “norm” for male attention ***defined as pawing, pushing desire and semi-misogynistic treatment***, an other-defined girl’s going to want that attention, and either defeatedly wonder why she’s not worthy of it or have the bar for appropriate boundaries set SO very off-kilter that she does not start the gatekeeping (vs boundary setting) until way beyond where healthy self-protective boundaries lie.

    Reply
  11. Anon

    I think if anything my parents taught me how NOT to have boundaries. One of my earliest school memories is when our guidance counselor came to class that day and taught us about using our words to set boundaries and tell people how they are making us feel. I attempted to put that to use and told one of my parents they had hurt my feelings. Not only did I get beat for it, but I was never allowed to participate in guidance classes again. My parents immediately deemed guidance class as teaching us to “question authority.”

    I believe to this day that part of the reason I didn’t know how to set boundaries physically with guys (I had an immediate shut down and disconnect mode) was because I was not allowed to have any boundaries over my own thoughts, emotions, or body growing up. Even when receiving a beating I was forced to first lay across my parents’ lap. To me it was having any control of my own body taken away. I never learned how to take that control back. I still sometimes recoil at my husband’s touch if I’m not prepared.

    Reply
  12. Anne Elliot

    Boundaries. Such a safe place to be and such power to have. Its actually quite difficult, though, to do; if you grew up in a family of origin without them.

    To answer Shelia’s question:What made it harder for you to set boundaries? My family (christian, evangelical) of origin made it harder, and almost impossible to set up boundaries. I wasn’t allowed to tell my mom no. Over. Anything. She made me do stuff for the church, for her, for my sister, for ANYONE but myself. Because doing stuff for me was “selfish” and “unChristlike”. Does that make ANY sense? As an adult, typing this, it doesn’t!! She twisted scripture to guilt me in to doing anything SHE wanted me to do. And at the time, our family of origin was so toxic, unsafe, and emotionally abusive, I said “yes, ok” just to keep some kind of peace. Mainly that meant doing whatever my mom said, when she said it. I envy other people that grew up with family boundaries. SO. MUCH. One note as an adult: I have heard this from churches:
    “be a servant to others, above ALL ELSE” even if it means (toxic, unsafe, draining) people taking time away from your current family, marriage or job. “Put others first” and you “serve Christ.” But actually isn’t your spouse and your kids your number one ministry? They should come first, and that means telling others no. I really hate that message from the “church:” Neglect your spouse and kids for unsaved people. because, eternity. it doesn’t make sense to me.

    What made it easier? My husband made setting boundaries easier. He saved me from my family of origin. He grew up saying no, and not worrying about other people’s emotions from that. Over time, I wanted that power. And he supported me when I got therapy. Even though he couldn’t help me like a therapist, watching him interact and react and say no, or yes made me want to be like that. Also my therapist. And this website. And of course, practicing saying no to healthy people. That has helped me, and makes me feel powerful. Which when you have no boundaries, you have no power or control, even over your choices. one more thing: when I resolved the problem of being afraid of other’s emotions over my choices, I move into that place of power.

    Or anyone else have a good example? I would have to put Jesus Christ in there. after reading the book Boundaries like a hundred times, when i read through them I noticed the principles of boundaries in the Bible: 1.Jesus chasing away the money lenders in the temple. With a whip. 2. God saying “I hate sin” 3. Jesus Christ didn’t force anyone to do anything. He let them have FREE Choice. without shame, or guilt, or threats. God has very strong boundaries Himself.

    Reply
  13. gcb

    I wonder how many rape and/or sexual assault survivors the drama department consulted before making the decision to do that play.

    Reply
  14. Anon

    I am curious what the play was. There are many classic plays that have rapes in them. Was it Hamlet?

    Reply
  15. Wild Honey

    My parents were very good about setting boundaries regarding physical touch.
    (Saying “no” to other things like doing a favor for someone or not attending a family get-together was a big no-no, but my mom grew up in a household with a functional alcoholic for a parent, so I’m coming to recognize this as a survival technique on her part. But I digress.)

    Regarding physical touch, we (family of four girls) were NEVER forced or guilt-tripped into hugging someone or sitting on a relative’s lap if we didn’t want to when we were little. And I distinctly remember a conversation with my dad when I was 7 or so about private parts being private and if anyone trying to touch them, to come let him or Mom know, even if it was a family member (he actually named a couple of specific people; no idea if that’s usually considered ok).

    Fast-forward to when I was 12 or 13, petite and shy. My dad had me take a women’s self-defense class at his tae kwon do studio. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this class. We practiced hand-to-hand grappling, confident posture, and yelling “no” to his adult male blackbelt instructors, among other things. Three years later, a guy at school tried to get handsy with me before class. My immediate and forceful “Get off me!” made him back down real fast, and I credit the self-defense class with giving me the confidence and the words. I wasn’t bothered after that. This was the same class in which a special ed student was molested by a different guy, so not exactly a safe place for girl students.

    Couple years later, had my first job and had to close one night with a guy who gave me the weebie jeebies. I happened to mention that I wasn’t looking forward to it, and Dad’s radar picked up on my discomfort. Dad was giving me a ride home that evening. He showed up an hour early, right before closing, introduced himself to Mr. Weebie Jeebies, and sat glaring with his arms crossed the whole time. Mr. Weebie Jeebies whispered to me, “I don’t think your dad likes me.” My dad’s showing up in a very real, practical sense taught me stronger than words to listen to that small voice of intuition and discomfort, and that I was valued and worth protecting.

    Fast forward 20 years, and our pastor was teaching a Sunday school class. He told the class he was really wrestling with a decision. He and his wife were hosting a huge dinner for their daughter’s friends and dates for homecoming. He wanted his home to be welcome to everyone and anyone “for the sake of the Gospel.” His daughter told him she didn’t want to include a particular friend, because this friend was dating a boy from school who had acted physically inappropriately with her best friend AND other girls among their friend group.

    The pastor/dad ARGUED with his daughter about inviting the teenage predator, because he wanted his home to be “welcoming for the sake of the Gospel.”

    I think every woman in that Sunday school class held their collective breaths as the story finished.

    The pastor/dad ended up not inviting the teenage predator, and hosted at a restaurant instead of his house as a compromise, but it was obvious he was still really torn up over the decision. And I (and my husband, once we had a chance to discuss privately) thought, “for the sake of the Gospel TO WHOM?” Clearly not to his own daughter and all of her friends, who had clearly justified reasons for not feeling safe around this young man. Clearly not to the unfortunate girlfriend, who needed to be told that she was a precious child made in the image of God and deserved better than this. And clearly not to the young man himself, who needed to learn that actions/sins have consequences, and a consequence of mistreating girls/women is that you no longer get to be around them.

    So, yeah, this is a particular area that I really value how my parents handled boundaries when I was growing up.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Wild Honey, that’s an excellent story about the pastor! That’s it exactly. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Wild Honey

        Thank you. That happened late 2019. Given the surge of the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, and the outpouring of realizations of the unintended consequences of purity culture, this reaction was a little disappointing. Given that he did end up saying “no” to inviting the budding predator, I suppose there’s a glimmer of hope. It takes a long time to change a system.

        Reply
  16. Andrea

    My mother was pretty good at teaching us to set boundaries.
    This somehow despite the fact that she herself is not very good at it, but I think she wanted better for us and it’s often easier to help others than to help yourself.

    Reading about the effects of purity culture lately, though, I’ve been struck by the (mis)use of a couple of Bible verses and I think this might apply to boundary-setting as well. “The heart is deceitful above all things” and “Lean not on your own understanding.” Purity victims say these verses taught them to mistrust their own intuition and insight, which put them in dangerous situations and even abusive marriages. I’m thinking it might be really helpful for a lot of people — and women especially — to address these.

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  17. Lin

    My parents were pretty good about teaching boundaries throughout. I don’t have teens of my own yet (still pregnant!) so I’ll share a story from my teen years instead. I was in an unhealthy situation for an extracurricular activity. It was a nasty atmosphere and the leaders had been cruel to me and the other students throughout the year, but I didn’t want to leave since I had signed a contract for the year and I wanted to keep my word. There was something that I had told them I was uncomfortable doing; it was *very* sexualized and I didn’t feel it was right. They said okay and compromised with me, but mid-year they backed out of that and insisted I do it after all.

    I had a conversation with my mom that afternoon, and told her my boundary was still the same. She said she supported me, but warned me that the leaders would probably kick me out if I held onto it. I said I was fine with that, and she helped me draft the email telling them my mind was still made up. Sure enough, within an hour or two they emailed me back kicking me out.

    The story had a happy ending though; I wound up finding a new place to go for said activity that was an amazing, high-quality, healthy environment that helped me heal. And I learned that leaving a place can be very worth it. I am very grateful to my mom for letting me know what the consequences would probably be and 100% backing my decision, whatever it was. I don’t remember her swaying me one way or the other. Since I was 17, it was really good practice for adulthood.

    Reply

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