by Heidi Vermeer-Quist, PsyD
I grew up in the lovely little town of Pella, Iowa. People who grow up in Pella are expected to be well-put-together, responsible, hardworking, God-fearing and independent. As a good Dutch Reformed girl, I figured I had “boundaries” down pat. I grew up in a church and community with lots of clear rules. I never got in trouble. People liked me (at the least most seemed to like me). And I genuinely loved God and desired to follow His commands. So, imagine my shock and dismay, when three years into my doctoral degree, my psychologist told me that I had problems with healthy boundaries. It took me a good year or so to even consider that she might be right. She was. That same year, a chaplain who I was working with on my inpatient rotation, told me I was a “control freak”. Again, I experienced shock and dismay, not to mention major offense. She was way off…until I realized she was way on.
I carried tons of extra stuff on my shoulders that I simply could not control. I felt very responsible for keeping other people happy, succeeding in everything I did, knowing the right answers and not making mistakes. I worried constantly, planned obsessively, and struggled with a good deal of shame and “not-good-enoughness”. Developing a healthy concept of Boundaries was critical to my own well-being, and I find it to be a missing piece for almost every client who walks through the door.
From a Christian perspective, we are created in the image of God but born in sin (thinking we can actually do God’s job better than He can). As a result, we all often have problems realizing our own limits. Here is a simple overview healthy boundaries:
Basics of Healthy Boundaries
(some concepts taken from Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend)
- I can only be responsible FOR one person: myself. And I can only be responsible FOR myself in one time frame: NOW.
- In my own backyard (my life and my psychological property) God has given me three FAB-ulous treasures to manage moment by moment:
- Feelings or emotions (listening to and managing them)
o Attitudes or thoughts (directing or redirecting them)
o Behaviors (choosing and acting with them)
- I am NOT responsible FOR the 3 O’s: Others, Outcomes or Old Stuff. Of course I care about these 3 O’s, but I acknowledge that control of them is beyond my limits. I can try to influence them appropriately, but God did not create me to control Others, determine Outcomes, or change Old Stuff.
- My relationships with other people are very important, however, I am not responsible FOR their FAB-ulous treasures. They are. Rather, I am responsible TO others by “Speaking the Truth in Love” (Ephesians 4:15). This does not mean that my truth is all truth, of course! I am responsible for voicing my views and sharing my FAB-ulous treasures in a way that is both honest and loving/respectful. Similarly, I am responsible FOR listening to the FAB-ulous treasures of others respectfully and openly. This fits well with God’s golden rule of “loving others as we love ourselves”.
Watch Out for the “O” Zone and Garden Your Life with God.
We naturally let the three O’s into our minds and dupe ourselves into believing that we can control them. Focusing on the “O’s” of others, outcomes and old stuff, and trying to change or control them is a losing battle. Instead, catch yourself when you are in the “O” zone, commit your “O’s” to prayer, and focus on managing your own Feelings, Attitudes, and Behaviors one moment at a time. Ask God, your Master Gardener, to guide you and provide you with His wisdom and grace. Ask supportive others to help you as you adjust your boundaries and garden your life. As we manage our own FAB-ulous treasures, we are energized to connect well with others. We are able to live and give freely.
Heidi Vermeer-Quist, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist working at the Pine Rest Des Moines Clinic since 2002. She provides psychotherapy to people struggling with depression, anxiety, relational conflicts, unresolved grief and adjustment, and personality disorders.