boundaries

Recently, someone on one of my husband’s support-group e-lists wrote about “broken walls” in regard to an addict.  I realized, while reading it, that “broken walls” are equivalent to “broken (or missing) boundaries” as well.

Brian A. (the author of the original note) wrote:

A good description of an addict is a “city without walls,” totally defenseless against the enemy.

As the wife of a sexual-addict-who-is-struggling-to-be-free, I recognize that my husband’s boundaries have been nearly non-existent for most of his life.  That’s not to say that I’ve always had healthy boundaries, but I’ve learned to build and enforce them over the years.

“Boundaries” are defined as a fence-line that protects me.  They keep me inherently safe (if I enforce them) and they allow my person to live, work, relate, and emote in relative safety.  For example, the classic child’s book “I’ll Love You Forever” makes me absolutely crazy.  Okay, the sentiment is sweet.  A mother rocking her baby, singing, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.  As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.”  As a mother, I can relate – our son will always be “my baby,” even when he towers over me and can bench-press me.    😉

But the book goes on to depict the same mother going in to her teenaged son’s room while he sleeps, rocking him and singing this; her going to her grown son’s home with a ladder, climbing in the window, rocking him and singing this (did I mention? the son is an adult at this point!)….  The unhealthy boundary-issues this book raises simply give me the creeps.  So a healthy boundary would be one where the child grows and differentiates from his mother (parents) and the mother (parents) let him go.  They don’t break in to his house as an adult (can anyone say “B&E”?) and continue to foist their nursery-bedtime-habits on him.

Back to the idea of unhealthy boundaries being akin to a city’s broken walls.  Without appropriate boundaries such as “I am a person, worthy of respect and a healthy expression of love,” or “I am not responsible for your emotional happiness,” I am a target for those who would try to take advantage of me.  I am a target for the Enemy of my soul to unleash all sorts of destructive lies in my life.  I am a slave to my addiction (whatever it may be), because I don’t believe that I am valuable enough to say “no” to someone/something that would otherwise steamroll right over me.

My husband has never had appropriate or healthy boundaries.  He grew up in a lifestyle of emotional incest and the constant drone of the inappropriate emotional demands on him by his mother taught him (tacitly) that saying, “No” was not appropriate or welcomed.  Out of a sense of obligation and emotional tugging, he never learned to stick up for himself, to say “no” to someone who sought to take advantage of him, to not take on responsibility that wasn’t his to accept.  So in his life, he was a sitting duck for the kid who molested him in elementary school, the sexual assault he experienced in college, and the acting-out he did as an adult when friendship went beyond appropriate boundaries and the other person made inappropriate requests.  He felt obligated to “not say no,” because he had no boundaries, he didn’t respect himself enough to set the boundaries, his addiction raged, and his guilt-level was sky-high.

So now what?  If you don’t have good boundaries or struggle with addiction, there is hope.  There is always hope – but it takes courage to grab hold of it and build those broken “walls.”

The book of Nehemiah in the Bible is a story of rebuilding the broken walls around the city of Jerusalem during the Babylonian Captivity (Judah [the southern kingdom] went in to captivity in 586 BC and didn’t fully return to the land of Israel until 539 BC).  Nehemiah was a native Jew from Jerusalem and was also servant to Cyrus II, king of Persia [Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 and the Captives went to Persia for a time].  Nehemiah’s heart was wrenched over the condition of Jerusalem and the state of his city’s walls – the walls that represented the health of the city.  They were broken and gave enemies of Judah full access to Jerusalem, instead of keeping out those who would be intent upon her harm.  Nehemiah asked Cyrus II if he might go back and begin construction on the wall around Jerusalem – and he received permission.  The book of Nehemiah is the tale of the rebuilding and the lessons the Jews learned while repairing the broken protection for their City.

Brian A. writes

You inspect the walls and see where they (you) are broken and where your vulnerabilities to the enemy are. … You do it with “a few men with you” (Nehemiah 2:12) who can see where you can’t.

Brian’s thought is a good start for rebuilding boundaries.  Sometimes, as we work towards emotional health and out of addictive behaviour patterns, we cannot see what an inappropriate or missing boundary looks like.  It’s incredibly helpful to have someone who loves you and who has your best interests at heart to help you examine the areas where you need reinforcing.

You do your recovery work, building the wall (Nehemiah 3).  … priests and Levites did much of the work. A priest is an intercessor. Praying for others is important. The Levites were singers (worship is very important) …

Everyone helped rebuild the wall around Jerusalem – there wasn’t a single class of citizen that was exempt from the work.  Everyone worked side-by-side during this time of rebuilding.  If you are building your walls, don’t forget to pray and ask others to pray for you, and don’t forget that worshipping God is absolutely critical.  Praise is a major aspect of spiritual warfare and anytime you are doing work like this and saying ‘no’ to addictive behavioural patterns, the Enemy will attack you.  Those addictive patterns are ways that he exerts influence in your life, much like the enemies of Jerusalem that walked through gaps in the broken down wall around the City, and he doesn’t give up territory without a fight.

Understand that building boundaries takes time.  It’s hard work and if you’ve lived for any length of time with inappropriate or broken boundaries, you’ll have opposition from those who have taken advantage of your broken-state.  Not just the Enemy of your soul – but those who have relied on your inability to say “no” in a healthy manner to get their needs incorrectly and inappropriately met.  It took 52 days to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 6:15) – it’s going to take time to build your healthy defenses and begin to understand how to change behavioural and attitudinal patterns.  You’ll probably be smacked with guilt and anger by those around you who are unused to running in to healthy boundaries, but you need to understand that you are worth those boundaries.  You are worth having healthy walls around you that allow you to shed the addiction that hounds you.

Once you build your boundaries, you’ll find it’s easier to understand how your addiction has had its way with you.  Once you see a strong, healthy wall, you’ll understand how the wall was broken and allowed the Enemy in the first place.  You’ll still have work to do with regard to your struggle and addiction, but when you’ve got space to be >you< and to allow God to work in your heart, you’ll be in a stronger place to resist temptation and say no to hurtful patterns that held you captive in the past.

Build your walls.  Build your boundaries.  You are worth it.

His and his,
~Cori

If you want to read more on the importance of building healthy boundaries, check out Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend..

This entry was posted on 211353H Jan 2009 and is filed under Path to Healing, Pornography, Sexual Brokenness. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

  • Lisa

    Cori:
    I always wondered why that book: “I’ll Love You Forever” book gave me the creeps too. You just opened my eyes to this. When my daughter, now 13, was born I received two copies of the book as gifts. I tucked them away because something about it just didn’t feel right…lack of boundaries. An issue so many deal with and that book screams it loud and clear. Thank you for the wisdom.
    Hugs
    Lisa
    P.S. I recommend “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud regularly to people obviously struggling with this issue. In fact, I just sent a copy to a friend last week! “Safe People” is another masterpiece.