This is a follow-up to my Boundaries post from April 2019 where I discussed the three types of boundaries and their functions in our lives. It started some great conversations with clients and other counselors, so if you haven’t read it, start there and then come back to this post. Today, I want to expand on the earlier post by highlighting the 10 Laws of Boundaries as outlined in Boundaries (Cloud & Townshend, 2004).
1- The Law of Sowing and Reaping. One of the first things we (hopefully) learn as children is that our actions have consequences. The older we get, the more serious our choices and the more serious the consequences. There are a lot of phrases across many cultures and capture the “what goes around comes around” idea, and that’s because it’s legit. If you enable a person by protecting him from the consequences of his actions, you are intercepting his opportunities for personal growth and doing him a great disservice in the long run. It’s difficult to watch someone struggle, especially when we care a lot for that person, but struggle is what brings character growth.
2- The Law of Responsibility. Being responsible to someone without being responsible for them can be challenging, particularly in relationships which haven’t had healthy boundaries in place for a long period of time. We can be held accountable by people we trust, but they aren’t responsible for us or our choices. Love people without trying to live their lives for them.
3- The Law of Power. Power is different from control. That’s a blog for another day, but I want to highlight that what we are talking about here is having influence over some things in our lives while not having influence over others. We have power to change ourselves in many ways: our attitudes, our belief systems, our behaviors. But great peace comes when we accept that we don’t have the power to change anyone else!
4- The Law of Respect. Mutual respect for people and boundaries is crucial. We want other people to care enough for us that they will respect what we need, and it is healthy for us to behave in similar ways.
5- The Law of Motivation. My dad has given me a ton of “wisdom nuggets” throughout my life. One of my favorites is: “If someone needs an immediate answer, then your answer ought to be ‘no.’ If you don’t have time to weigh your options, then you might feel obligated to go along with something that you wouldn’t do if you had enough time to think about it.” The bottom line: if you don’t feel free to say no, then you’re not genuinely saying yes anyway. Keep your motivations in check. Love is a choice.
6- The Law of Evaluation. It’s important to evaluate whether our boundaries bring pain to people in our lives. If the pain brings growth, it is oftentimes worth sticking to. If the pain brings wounding or trauma, that’s a red flag to revisit the boundary and consider whether it needs to be changed in some way. Although we don’t have to adjust our boundaries based on their effects on others, it’s important to consider how other people hurt while we strive for safety and wellness.
7- The Law of Proactivity. It is wise to set boundaries based on our wants, needs, and desires. By using our wise minds (both logic and emotion) in this process, we can step forward confidently. Prioritizing personal values is worth it!
8- The Law of Envy. You can’t drive your own car well if you’re focused on the cars everyone else is driving. Stay in your lane! Adopt an attitude of gratitude instead of dissatisfaction. Look at yourself long enough to see where you need to make the changes that will get you where you want to go.
9- The Law of Activity. Lean in when you’re solving problems. Boundaries are easier to set before there’s an issue rather than trying to backtrack after someone has overstepped. Without boundaries, a passive person is more likely to be dominated by a more aggressive person. It’s a good thing to assert what you need, especially with people you love. Boundaries require action, and often that means allowing people to reap what they’ve sown.
10- The Law of Exposure. No one will know our boundaries if we don’t communicate them! If it’s not clear, then it’s not working. These conversations can be difficult, but worth it. Boundaries allow for consequences without nagging; if you’re nagging, then you’re working too hard.
Which ones are easy for you? Which ones are more difficult? If you’re looking to establish new boundaries, you can start by saying ‘no’ to small things without trying to justify your response. One step at a time, friends!
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. S. (2004). Boundaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.