I’m no dummy.

I’ve been writing about implementing boundaries within relationships when they take an unhealthy turn for the past two weeks.

I get, oh how I get, how difficult it is to transfer this into real living sometimes.

I cannot tell you how often I want to grab the shoulders of my offender and say “What the h(*& is going on here? Can we just grow up a flippin’ little bit?”

Except that’s not what a good Christian should say. (But of course, I never said I was a good Christian. I do try. But then, that’s why I’m so very thankful for Jesus.)

Something tells me until He comes back here or I go there, I’m still going to battle this desire to first do something that would make the conflict even worse.

So I reach way down (way down) into my bag of self-control and pull out a heaping helping of it because I know it’s the only way I’ll ever get through this snafu alive.

Since last week, I’ve had people ask me about establishing boundaries with family members. Aye, aye, aye . . . You had to ask, didn’t you?

First, tread very. very. very carefully. Not to stress you out, but there’s massive potential here for this to backfire because there is so much emotion attached to our family members. Even the ones we aren’t the most fond of have the potential to leave us a bit emotional because we naturally expect so much more from family members. We expect our own flesh and blood to be on our side and walk with us through life. But when this doesn’t happen, we are often hurt even more.

If you must see this family member only during holiday get-togethers, go for what my mother always calls the “Betty Davis Best Actress Award.” Now I know some of you are going to say “But Natalie . . . Isn’t that being fake?”

And I will say, “Yes. But sometimes actions must precede emotion.”

SOMEONE has to stick the proverbial toe in the water, right?  Who has the maturity to do it?  Who is going to choose relationship over being right? Who is going to end the cycle of drama?

You certainly don’t need to be BFF’s with the person in your family who has hurt you but I would encourage you to at least be pleasant. Watch your words–if this person has used them against you in the past, don’t give him or her any ammunition for future offenses.

Yet at the same time, bless them in your head and forgive. You’ll be amazed by the power of this one simple (OK, sometimes not-so-simple) step.

Another strategy that has worked for me: begin to see those who consistently hurt you as the broken person they really are. They may not be able to be vulnerable with you but remember it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change people–not ours. We can, however, pray for their freedom and who knows? Maybe you establishing that you aren’t going to condone unhealthy behavior anymore just might be the catalyst they need to begin shedding some bags.

If this is a family member you see several times a week, it gets a bit stickier. You might have to muster up some courage for a difficult, but loving, chat. This is where it’s all in the delivery–come off as accusatory and judgmental and you’re asking for a brawl. But if you lovingly explain why you have been repeatedly hurt and why you can no longer subject yourself to this hurt, then you are doing what is healthy for your heart.

The tough part about advising on family issues is that they’re all so different and often the solution is specifically-oriented to circumstances. However, here’s a short little guide to help you implement boundaries:

1. Pray: Pray first always. Is God telling you to establish a boundary with this person as a way to protect your heart? You might have to sit in this for a few days so be patient.

2. Examine: What’s your role in this? Are you guilty of sin in this relationship in any way? If so, seek forgiveness from both the Father and the person involved–and don’t forget to forgive yourself, too.

3. Go: Go to this person IN HUMILITY. If you cannot go in humility and love, wait until you can. Trust me: nothing, NOTHING, good comes from this situation when you don’t go with a humble heart–even if you did nothing wrong in the first place.

4. Focus on the cross: Don’t give-in to the natural temptation to retaliate in defense if you hear something hard. This is precisely what makes conflict so messy. Again, someone has to be the mature party here. This doesn’t make you a doormat–it makes you a wise old sage. If a perception is off, then of course, clear it up kindly. But if it becomes a game of who’s right and who’s wrong, decline the invitation to play.

5. Remember that your honor comes from God (Psalm 62). If there is fall-out and gossip among your family members, know that God is working this out for good. If someone says something snarky to you, you don’t owe them any explanation. However, if you feel like you must say something in response, a polite “You know, it’s important that I guard my heart and I can’t accept unhealthy behavior anymore. I love_______and will be praying for her but I also need to take care of myself, too.” That’s more than enough.

I feel led to also point out there are indeed some who abuse the term “boundaries.” Boundaries are a healthy option in relationships that are challenging but if it becomes a shield in which others are trying to hind behind so they can stay in their comfort zone, then boundaries are being misused.

In addition, if someone is selfishly withdrawing from general life responsibilities (parenting, being a spouse, etc. ) in the name of setting boundaries, they are also being misused.

I know it sounds like a fine line but it all comes down to the heart: examine your heart’s intentions. If they’re not for selfish gain or fear, then perhaps boundaries are indeed needed and will not be abused.

What experiences do you have in setting boundaries within family (yes, you can use a fake name if you want)?

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