The concept of “boundaries” did not exist in my youth, at least not in my culture. This concept is one of the most fundamental dimensions of life and I’m pleased to note that now, even in early grade school, teachers and care-givers introduced the concept and reinforce it frequently.
When I think of “boundary” I think of a limit. And it is that, but much more; it is even a beginning. Heidegger once said that boundaries are where the Essential begins its unfolding. He argued that without boundaries there could be no unfolding of the Essential. From his observation, I suggest that without the development of boundaries (which is basically the formation of an “ego”) the child would remain lost in a maze of reptilian-brain impulses, basically a brain stem with arms and legs. And we have all seen adults who are still captivated by this old-brain energy!
Boundaries give us the power of choice. They enable us to make decisions about our impulses and behaviors, determining which ones are appropriate, and whether or not the setting is appropriate for their expression. One simple, but powerful example is sexuality. When sexuality is rearing its ugly head (wink, wink) in a male’s teen years, if he has good boundaries he will know how and when to “make a move” on a winsome young lass, having confidence that his “moves” might be and ultimately will be successful in accomplishing this physical and emotional goal. If his boundaries are poor, he will be rude and offensive, often guilty of what we now call “sexual harassment”, and sometimes even sexual aggressiveness.
This subject is very relevant to the phenomena of “feelings” about which I recently discoursed here. If our boundaries are present and mature, we will own our feelings and embrace them, but not allow them to run amok. I suggest that if they do run amok, it is not actually “feelings” but instinctual energy without the modification of boundaries, that God-given gift of our forebrain. If, on the other hand there are too many boundaries and/or if they are too rigid, there will be still another problem—the person will be pent-up and restricted and often overly moralistic. These “overly moralistic” people will emphasize the “letter of the law” and will probably merit the description “judgmental.” They champion the “judgment of the Lord” over His grace.
Let me illustrate from the New Testament. On one occasion, Jesus cast the money-lenders out of the temple, chasing them with a scourge. On another occasion, at a community well, he encountered a known adulteress and offered her forgiveness, telling her to, “Go and sin no more.” According to the letter of the law, he should have quickly organized a mob and stoned her to death. But he exercised mature judgment and “chose” to offer grace, forgiveness, and love rather than brutal punishment. I suggest that on that occasion Jesus demonstrated “feelings” and “boundaries” working in tandem in a mature fashion. Neither one predominated and he “chose” to exercise grace.
It is so easy to exercise judgment when an offering of love is usually much more appropriate.