Compassionate Boundaries: Motives Beware! (Sixth of Series)

2di5onoGod has never hired me as his right-hand gal though I have applied for the position many times. Seems he does not believe my qualifications are enough. 

He is right, of course. None of us are God. Why then, do so many of us try to change other people and be God over situations out of our control? This tendency leads to overinvolvement.  Truth is, we cannot draw boundaries for other people. 

When what we want does not happen, we are disppointed and perhaps angry. “It makes no sense,” we cry out in frustration. “I’m only trying to do what’s right. Why won’t people get with the program?”

Motives are not always what they seem

Personalizing. When Sally Sue experiences two deaths in her family and loses her job, we try to help by saying, “You can call me anytime, night or day.”

Do we not need sleep? Is there no other responsibility? At some level, we believe our role is caretaker.  If we do not stand up, who will? Her problems become our problem. It is a burden we bear.

Compassion comes from a place of sincere concern and love. Personalizing is more ego-centric. That is not to say it is cold-hearted. Sometimes it is how we think because we are human. Carefully established boundaries tell us when to step back. 

Naming the problem is helpful too. “This is Sally Sue’s problem, not mine.” “It is her life, not mine.” That honesty frees us to lend a helping hand in more sustainable ways.  

Sensitivity.  Let us face it, some of us feel more than others. Soft-heartedness is a blessing when wrapped up in healthy boundaries.  However, it can easily lead to over involvement if emotions guide all our decisions.

What relief to lay painful worries at the feet of Jesus! Not every need is our calling to serve. When we take time to formulate priorities and values, boundaries protect our hearts.   

People-pleasing.  Surrounded by friends, Billy is lonely. It seems that fitting in will forever escape him. How can that be? he wonders silently each day. I’m a nice guy.

Billy has trouble asking to have his needs met.  On a fishing trip, he accidentally drops his bait into the water. No one offers to share. At first he waits to see if anyone will, then settles into his usual role helping everyone else.

One friend leaves a rod in the truck. Billy fetches it.  Another forgot to switch shoes and is wearing his good ones. Billy trades with him and stays away from mud. Resentment grows as no one offers bait. He understands he is the odd man out once again. 

People-pleasing is about trying to gain something – friendship, recognition, acceptance, or even approval. Billy’s healthy boundary might look like asking for bait instead of wishing for others to read his mind. Another boundary may say no to fetching the rod because he is busy digging for new bait. 


Other posts in this series: Friendship (1) ; God’s Example (2)Values and Family (3) ; Self-Care (4) ;  How to Say No (5) ;  Refuse Blame (7) ; Refer to Experts (8)  ; How to Say Yes (9)



NOTE:  I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental and behavioral health challenges.  In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S.  (for international emergency numbers, go here ), or go to your nearest emergency room. Do not be alone. Hope and help are yours.


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