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Exercise Those "Choice Muscles"

Updated on October 21, 2008

Boundaries: Exercising Your "Choice Muscle"


This was a recurring phrase in my childhood and teenage years. People would just make me so angry! In fact, people were in control of most of emotions. If I was jealous, it was because so-and-so made me. If I was mad, so-and-so were to blame. And if I were sad, so-and-so made me sad. They ruled over my frame of mind. But Dr. Henry Cloud (perhaps my favorite author right now) introduced me to Boundaries. Thank God for them!

I realized that people were not making me angry, but that I was giving myself permission to be angry. When God created people, He did not make them with power over our emotions. He gave us rule over them just as He did rule over the beasts of the field and the fowl of the air. If we can't control ourselves, then how can we expect to control things outside of ourselves?

For a period of time, I was VERY miserable at work. I blamed my company, supervisor, my coworkers, and/or my residents (the girls I watch over) for my misery. It was the company's fault for making such awkward hours (16 straight hours on Saturday with no breaks). It was the supervisor's fault for not chastising the company or policy makers for making such stupid hours. It was my co-workers fault for tolerating it with me. And it was my residents' fault for making the 16 hour day long and hard (whenever they would act up and I'd have to break up fights or physical restrain one of them or chase after a runaway). I was everyone's fault but mine!

Then Dr. Cloud introduced me to the concept and necessity of boundaries in a book titled "Changes That Heal". Without boundaries, we don't know where we begin and someone else ends. We don't know when and how many times to say, "yes" or "no." We don't know when to say, "I'm not taking anymore of this crap." God delivered that book to me at a crucial time in my life. I realized that I was not being forced to work there. I could leave at any second! No chains or fetters around my ankles. No armed guards at the gate. Not even someone telling me, "You can't leave us." Just my own thoughts telling me I shouldn't leave. Telling me that I shouldn't create, establish, and sustain my boundaries.

Every person should have healthy boundaries. Women should have enough boundaries to tell their abusive boyfriends that they will not tolerate anymore abuse from them. Husbands should have enough boundaries to tell their adulteress wives that they will not tolerate infidelity. The Bible gives them the right to do so. Parents should tell their adult children that they will put a limit or boundary on how they will continue to encourage their immaturity by paying their cell phone bills and allowing them to live at home even after they have college degrees.

At work, I had to learn to limit the amount of evil I would allow to come my way. I would let the kids curse at me without properly telling them it would not be allowed. In my friendships, I would allow a friend to borrow an inordinate amount of money and would also allow her to pay me back after the appointed date that we agreed upon. In my love life, I would allow admirers to call me at any time of night. Then I'd have the nerve to get angry with them for doing it! The kids would still curse at me even if I told them that they would get consequences for it, but they would know that I wouldn't take it from them with no comment or negative consequences. But when it came to allowing a friend to borrow money, IT WAS UP TO ME to say, "No, So-and-so, I will not loan you that much money." Or "No, So-and-so, you said you would pay me back on Friday, and now I need my money back even if you have to borrow it from someone else." IT WAS UP TO ME to say, "So-and-so, it is 3:00 am. You should assume that I am asleep in bed. Please call me at a decent hour."

Likewise, if a man is beating you upside your head, it is your responsibility, right, and reason to say, "John, you know I love you very much, and I value our relationship. But I will no longer allow you to put your hands on me in a violent way. If you continue treating me this way, I will be leaving you until you get some help. If you refuse to get help, then I will be moving on romantically." If your boss is putting too much work on you, it is your adult-expected job to tell him or her, "Mr. Jackson, I've been working here for awhile and I appreciate my job, but I feel as if I have to put my foot down about this. I have been working more hours than my job description has stated. I don't mind being flexible every once in a while when the company needs help, but I am uncomfortable and refuse to continue working until after 5 when my hours are only from 9am to 5pm."

If you all are like how I was, I felt as if it were rude to be assertive. Instead of saying, "Pass me that cup over there please," I would only feel comfortable saying, "Hey, Ashley, if you're not busy, would you mind passing me that cup over there? If you don't want to, that's fine. Thanks." Most people wouldn't think, "Wow, she's bossy! She just told me to bring her something." They will simply pass you the cup and appreciate that you said "please." But I was very passive and felt as if I was inconveniencing someone if I asked them to do something for me. It was fine when they told me to do something for them please, but I felt so wrong and controlling if I said it. God said, "Let there be light!" He didn't say, "If you have the time and don't mind, could you please cut on the light. I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks." He has authority that He's not afraid to use. We should get like God and act the same! It's okay to have and utilize your authority!

Parents who don't properly enforce their authority over their children will undoubtedly have children with a lack of respect for them. God expects us to train and control our children. You shouldn't be too hard on them because that can lead to anxiety disorders in their adulthood, but you should have no problem telling your children to do chores, come home by 8, and to say "ma'am" if you so desire for them to say "ma'am." Children will not die under these terms. Children with authoritative parents fare better than children of permissive parents and authoritarian parents. Permissive parents have children on Maury screaming at an audience of adults with, "You don't know me! You don't run me! Shut up!" Authoritarian parents have children who grow up to rebel authority because of their resentment toward authoritarian parents. They usually grow up to break many laws, live rebellious lives upon going to college, and they have anxiety disorders because they feel as if every mistake they make is noticed and disapproved of. They may self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to feel comfortable with this anxiety. But children of authoritative parents grow up to be mentally healthy, mature, responsible, happy, and boundary-establishing adults.

You should not feel guilty for establishing boundaries. Maybe you had parents that made you feel as if saying no was selfish and inconsiderate. If you wanted to hang out with your best friend one Friday instead of hanging at home with your family, they might have said, "You're so wrong for that. You know we want to spend time with you tonight." But you need to develop and exercise your "no muscle." You work this no muscle out as a child in your family of orientation (your immediate family). If you can't say no to mom who wants you to spend every Friday with her or to wear your hair a certain way, you will have problems saying no to college buddies who want you to drink and party every day. If you have problems saying no to daddy who always tells you to play a certain sport or to study in a particular major to grow up to be just like him, you'll have problems telling your girlfriend or boyfriend no when they ask you to have sex with them. WORK YOUR NO-MUSCLE. Better yet, let's call it a CHOICE MUSCLE. Don't stay at a job that you are miserable at because you feel as if your coworker or boss will be mad at you. Be an adult with a choice and take responsibility to go apply elsewhere. Or if you like the job and just not an aspect of it, be an adult and choose to take responsibility to talk in private with your boss and tell them what you want. They may not do it, but you'll feel better knowing that you tried before you quit.

If you have a friend who seems to be taking advantage of you, you need to be an adult and tell him or her, "I value our friendship John or Jane, but I feel as if you are using me for my money/image/networking, and I don't like it. We need to work on this." It's the adult thing to do. Don't be a push over.

You need to put a limit on evil. If you are married to someone who is an alcoholic or drug abuser, you can't control their using. It would be as if you are infringing upon their boundaries. But you CAN LIMIT THE AFFECT THEIR USING HAS ON YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN. Drinkers and drug addicts don't quit because they ought to; it is an illness that they often struggle with for years. So if you're not willing to live that life for years or decades, you better limit the amount of harm or evil they allow on you and your emotions and your children and your finances.

Your boundaries can be found out by what you stand up for or stand against. I stand for Christ and love and I stand against the war in Iraq, abortion, rising gas prices, and the devil. Therefore, people who know me should know where I stand. Hypothetically speaking, if I am against abortion (and I am) and I get pregnant and my lover tells me "get rid of the baby; I'm not ready to be father," I should stand for my boundaries and say, "I won't do it. You can leave if you want, but I'm going to have this baby." People with poorly established boundaries will say, "Well, I really don't want to, but I will if you want me to." This kind of person will end up being resentful and bitter for probably their entire life if they go against their boundaries. Your lover won't be like, "I admire that she got rid of the baby for me. She's such a ride or die chick. He'll more likely think, "She'll do whatever I say." Subsequently, he'll begin to think of you as not an adult who chooses what she will do or who she will love; he'll see you as someone who just has love taken from them. If you don't make choices, then you'll have poor relationships because you are not an adult who exercises her choice muscle. You are a child in an adult's body who just lets people take bits and pieces of you. You don't love (which is a choice); you just let people tell you what to do and what to believe.

I'm not a drinker or partier. But when I was in college, I had poorly established boundaries, so when the temptation and the peer pressure arose, I lowered my standards/boundaries and did it even though it was against my beliefs. But when I got older, I took back my adult right to say no without fear of what my friends would say. If you say whatever people want you to say, they will undoubtedly lose respect for you because of your passivity (your pushoverability). Respected leaders make their own path and their own decisions.

So in summary:

  • People do not control your emotions, but you allow them to.
  • Use your choice muscle. It is perfectly fine to say "no" to your parents and subsequently other people in authority over your life.
  • You are not bossy or rude if you ask someone to do something for you without explaining why and asking if they mind every single time.
  • Put a limit on how much evil you will allow in your life. Confront people who are hurting you and give them an ultimatum without infringing upon their choice muscle and boundaries.
  • Adults utilize their authority over what God has placed under them.
  • Establish boundaries to create healthy relationships that will not be unnecessarily painful
  • Don't let people encourage you to lower your standards. They will think less of you and will think you are childlike.
  • You can choose to leave at any time. Staying and tolerating doesn't make you look stronger; it only makes you weaker and makes you look weaker too.

Remember that we are all under the authority of God and that we must respect him and honor our mother and father. But we are not told to let our mother and father control every aspect and decision of our life. It is now time for you to become an adult alongside your parents (if you are an adult). Your parents are peers of other adults in their workplace regardless of age. So now you can be a peer of your parents. However, be respectful. You can't always stay in the one-down position just because they birthed you. I pray that my adult readers will realize that they are adults and will act accordingly! I love you in Jesus' name!


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