Abuse and Boundaries

There are several issues in this “Dear Amy” letter that I find myself speaking to over and over again in the context of teaching “Boundaries” class to women in addiction recovery. When addiction (including co-dependent behavior) interrupts the maturing process in an individual, these issues can continue well into adulthood. At Bethel Village we found we had to implement guidelines that prohibit lending or borrowing clothes and other items from one another because of how some individuals lack sufficient boundaries to feel that they can say “no”, then feel resentful or used, and because others use people and bully them through such behaviors. Once they have the benefit of boundaries (either put in place by others, like BV’s guidelines, or after they have been incorporated into one’s own values and practices) such people-use/abuse is significantly reduced.

I spot-read the “Dear Amy” column a few times a week as I read the online News Herald. It is surprising how often the letter writers are asking how to stop someone from running rampant over them or someone else. Observe Amy’s final statement here: “People who use or abuse you (or others) don’t get to hang out with you.” There are situations that require individuals to put boundaries, space (either emotionally or physically) between themselves and others.

There will likely be reactions to this like, “But what about our responsibility as Christians to love one another?” Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is set boundaries on the behaviors that are injuring relationships….Christ said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Be merciful and forgiving, but instruct others by your behavior that community requires mutual respect for one another’s boundaries.

DEAR AMY: I am a 20-year-old in a transitional time in my life. As I get older, it has become apparent that some of the friendships I have held onto are toxic.
I come to you with two issues: drinking and money. Many people my age drink. The results can be frightening. Last weekend I was at a party where a guy “friend” of mine was being super-protective of a girl he had brought with him. He didn’t want her to talk to another guy. One guy didn’t like this and got angry. Then my “friend” punched a hole in the wall and threatened to kill himself in front of me and my boyfriend. We calmed him down, but I don’t want to be around this heavy drinking anymore.
I come from a financially stable and supportive family, whereas many of my friends do not. They sometimes respond by teasing, making angry remarks and mooching.
One of my friends asked to keep a pair of pants I had left at her house. When I said “no” and asked for them back, she “lost” them. Eventually, after I had gotten angry, I got my pants back, but then she hit me up for money.
How do I set up boundaries or lose these people as friends?
DEAR DISGUSTED: This is a fairly common issue at your age and stage. People mature at different rates. Some of your cohorts will settle down eventually, while others will continue to binge drink and act out and — figuratively or actually — punch holes in walls.
You cannot necessarily control or even influence these people. You can only distance yourself from people who deplete and/or frighten you and move toward people who share your more stable and mature way of life. People who use or abuse you (or others) don’t get to hang out with you.