Boundaries and Stress Relief

Filed in ReligionTags: Christianity, Devotions

At this weekend's church service, the pastor started a new series on stress relief. This week's message was titled "Breathing Room" and focused on identifying, establishing, and maintaining healthy boundaries in our relationships. The message borrowed heavily from Cloud and Townsend's Boundaries series, including some video messages available on their website.

The message covered a lot of ground, but initially addressed the concept of boundaries and having a compliant or controlling nature - that is, those who have a compliant nature tend to allow their boundaries to be tresspassed by others and those who have a controlling nature tend to tresspass others' boundaries. As the pastor began discussing these concepts, I was reminded of Steven Covey's principle of our Circles of Influence Concern. I thought that concept analogous to what the pastor was explaining, with influence and concern on one hand, and responsibility and authority on the other.

Here's what I mean:

Each one of us has some amount of responsibility, which can be envisioned much like Covey's Circle of Concern. For this example, we can treat this Circle of Responsibility as a fixed area - that is to say, at any given point in time, our area or amount of responsibility is a fixed, or unchanging, quantity.

Each of us also exerts some amount of authority, which can be envisioned much like Covey's Circle of Influence. Unlike our Circle of Responsibility, our Circle of Authority is variable. We choose the extent to which we exert our authority.

Consider the following diagrams:

Authority-Responsibility Balance Diagrams

  • The first diagram represents balanced boundaries: the circles of responsibility and authority encompass the same area. Such a person exerts his authority commensurately with his area of responsibility.
  • The second diagram represents compliant character: the circle of authority encompasses a lesser area than the circle of responsibility. Such a person allows others to exert their authority within his own area of responsibility.
  • The third diagram represents controlling character: the circle of authority encompasses a greater area than the circle of responsibility. Such a person exerts his authority beyond his own area of responsibility and into others' areas of responsibility.

It is important to realize that these boundaries do not exist in a vacuum. A controlling character cannot exert authority outside of his area of responsibility in the absence of a compliant character into whose area of responsibility he can exert that authority - and vice versa. In other words, these concepts are meaningless outside of the context of relationship. Likewise, it is the relationship between two people that experiences stress as a result of such a trespass of boundaries:

Relational Stress Caused by Boundary Trespass

The stress exists in the overlap of the controlling character's authority and the compliant character's area of responsibility.

Herein lies the point, for those experiencing stress induced by lack of healthy relational boundaries: identify either compliant or controlling character - or both - in your relationships, and then make the necessary changes to ensure that you are exerting your authority in balance with your responsibility.

As Pastor Ron emphasized in the sermon this morning, learning to exert authority is often as simple as learning when to say "yes" and when to say "no" with respect to the expenditure of your time, effort, and resources. Discipline yourself to establish healthy boundaries in your relationships by balancing your area of responsibility with the exertion of your authority, and you will find that those relationships will be come much less stressful, and much healthier themselves.


Comments (Comments are closed)

3 Responses to “Boundaries and Stress Relief”
  1. Mel says:

    Chip, I love the Boundaries book!!! It is so important for Christians to get that concept and I think it’s often overlooked by those who wish to love their neighbor as themselves! Another good read by the author is Toxic Faith if you haven’t read it yet!

  2. Stephanie says:

    You both can help me as I deal with these issues. I am trying to get healthier and happier by setting strong boundaries- but I could always use moral support! (Like the typical compliant that I am!)

  3. Chip Bennett says:

    Mel, I need to add both books to our library. I’ve only ever read the Boundaries in Dating book.

    Steph, you nailed the point: unhealthy boundaries lead to unhealthy relationships – and unhealthy relationships are detrimental to our own health and happiness. I am blessed, because I believe that you and I balance each other well!