Boundaries Without Borders

No doubt you are familiar with the humanitarian organization, “Doctors Without Borders,” which operates independently throughout the world, responding to crisis situations, without political, military, or religious agendas. We esteem them for being able to cross geographical, cultural, and political boundaries to provide medical services to populations in crisis. Oftentimes, the work of “Christian Cross-Cultural Workers” (CCCW) is without “borders” as we are stretched and called on to engage in a myriad of tasks and relationships on any given day. However, in our personal and professional lives, living without “borders” …or shall we say, without boundaries or margins… can be detrimental to our effectiveness, as well as to our relationships, and our physical/mental/spiritual health.

Recently, I took my car to one of those “quick oil change” businesses, for a… well… quick oil change! While I was waiting, I picked up a copy of “Entrepreneur” magazine and was drawn to an article with amazing application for CCCW’s. You may be wondering what CCCW’s have in common with entrepreneurs… Well, I would suggest that much of the work of the CCCW is in fact, “entrepreneurial” in nature; in that you often work alone and at some risk. The article was entitled,Don’t Melt Down;” the risks and responses to overwork and burnout. The author suggested the simple antidote to overwork and avoiding burnout is “boundaries!”  (I subsequently bought the magazine, but you can read the article for free by clicking the title link!)

 In their classic volume, “Boundaries,” Drs. Cloud & Townsend categorize boundary problems as:            

  • Compliants: Saying “Yes” to the bad
  • Avoidants: Saying “No” to the good
  • Controllers: Not respecting others’ boundaries
  • Nonresponsives: Not hearing the needs of others

 They make a further distinction between functional (those relating to one’s ability to complete a task, project, or job), and relational boundary issues (ability to be honest and practice healthy assertiveness with others).

 In chapter 6, the authors engage in some boundaries myth-busting by outlining the common boundary myths:

  1. If I set boundaries, I’m being selfish
  2. Boundaries are a sign of disobedience
  3. If I begin setting boundaries, I will be hurt by others
  4. If I set boundaries, I will hurt others
  5. Boundaries mean that I am angry
  6. When others set boundaries, it injures me
  7. Boundaries cause feelings of guilt
  8. Boundaries are permanent, and I’m afraid of burning my bridges

 In Leaving It at the Office: A Guide to Psychotherapist Self-Care,” (2007) the authors suggest that trying to “avoid burnout” is negative and presents an avoidant, disease-focused orientation. They offer the admonition that it is far more productive to practice and promote self-care and wellness. (You may again be wondering why I am quoting a book for psychotherapists. Well, both psychotherapy and and the work of CCCW’s operate in the realm of “care-giver.”)

 Do you see yourself in one of the “boundary problems” categories above? Have you given in to one or more of the “myths” of boundaries? Whether you find yourself in the midst of needing to “avoid burnout” or are proactively practicing healthy self-care; I encourage you to reflect and consider the real benefits of healthy boundaries. (PS: Take it from one who has struggled with boundaries recently… which is why this edition of “New Mission Wellness” has been so long in coming!) I invite your comments. –tom


Cloud, H. & Townsend, J. (1992). Boundaries: When to say yes, how to say no, to take control of your life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Norcross, J.C. & Guy, Jr., J.D. (2007).Leaving it at the office: A guide to psychotherapist self-care. New York: Guilford Press.

Robinson, J. (2011). Don’t Meltdown. Retrieved from:


About thgray

licensed clinical professional counselor; life/wellness coach; distance counselor/coach; international speaker, trainer
This entry was posted in Self-Care and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Boundaries Without Borders

  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for the great post, Tom. I’m planning on reading the Entrepreneur article as soon as I can get some time for it. (I need this post!)

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