The Most Common Rationalizations for Poor Boundaries

It’s easy to avoid dealing with a boundary problem by rationalizing, “My over-committed lifestyle won’t last forever. Besides, things are going okay for me and my family. I’ll slow down next month.” Or the ever-popular: “Negative things won’t happen to me, because I’m doing the best I can with long work hours and difficult people. Somehow, God will protect me and my family from my non-stop lifestyle.”

Although aware that boundary issues are causing appalling problems, most men and women persist in their time-use struggles—unwilling or afraid to make necessary changes—hoping that someday, somehow, things will “work out.”

This kind of reasoning is unrealistic. It denies past failures and ignores facts. This is why most 12-step groups call this warped perception “stinking thinking.” Others refer to this twisted rationalizing as “insanity”—the act of “doing the same thing over and over, and each time expecting different results.”

The “My Job Requires Full Dedication” Fallacy

Vast numbers of people justify their boundary collapses by repeating the mantra: “My job requires full dedication. I must work extra-long hours and do time-­consuming things to get ahead, or even to survive.”

Last year, I came across a cartoon that showed a psychologist sitting next to his patient, who was slouched on the counseling couch. He had headphones over one ear and a computer on his lap as he busily listened to messages and typed at the same time. The psychologist asked, “When did you first suspect you were a workaholic?” Ouch—that could have described me for over twenty years!

The Desire to Keep Everyone Happy

Whether in work or personal life, nearly everyone wants to be liked and respected, and some people go to great lengths to gain other people’s esteem.

I know of one senior female executive from a large, long-established business who decided to organize a birthday party for every employee in her region, the anniversaries of all employees who celebrated fifty-year anniversaries, and attend all wedding and funeral receptions.

A huge chunk of her time was soon being taken up by these functions, leaving much less time for planning, board meetings, and key committees, not to mention her own family’s activities. Obviously, she needed to review her priorities and set boundaries on the use of her time.

The Temptation to Work on Other Things

For more than ten years, I’ve been working on several major book projects. It’s been an ongoing battle to find time to write—nearly every week I’ve encountered enticing opportunities to work on other ventures, many of them worthy causes. Whenever I wandered off course to undertake a new project, I found that it siphoned off valuable time from my main endeavor: writing.

There will always be small and large temptations to divert your time and energy away from your important priorities. These time-robbers will never stop nibbling at your heels—you can count on it. So, remember to tell yourself, frequently:

  • I can’t do everything.
  • I can never please everyone.
  • There will always be unfinished tasks.

Like you, I know plenty of top-notch time management techniques and Bible verses. These were helpful in managing my priorities and my time, but they always fell short, at least until I took deliberate steps to set and maintain boundaries.

While I’ve come a long way, it’s still a wrestling match. A phrase from Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” has helped me in my effort:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Frost’s words kept me on target to publish my first book, Bipolar Disorder: Rebuilding Your Life, and to finish a dozen more books since then.

Note: This is an excerpt from my book Boundary Setting: A Practical Guide. To learn more, please click here.

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Hi, I'm Jim. I've been through the emotional wringer. I've been a successful pastor and leader and a loving father, but I've also been suicidally depressed. I'll teach you the techniques I used to heal myself, and give you the tools to reclaim your life and move forward!

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