Learning to live with healthy personal boundaries is a spiritual journey that has changed my relationship with God, myself, my loved ones and friends.
I am easily distracted and when I see a need or someone struggling, I commission myself to rescue that person. Without thinking I step outside my personal boundaries to help the individual. I have had as many as five people on my “to save” list and my husband just shakes his head and quips, “off to save the world again?”
What I did not understand is that when I did this I was pushing beyond my own personal boundaries which affected my health and emotional reserves which were often riding on zero. My tank was empty and it would literally wipe me out.
The problem was that I was trying to save people who were not my responsibility to save.
The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that each of us has boundaries in terms of ministry and we are not to go beyond these borders:
13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. (2 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)
Over the years this verse has always caught my attention and I understood there needs to be healthy boundaries in the Kingdom of God. Boundaries that keep us from stepping into another person’s spiritual territory where their giftings were operating. Stepping outside our calling to meet the need’s of others was not acceptable according to this verse.
When we function within healthy and realistic boundaries we act in faith and allow the Holy Spirit to draw people to us, within our boundaries.
But often we are driven by what I like to call the “martyr syndrome” where we are willing to step across our personal boundaries, and push our limits beyond that which God desires for us. This leads to burnout and often a crash.
Over-functioning means that we are constantly pushing beyond the healthy limits meant to keep us on track and on purpose in our lives. Unfortunately, over-functioning turns into co-dependency as we become over-involved in the wants, needs, desires, decisions and drama of others.
So what drives the Martyr Syndrome? From my personal experience, we over-give because we are often seeking approval from others. We have this deep inner need and craving for approval.
It was Christ’s mission to save the world and He made the ultimate sacrifice. My personal mission is to operate within the boundaries and parameters that God has set for my life and family. God has not called me to save the world.
So if you are suffering from the “Martyr Syndrome”, what steps can you take to overcome this tendency:
- Ask, “What am I gaining from this?” You need to be honest with yourself as often these interactions make us feel important. If this is the reason, then you have the syndrome.
- Are you being affected by how you were raised? Did your parents function this way? Was there neglect, emotional or physical abuse or addictive behavior in your family? Or did you grow up in an authoritarian family structure. Were you expected to be perfect all the time?
- Are you mothering adults? We can over-involve ourselves even when our intentions are good. We feel overly responsible for other people’s happiness. We may even think we are protecting them from the consequences of their actions. But in fact we are preventing them from learning the consequences of failure and taking responsibility for their lives.
As one author said, “you don’t have to end the relationship but you can alter your 50% of the relationship dance.”
Understand that you are valuable now to the Kingdom of God without being a martyr. You don’t have to work yourself to death solving other people’s problems.
It’s time to be honest with ourselves and ask “what do I really want?” Answering this question truthfully helped me lean into my giftings and discover those things that truly fulfill me and give me a sense of purpose.
Asking yourself what you want and what you don’t will tip the scales in your favor and enable you to live on purpose.