Barriers vs Boundaries

With an addiction, there are things we are trying to avoid.  And for many of those bad things we try to employ either a Barrier or a Boundary.

Let me discuss each of those two approaches.


A barrier is like a brick wall. Something keeping you from accessing what’s on the other side.  In our case it might be a filter on our computer, laptop, or smartphone. Do filters work?  Yes and no.  They are not perfect but they are necessary in some situations.  Like on a home computer with children around.  You don’t want them to accidentally run into stuff they shouldn’t be exposed to.

But these filters probably only work with young children, not with tech-savvy teens or adults. The problem with a barrier or filter is that our natural man rebels against barriers. You already know by your own experience that when you have a barrier in your way, at some point, you will test that barrier to see if you can get around it. And invariably you will.

I was attending a non-ARP recovery group a couple of years ago and one guy said. “I put a filter on my PC but the other day it quit working, so I got access to pornography. It was the filter’s fault!

Another guy in that same group said, “My roommate lets me use his laptop.  He knows I have an addiction so he put a filter on it.  But he turns it off when he is using the laptop.  The other day he forgot to turn the filter back on. So I got access and acted out. It was my roommate's fault!

About a year ago, I asked my bishop to lock down my smart phone, so I couldn’t access the internet. We used a locking program and he locked it down using a pattern that he chose.  However, after several weeks, I became “curious.”  So I tried entering a pattern.  The first pattern I entered worked and unlocked my phone.  So in this case, “It was my bishop’s fault!”  ……  NOT!

Do you see a problem and a pattern here?  I do.  Barriers just don’t work all that well. And they remove responsibility from us, to maintain our own sobriety, and put that responsibility on outside forces.

So am I saying let’s open up the floodgates?  No, not at all.  In fact, some barriers are necessary, like removing all internet access from our home or apartment for a period of time.  Please see my post regarding “TheLaw of Moses


Barriers are external walls.  Boundaries, however, are internal decisions or promises we make to ourselves and others.

Here are some examples of possible boundaries:
  • I will not take an internet-enabled device into the bathroom or bedroom
  • I will not use a computer at school if no one else in the room can see my screen
  • I will not go to Seven Peaks
  • I will not watch anything on YouTube without another person watching it with meOr better yet, I will not access YouTube
  • I will not watch television alone
  • I will not have cable TV in my home
  • I will not stay up at night past x:xx.
  • I will not drive down a certain street or go to a particular location
  • I will not use Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook if they have ever been a problem
  • I will not test out someone else’s filter on their device
  • And the list goes on and on……
For some strange reason, these boundaries came easily to my mind….

The advantage of a boundary, is that it's internal, it comes from the heart. It is not imposed by someone else. However, it's only as good as our commitment. 

So for a boundary to really work we need to:
  1. Write it down, so we and others can read it.  
  2. Share it with Heavenly Father.  
  3. Share it with at least one other human being.  And commit that we will confess within 48 hours if we ever break that boundary.
If we don’t do those things, it will only be a “wish” not a real boundary.

I love this quote from Karl G. Maeser, talking about barriers and boundaries:

“Place me behind prison walls [a barrier] - walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground.  There is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape.

But stand me on that floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor [a boundary] never to cross it.  Can I get out of that circle?  No. Never. I’d die first.”

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I like the difference you draw between these two. With boundaries, something I've found helps me is to include a specific "I will not..." and a repercussion for breaking it (as you point out), but also getting in the habit of calling or texting a support buddy if I'm even thinking about breaking it. There's always something that's throwing me off and I'm trying to turn to whatever is on the other side of the boundary to numb out or avoid--reaching out helps me figure out what I'm running from and deal with that underlying thing. Thanks for your post!