Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

How Do I Erect Personal Boundaries? Control Your Own Drawbridge

I think we would all have fewer toxic friends if we knew how to control our drawbridge. In “The Inner Voice of Love,” spiritual author Henri Nouwen writes this:

personal boundaries.jpg

You must decide for yourself to whom and when you give access to your interior life. For years you have permitted others to walk in and out of your life according to THEIR needs and desires. Thus you were no longer master in your own house, and you felt increasingly used. So, too, you quickly became tired, irritated, angry, and resentful.


Think of a medieval castle surrounded by a moat. The drawbridge is the only access to the interior of the castle. The lord of the castle must have the power to decide when to draw the bridge and when to let it down. Without such power, he can become the victim of enemies, strangers, and wanderers. He will never feel at peace in his own castle.

It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close. Never allow yourself to become public property, where anyone can walk in and out at will. You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter or leave, but you will soon find yourself losing your soul.


When you claim for yourself the power over your drawbridge, you will discover new joy and peace in your heart and find yourself able to share that joy and peace with others.

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  • Elizabeth

    I bought “The Inner Voice of Love” about a year ago because I always got so much out of the quotes you selected from it and posted here on your wonderful blog.
    I regularly refer to this wonderfully edifying book. I consider it one of my core books that I read when I need to be grounded or when I need guidance.
    Your book “Beyond Blue” has also become one of my core books… I love reading all your “sanity breaks.”
    The quote you selected today is particularly empowering. I have been that person who for years permitted others to walk in and out of my life according to THEIR needs and desires.
    Thank you for all you do, Therese!

  • Jeanne

    Hi Therese,
    This is an excellent post. Making friends and keeping out the ones who don’t understand (and don’t want to understand) mental illness is one of the challenges we all face. Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite books, recently bought a new copy of the Inner Voice of Love, as I had given my old one to a friend who needed it. I am on my third reading of Beyond Blue. It is so precious to me that I wouldn’t think about loaning it, but I did buy an extra copy for my NAMI affiliate. I am really exciting about presenting it to my NAMI friends next Tuesday night. You are doing a world of good by your book and your blogs. God bless you for helping all of us.

  • Robert Helfman

    This post is perfectly apropos to a situation I have found myself in, and has the perfect advice on how to deal with it. Wonderful post, good book, inspired author. Only one caeat: The idea of losing your soul is terrifying. I have experienced that feeling, and all I can say is, UP WITH THE DRAWBRIDGE.
    Later, one may venture out into the world with the grace of God and angels in attendance.

  • Myfanwy

    When people don’t understand mental ill-health it is good to look at why they think so negatively. If these people want to change they will. There are many social and cultural barriers. I know people who just wash their hands of it (don’t want to know). We all do this is one way or another. How to get through, how to speak the speak that they will hear without getting offside, now that is the trick.

  • Myfanwy

    to add further…. why should we try to break through barriers with people who don’t want to know? We should if we want to. We don’t have to make it our mission to deal with other peoples prejudice. What comes out of suffering from mental ill-health is a greater awareness of the flaws of humanity within the self and within others. Where we were safe in our little bubbles the bubble is no longer there.
    I do want the best of care for all sufferers of mental ill-health. I also want the diagnosis of such to not be in anyway demoralizing for we are strong to survive episodes. We are braver than those who have never suffered but run in fear. We have the strength to elay our fears and the fear of others.

  • Myfanwy

    A great ‘drawbridge’ would be to pat yourself on the back for how strong you are in the face of adversity.

  • Myfanwy

    Allay replaced the word ‘elay’ I am not known for my spelling.

  • Lisa

    I’ve just recently begun (meaning yesterday) to close my drawbridge and it feels great! At first I felt guilty for needing time to myself and not wanting to be with a friend but now I feel empowered because I was able to say, “No, I don’t want to come over and I don’t want you to come over. I’d rather be by myself today.” Sometimes that’s necessary so we don’t get caught up in fulfilling everyone else’s needs and forgetting our own.

  • Jill

    That article comes right on time for me. I have closed my drawbridge and felt guilty about it. I have people who always want access to me, but they are people who just want me to listen to their problems along with the most menial details of their lives and are not very interested in mine. It is alright that I do not open my drawbridge in those cases. I will open it where it is convenient, and mutually fulfilling.

  • Rachel

    I have had to draw my bridge on my son and his significant other. I got so tired of them yanking my chain. They have the “I hate you, don’t leave me” attitude. They are not happy without chaos. They both came from very dysfunctional upbringings. Yes, that includes how I raised or didn’t raise my son. He is now 34 years and my inability to understand child development and how not to enable him has reared its ugly head. To point blame is not healthy and I take full responsibility if that is what they need. It is the behaviors that cause a breakup in our relationship and not a diagnosis of a mental illness. However I do acknowledge that I have depression and anxiety which I am treated for. It is lonely without him, but too stressful with him and his significant other which is also the mother of my third grandchild. He holds the ability to lower the bridge but has not yet discovered it. Out of the three grandchildren he has given me, only one mother provides the means for me to see the middle child. I wait patiently to be able to see the other two.

  • Patricia – Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker

    Setting boundaries in the beginning is so frightening and feels so unnatural because I grew up in a home with incest and without boundaries of any kind. I hid behind walls which had to be removed before I could have boundaries. Walls are not boundaries. They keep out others but they keep me in isolation behind the walls. I took down the walls a few bricks at a time. When I found out that didn’t hurt then I removed more bricks until the walls no longer existed.
    What I found was that the world was so much bigger and brighter than I thought. I could make it into a safe place. Boundaries give me freedom and excitement from exploring this new world.

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