Count on it — Abusers Will Always Violate a Boundary
Abusers will ALWAYS chafe at boundaries. They may abide by those limits for a time, but only because they have no choice. And the first time they see some kind of opening that, in their thinking, justifies them crossing the line, off they go.
Here is a narrative from the Old Testament which illustrates this. The story is about how King Solomon set boundaries on Shimei. Shimei was a man from the house of Saul who had repeatedly cursed (verbally abused) and thrown stones at King David when David was fleeing Jerusalem after Absalom’s mutiny (2 Samuel 16:5-8).
We’ll pick up the story from where Solomon, David’s son, has been made king. Solomon knew how Shimei had cursed and abused King David, and he set very clear boundaries on Shimei’s conduct. The boundaries Solomon set were merciful and generous: they would have allowed Shimei to live and prosper, so long as he kept within the rules.
1 Kings 2:36-46 Then the king [Solomon] sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” And Shimei said to the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.
But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, “Behold, your servants are in Gath,” Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath.
And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the LORD and solemnly warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘What you say is good; I will obey.’ Why then have you not kept your oath to the LORD and the commandment with which I commanded you?”
The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the LORD will bring back your harm on your own head. But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the LORD forever.”
Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died. So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.
We do not know all of the nuances and details of this account. We are not told specifically what was in Shimei’s mind when he disobeyed the king and left Jerusalem. But we can, I conclude, safely imply that this evil man craved power and control for himself. Was he only going to Gath to retrieve his runaway servants? Or could he have had it in his mind to make some political contacts there to his advantage and to the detriment of Solomon’s kingdom? You can be sure he was up to no good.
Solomon and King David had been more than gracious to this wicked man. David did not put him to death, as he had every right to do. Solomon gave him a kind of ‘city of refuge’ in limiting him to Jerusalem (keep your enemies close?). A clear boundary was set. He could live and prosper — but only within the confines of Jerusalem. If he broke that boundary, he did so to his own death and he would have no one to blame but himself.
“Many days” elapse. Boundaries are kept. But sure enough the day came when the typical mindset of this kind of wicked man kicked in. His servants took off for Gath. Surely he had every right to go retrieve what was his. No one could deny him that. Not even the king. So off he goes.
You can count on the fact that abusers will ALWAYS chafe at boundaries. They may abide by those limits for a time, but only because they have no choice. And the first time they see some kind of opening that, in their thinking, justifies them crossing the line, off they go. So it was with Shimei and so it is with his kind.
An example of this in the local church (a composite of cases Jeff Crippen has witnessed)
Jack was an elder in a local church. Jack secretly chafed at any hint of acclaim for someone besides himself. So Jack was always at work behind the scenes alienating people from others and working to win their hearts for himself. He rarely missed an opportunity to drop a critical word, or to run to meet some “need” a person had, or to “disciple” someone. Over a long period of time, the pastor and other elders recognized what was happening (and it took a long time to see it). Jack was more than just “a brother who can be rather difficult at times to deal with.” No, Jack in fact was by nature a man who craved power and control for himself.
Jack was removed from his office as elder. Boundaries were drawn. He was not expelled from the church, but he was told that he was no longer to function as an elder. Everyone hoped for a humbling, but it was not to be.
Now, most people in such circumstances would either repent of their sin or they would depart from the church and seek new territory to work their evil. Not Jack. Jack stayed. And eventually, after some time passed, Jack resumed his evil — for a time unknown to the other elders. Jack defied the boundaries and resumed his pattern of working to win people to himself, much like Absalom at the gates of the city.
This time, Jack was expelled from the church. Shimei, you see.
Abusers violate boundaries. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.
Abusers will always violate boundaries. Abusers hate the word “no.” Limits are odious to them. This is one of the chief reasons we must set boundaries — very clear boundaries — with them. Because it is inevitable that they will cross the line and have some “logical” reason for doing so. Under his breath Shimei was saying: “Solomon, you were unreasonable with me. It’s your fault. How can anyone be expected to stay in one place? Besides, it wasn’t my fault that my servants ran off. The law gives me the right to go after what is mine.”
You, dear reader, have heard these lines before. “Not my fault. Your fault.”
So… set the boundaries, but don’t expect the abuser to keep them. Label the terms of the boundaries very, very clearly. Then, having done all of that, know for certain the boundary is going to be broken. And pre-determine in your own mind what action you will take if the boundaries are broken. Mentally rehearse (imagine yourself) taking the action you will take if the boundaries are broken. Prepare yourself, so that if and when it happens you can be confident that you are only doing what is just and right, because the well-defined boundary has been violated.