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Book Report Boundaries: When To Say Yes, When To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992
The authors present the book in three parts: What are Boundaries?, Boundary Conflicts, and Developing Healthy Boundaries.
What are Boundaries?
A boundary is a personal property line that we establish to define who we are, what we do, and for what we are responsible. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Physical boundaries help us determine who is allowed to touch us and when they may touch us. Mental boundaries help us know that we are free to think our own thoughts , have our own feelings, and express our own opinions. Emotional boundaries help us express our own emotions and feelings — not those of others. Spiritual boundaries help us understand what is God’s will and what is our own will.
The book begins with a look at a day with Sherrie, a woman whose life was boundaryless. Sherrie catered to her children’s every whim. She could never say, “No,” to her mother who had not adjusted to becoming a widow and wanted to spend endless hours visiting with Sherrie. Sherrie’s mother always managed to make her feel like a guilty little girl. Sherrie’s girlfriend, who was unmarried, always dumped her “boyfriend” problems on her. Sherrie’s co-worker always managed to dump part of his work on her. He knew she was dependable, faithful, and reliable, and would always say all of this while asking her to do his work. A committee leader from Sherrie’s church called for her to work on a special committee, saying this is what is meant being a living sacrifice. Her husband ignored her, burring himself in front of the TV most evenings. Sherrie resented the imbalance in all of her relationships, but she would immediately feel guilty.
Over the years Sherrie had noticed a shift in the marriage relationship. Her husband had become sarcastic, and she could see the lack of respect for her in his eyes. He began to demand that she always do things his way, and his temper would flare. She realized her marriage was not a team effort anymore. It was more like a parent-child relationship with her being the child. Sherrie realized he was a controlling person, but she blamed herself for even that! She tried “loving him out of his anger.” She learned to read his emotions, temper, body language, and speech. She was aware of his moods and became sensitive to things that would set him off. If she was quiet and agreeable, things would go well for a while. If she stated her preferences, things would flare up again. After Sherrie realized she was crossing a line, she would invoke Stage II, which was “Loving Him,” coming around to his point of view (but not really). She would quietly hold her peace or began apologizing. Stage III, “Loving Him,” meant doing special things for him to show sincerity, dressing attractively at home, and cooking his favorite meals several times a week. (After all, the Bible talked about being this kind of wife.) This would all work for a while, but it never lasted. Her husband began to stay angry longer which isolated her from him. When Sherrie was finally honest with herself, she realized that she felt nothing for her husband but resentment and fear.
A day in Sherrie’s life could very well have been a day in MY life!
So What is the Problem?
Sherrie tries to be a good wife, mother, employee, friend and Christian. Trying harder does not work. Being nice out of fear does not work. Taking responsibility for other does not work. Sherrie had difficulty knowing for what things to take responsibility. She did not know what was her job and what was not her job. There were no boundaries.
Just as homeowners set physical boundary lines around their property, we have to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries to help distinguish our responsibility from others. A lot of Christians struggle with the question, “When is it Biblically right to set limits?”
What Do Boundaries Look Like?
Boundaries are intangible. They can be invisible property lines, fences, walls, or hedges. The owner within these boundaries is responsible. The non-owner is not responsible. Spiritual boundaries are just as real as physical boundaries.
Boundaries define your soul and help you guard it and maintain it (p 29). We can be free from controlling, manipulating people when we know and understand for what we own and take responsibility. Our choices and options are limited without proper boundaries.
We are responsible to other people and for ourselves. The Bible tells us to “bear one another’s burdens and in so doing we fulfill the law of Christ.” However, sometimes we take this too far. Others have burdens that they must bear themselves and not put off on someone else. It is Okay to set limits. God says who He is and who He is not, what He will do and what He will not do, what He likes and what He does not like, what He will allow and what He will not allow.. We can do the same.
Examples of Boundaries:
Words The most important boundary-setting word is “No.” It lets others know that we are apart from them and that we are in control of ourselves.
Truth Knowing the truth about God and ourselves helps us define ourselves in relation to God. Honesty about who you are gives you the biblical value of integrity, or oneness (p. 35).
Geographical distance Sometimes we have to remove ourselves from a situation or place to set limits. The Bible urges us to separate from those who continue to hurt us and to create a safe place for ourselves. Removing yourself from the situation will also cause the one who is left behind to experience a loss of fellowship that may lead to changed behavior (Matt. 18:17-18; I Corinthians 5:11-13) (p. 36).
Time By taking time to get away, we can take back ownership of our lives and define or redefine our boundaries.
Emotional distance. Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe. People who have been in abusive relationships need to find a safe place to begin to “thaw out” emotionally. Sometimes in abusive marriages, the abused spouse needs to keep emotional distance until the abusive partner begins to face his or her problems and become trustworthy (p. 36).
What is Within our Boundaries?
Our attitudes are our orientation toward others, God, life, relationships and so on. Beliefs are what we accept as true. Our attitudes and convictions fall within our own property line. We learn attitudes early in our lives, and we have to know that they are our own and not those of someone else.
Behaviors, choices, values are within our own property lines. Although we cannot set limits on others, we can set limits on what we can tolerate. We cannot change others, but we can do something about ourselves.
People who do not respect other peoples’ boundaries also have boundary problems. Boundary conflicts are not limited to those who cannot say no.
Compliants pretend a lot and will do anything for peace, companionship, or love. Some people cannot say no to things that they know are not right. This causes a boundary conflict called compliance. Avoidants are those who cannot ask for help or recognize they have a problem. They avoid the problem. Controllers are people who cannot hear the word, “No.” They project their responsibility for their lives onto others. They use various kinds of control to make others carry their load. There are two types of controllers: Aggressive and Manipulative. Aggressive controllers run over other people and may be verbally and/or physically abusive. They try to change other people to do things their way or think the way they do. Manipulative controllers talk you into doing things their way or saying yes. They use guilt to get other to do or see things their way. Nonresponsives are those who refuse to hear the needs of others.
How Boundaries are Developed
Boundaries are not inherited – they are built. Boundary development is an ongoing process, but the most crucial stage is in early childhood development, when our character is formed. When we are not secure that we are loved, we make bad choices.
This chapter discusses the specific phases of boundary development of infants and children in early parental interactions. The phases are bonding, separation and individuation, hatching practicing, and rapprochement.
Bonding occurs when the mother responds to the child’s needs, i.e., closeness, holding, food, etc. As the mother takes care of the child, the child develops an emotional picture of a loving mother always being there for him. The baby does not know that he is separate from his mother. He believes that he and his mother are the same. This is called symbiosis. This is why the child panics and cries when his mother is not around. The goal of the mother being around the baby is a state called emotional object constancy. The child has an internal sense of belonging and safety.
Separation and Individuation – Separation refers to the child’s need to see himself as distinct from his mother. Individuation is the identity the child develops while he is separating from the mother.
Hatching is a time of exploration, touching tasting and feeling new things. Children at this stage are still dependent on the mother but now are not so concerned with closeness with her. He feels safe and begins to task risks away from his mother.
In the Practicing phase, the child is trying to leave the mother. This phase provides the child with energy and drive to become an individual.
In the Rapprochement, phase, the child comes back to reality. He realizes that he cannot do everything alone and that he still needs his mother for some things. However, the child still feels his separate self.
Boundary conflicts occur in the crucial first few years of our lives. They could happen in any or all of the phases, separation-individuation, hatching, practicing or rapprochement. The earlier the boundary injury occurs, the deeper the boundary problems may be. Developing children need to know that their boundaries will be honored or they may withdraw from boundaries. Hostility against boundaries, overcontrol, lack of limits, inconsistent limits and trauma can cause boundary injury. Our own character traits contribute to our boundary issues. One’s own sinfulness contributes to boundary development.
Ten Laws of Boundaries
Sowing and Reaping You reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (Gal. 6:7-8 NRSV) (p. 84)
Sometimes people do not reap what they sow, because other people reap the consequences for them. The person who always does the reaping for someone else is a codependent and is boundaryless. Establishing boundaries helps codependent people stop interrupting the laws of sowing and reaping.
Responsibility This law includes loving others. This is the entire law for Christians (Gal. 5:13-14). Jesus says, “Love each other as I have loved you:
(John 15:12). If we do not love others, we are not taking full responsibility for ourselves and have disowned our hearts. (p. 86). We can only love one another, we cannot be one another. Everyone is responsible for himself.
Power Until we admit the truth to ourselves about ourselves, we are powerless. We do not have the power in and of ourselves to overcome our weaknesses. We do have the power to submit ourselves to God. We have the power to change our own selves, and to confess our own sins, and repent. Boundaries help us understand what we do have power over. We do not have power over others, and we cannot change others.
Respect We must respect the boundaries of others without being judgmental. If we respect other boundaries, they will respect our boundaries.
Motivation We must examine what motivates us to do what we do. Are we motivated out of fear of loss of love or abandonment, fear of other people’s anger, or fear of loneliness?
Evaluation We should evaluate the effects of setting boundaries and be responsible to the other person. This does not mean that we should avoid setting boundaries for fear of hurting or upsetting someone.
Proactivity Reaction phases are necessary but not sufficient for the establishment of boundaries. Emotionally, the reactive stance brings diminishing returns. You must react to find your own boundaries, but having found them, you must “not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:13, 15) (p. 95-96).
After reacting, one can begin to establish proactive boundaries, showing for what you stand, what you like and do not like, what you will do or will not do.
Envy The problem with envy is that it focuses outside of our boundaries and onto others. When we focus on what other people have or have accomplished, we neglect our responsibilities.
Activity We cannot become passive and inactive. The sin that God rebukes is not trying and failing, but failing to try.
Exposure Boundaries must be made visible to others and communicated to them in relationship. Boundary problems occur because of relational fears.
Dispelling Common Boundary Myths
Setting boundaries is not being selfish. Appropriate boundaries increase our ability to care about others. A lack of boundaries is a sign of disobedience. We must let others know what we stand for. Being Christians, we must let others know that we stand for Christ. When we begin to set boundaries, others will become angry or hurt. However, their anger and hurt are not our responsibility. Setting boundaries does not mean that we are angry. Boundaries can be changed or adjusted. We have the right to change our minds whenever we want.
The second part of the book deals with Boundaries and Your Family, Friends, Spouse, Children, Work, Self, and God. I will review Boundaries and Spouse and Boundaries and God because these are the two areas that I need most to develop and understand.
A marriage mirrors the relationship that Christ has with his bride, the Church. Christ has responsibilities and the Church has responsibilities. When a husband and wife become one, they do not lose their individual identities. Each participates in the relationship, and each has his or her own life (p. 150).
Boundaries can become confused in the elements of the personhood – the elements of the soul that each person possesses and can choose to share with someone else (p. 151). Problems arise when one person crosses the line and tries to control the other person’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, behaviors, values, and choices. These are things that only the individual can control. When one tries to control these things, he is violating the other person’s boundaries (although one may not have established clear boundaries). Our relationship with Christ is based on freedom. Christ does not force us to love Him, trust Him, or follow Him.
Each of us is to take responsibility for our own feelings and desires. Problems arise when we make someone else responsible for these feelings and desires. We need to set limits on what we can give. When one spouse does all the giving, resentment builds.
When the laws of sowing and reaping are applied to marriage, we can see that sometimes one spouse may be out of control and may not suffer the consequences of his behavior. (The
husband yells at his wife and she tries to be more loving. We can refer to “Sherrie” in the beginning of this paper or to my own marital situation.) Natural consequences are needed to resolve this situation. The out of control spouse should be told that his behavior will no longer be tolerated without consequences.
The law of responsibility shows us that taking responsibility for someone’s anger, pouting, and disappointments by giving in to that person’s demands or controlling behavior destroys love in a marriage. Instead of giving in to this kind of behavior, we should show responsibility by confronting it.
To execute the law of power, we use the power that we ourselves have. Before setting boundaries we try to tell the other person how to behave. After establishing boundaries, we tell the other person what we will do if they continue a certain behavior. For example, “You can continue to yell at me if you like, but I will not stay in the room and subject myself to this type of behavior.”
Considering the law of evaluating, the pain that boundary setting may cause others demands that we be lovingly responsible to the other person. Those who mean well will accept our boundaries and act responsibly toward them. Those who are controlling and self-centered will react angrily (p. 158). Boundary setting always deals with self – not the other person.”
The law of exposure in marriage shows us that boundaries should be communicated first verbally and then with actions. Boundaries should be clear and unapologetic.
Passive boundaries such as withdrawal, triangulation, pouting and passive aggressive behavior, are destructive to a relationship.
Some would say that when a wife sets boundaries she is not being a biblically submissive wife. When a wife begins to set boundaries, the immature behavior of the husband is even more evident. The Bible talks about the husband and wife submitting themselves to one another (Eph. 5:21). In a good marriage, both spouses carry equal loads of responsibility, togetherness and separateness. They both do things on their own and together. There is a balance created by mutual balance. To resolve problems both spouses must agree that there is a problem, identify the specific boundary problem, find the origin of the conflict, establish new boundaries, and forgive. Spouses have to decide what their limits are and what consequences will result. Loving one another must be done with freedom and not with boundaryless compliance.
God allows us to make choices. He also gives the consequences of our choices. God desires truth in our “inner parts” (Ps. 51:6). He does not want us to be passive in our relationship with Him. Boundaries are inherent in any relationship God has created, for they define the two parties who are loving each other. Boundaries help us to be the best we can be – in God’s image. They let us see God as He really is.
Developing Healthy Boundaries
When we try to establish boundaries, we will be met with resistance by others and sometimes our own selves. Setting boundaries may not come easy. Establishing boundaries and sticking to them will be hard for some of us. We will meet with others’ angry reactions. Others will try to make us feel guilty for standing up for ourselves. Some will try to manipulate us back into our old ways of boundarylessness. We do not have to explain nor justify setting boundaries. Sometimes when we set boundaries, we are met with physical resistance. Abusive spouses will not take, “No,” for an answer. Boundaries can be set and maintained. Some people confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. We must forgive others to be free, but we do not always achieve reconciliation.
A Day In A Life With Boundaries
The book ends with a day in the life of the woman from the first chapter. The woman named Sherrie whose boundaryless life was like my own in so many ways. Since learning how to set boundaries, Sherrie has begun putting her kids to bed earlier because of setting better time limits with them. When Sherrie’s mother makes surprise visits, Sherrie is honest with her mother by telling her that it is a bad time to visit. After confronting her single friend about the imbalances in their relationship, her friend does not call as often. When her coworker comes in to chat about work, Sherrie takes control and tells him she does not have time to chat or do favors for him, and asks him to leave her a note. Sherrie backed off from so many church committees and is now able to choose the ones in which she wants to become involved. Sherrie has confronted her husband’s emotional distance and told him what she would do if it continued. He threatened, sulked, and became withdrawn. She stuck to her guns, and eventually he began to change. They went through a lot, but became more of a team, with mutual love and responsibility.
When we start to develop healthy boundaries, we will experience feelings of resentment, frustration, or even anger when others violate our boundaries. People who do not get angry when they are being violated, manipulated, or controlled have a genuine handicap (p. 271). This inability to get angry is generally a sign that we are afraid of the separateness that comes with telling the truth. When we acknowledge the truth, we give ourselves permission to be angry. When we become “boundary-setters,” we find ourselves drawn to others who set clear boundaries for themselves. Taking responsibility for ourselves and establishing clear BOUNDARIES is healthy. Knowing “When to Say YES, When to Say NO, allows us To Take Control Of Our Lives.
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