Even with terrific parents, to whom I give credit for much of the person I am today, I was launched into adulthood without the benefit of clear personal boundaries. When I finally discovered their importance and how to create them, I had already suffered many consequences of their absence both in my own actions and the manner in which I allowed others to act toward me.
The book “Boundaries” written by Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend, is the basic introduction to setting limits and still being a loving, caring person. There are several sequels to this book that deal specifically with dating, marriage and raising good kids. The information in this first book, subtitled “When to say yes, How to say no” was my “aha” moment when it came to not only evaluating my beliefs about my right and obligation to set healthy boundaries for myself, but equally as important, to respect those of the people in my life.
“Boundaries” is written from a Christian (Biblical) perspective but the wisdom and teaching is relative to all who engage with others on any level. I find the concepts and examples in the book particularly pertinent and useful in the stepparenting scenario where a group of strangers is charged with becoming a family in short order. The rush to establish the unit can cause the individual to lose self in the bargain. Understanding the two-sided nature of boundary setting is an important part of effective parenting.
The book’s inside flap first draws you in by asking if you are in control of your own life; whether people take advantage of you and if you have trouble saying “no”? Boundaries are described as personal property lines that define who you are and who you are not. These boundaries influence the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives. The authors present ten “laws of boundaries” to not only bring new health to our relationships but to allow us to discover the freedom of controlling our own selves.
Chapter one follows a typical day in the life of a boundaryless wife and mother (it is frighteningly descriptive of a lot of us) and proceeds to identify the premise of the entire book: “Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries”.
Later chapters go on to describe what a boundary actually looks like in operation; how they are developed and some of the myths surrounding boundaries, such as being selfish or deliberately hurting others; appearing angry and causing feelings of guilt. Myth #8 speaks loudly to me: “Boundaries are permanent and I’m afraid of burning my bridges”. The authors clarify when modifying your own rules may be the best course.
The book is divided into three sections and the second one is devoted to the conflicts that arise as a result of no boundaries, weak boundaries and those that are too rigid and misguided. These conflicts are viewed in the context of family, friends, spouse, children and work. They are also addressed in the highly personal relationships with yourself and your God. Issues such as impulse spending, time management, meeting deadlines, enabling others and taking responsibility for the words we speak and hear are all filtered through the screen of boundaries.
Part three is dedicated to actually creating the boundaries we may have never realized were missing in our lives. It speaks honestly and warns us that there will be resistance from those who preferred when we had no property lines and allowed others to control our decisions and actions. There is also some relief in knowing that “if it were easy we would have done it by now”. Chapter 15 provides some tools for measuring success in both developing and implementing new and appropriate boundaries. They are helpful in preventing setbacks or taking on too much guilt over the reactions of others.
The final chapter replays the scenario of the first one…only this time the woman has incorporated some much needed self-control and clearly marked the property lines of her own life. The sense of peace and order that now governs her daily routine resonates with the reader in the hope of reform for our own lives.
I have honestly only skimmed the surface of the book’s content and importance. My recommendation is that you not only read it but keep it where you will refer to it often. Change is difficult for all of us and sometimes it is forsaken for the comfort of old habits. I urge you to enlighten yourself with the possibilities.
Disclaimer: I purchased this book and the accompanying workbook with my own funds. I have not received compensation for my opinion or comments. I found this book to be extremely useful in all of my relationships especially in navigating the blended family.