-Chapters 1 & 2-
By Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
Have you ever been in a situation where you feel that someone has crossed a line, or you are only doing something because your being guilted into it only to feel resentful later? Have you ever not spoken up to defend or state your disapproval because you believe that you will hurt the other person? How do you deal with others when they demand your time, energy, attention or money yet walk over you in the process? Well, if you’ve ever been in these situations (as we have many times), this is a book for you to read! Join us as we look through the first two chapters of this fantastic read!
In the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Cloud & Dr. Townsend you’ll find that you are indeed not alone in facing these issues and many others like them. It’s amazing how well defined the boundaries in the physical world are compared to the non-tangible boundaries that develop between families, friends, coworkers, neighbors and other relationships. The authors do a great job at illustrating this very fact in the 1st chapter of the book. In this chapter (titled “A Day in a Boundaryless Life”), you follow a woman named Sherrie through a day in her life. All of the problems that she faces with her family, work, church and others overwhelm her and beat her down. As we read through this chapter, we couldn’t help but relate to her in many aspects of her life. There were situations that we looked at each other and just shook our heads because we’ve faced the same dilemmas. It’s so hard to know where it’s healthy and beneficial to say “yes” to someone else and when we have to make the hard choice and say “no”. We truly felt Sherrie’s pain because it hit close to home with us. By the time the chapter ended, we knew that this is a book that we must read.
Now that we’re at the “top of the roller coaster”, we knew that moving into chapter two was going to be the big drop to get the book moving. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend takes us directly into the meat of their message in this chapter. Aptly named “What Does a Boundary Look Like?”, the authors begin to describe the important boundaries in our lives that affect us every day. There are 3 major “principles” that we have to understand if we’re to properly frame the importance of boundaries in our lives.
The first is the understanding of “Me and Not Me”. This principle tells us that at some point we physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally “end”. We cannot be all places, do all things and be with everyone at all times thus boundaries tell us where our responsibilities end. Thanks to this knowledge, we gain the freedom to be able to say “yes” to what we need to care for and “no” for what’s not ours to keep.
The second principle is “To and For”. As a Christian, we’re called to be responsible “to” others and “for” ourselves (Galatians 6:2). Essentially, we’re called to help others when they cannot handle a problem or a burden themselves and need help. That’s the sacrificial agape love we’re to have in our hearts. However, since everyone has responsibilities that aren’t “back-breaking”, we’re not to carry those for anyone else since we have our own to deal with. As an example, if a friend’s car breaks down out of town and they need a ride we should help and not leave them stranded. At the same time, we are not to be responsible for keeping gasoline in the tank of their car. Participating in the opposite of either situation (leaving a friend stranded or maintaining something that’s not your responsibility) is NOT healthy and boundaries are needed.
Finally, the third principle is “Good In, Bad Out”. It’s human nature to desire relationships and love from other people. As such, we’re not to be an island by ourselves “walled off” from society, nor are we to be the village commons where everyone can say or do anything they want regarding us. The half-way point in-between is the healthy place where our boundaries are like a gated fence. The fact that there is a fence around your property (your property here is more than just physical space, it includes your mental wellbeing, your spiritual life and your emotions too) means that others have to be allowed to come in through the gate that you choose. It also means that you can use the same gate to expel anything unhealthy or unwanted not to be allowed in again (at least until behavior changes). By understanding that we are supposed to interact with the world in this way we’re able to build positive experiences and relationships while avoiding toxic ones. In short, our lives and our “property” isn’t the city park where anyone can go and do whatever they please. We are the ones who get to choose the terms of coming through the gate to reach us.
Once the authors establish these principles, they dive into a lengthy list of what could be considered a boundary in our lives. Without going into the details, here are the examples they offer as boundaries:
– Geographical Distance
– Emotional Distance
– Other People
– Attitudes & Beliefs
Each and every boundary listed here affects us in one way or another. By recognizing theses cogs and wheels moving behind the scenes we are better able to get a handle on situations when it feels out of our control. When others seek to manipulate us and cross our boundaries leaving us feeling awkward and violated as a result, it’s often hard to know how to react. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend have written this fantastic book on how to handle these situations in life. In the next entry, we’ll be moving deeper into the book (Chapter 3: “Boundary Problems”) to see how it can help us every day!