As we’re reading through this book, we’re quite surprised to see just how impactful the content is to our everyday lives. It’s safe to say that we’ve always been aware of boundaries around us, we just couldn’t define them so clearly. If you haven’t read the 1st part of this extended book review, check it out [here]. Knowing that nearly every meaningful relationship we experience in life is affected by boundaries it is prudent that we recognize problems that might arise. This is the focus of chapter 3, “Boundary Problems”.
The authors start off the chapter with a 10,000 foot view of boundary problems that people experience. It often comes down to one or two (sometimes both) major problems. Some people cannot properly set limits in their life, and others cannot respect the limits and needs in others’ lives. As the chapter moves along, we were shown 4 different personality “types” that people with boundary problems tend to exhibit. What really stood out to us as we went through each of these personality types is that we have either been this way or known someone who fits the definition of each. The authors did not want their readers to start throwing themselves and others into overly generalized categories however. To prevent this, the authors state that these main types of boundary problems are defined to “…provide you some pegs on which to hang your thoughts.” They truly understood that as their readers went through this chapter, they would associate their relationships into these categories.
The four categories are as follows:
Each category mishandles boundaries in different ways. Compliants, Avoidants and Compliant Avoidants have problems with boundaries handled internally within themselves.
Imagine if you will 2 medieval cities. We’ll call them “Compli” and “Avoida”. Each city has a large wall surrounding it to protect from invaders and keep the citizens safe. In each wall is a large gate that can be raised and lowered to allow people in and out of the city. However, each city has been having problems with their gates. Compli’s gate is always opened and the ruler of the town will not allow it to be shut. Avoida’s gate is always closed and the ruler of that town will not allow it to be opened. It’s pretty obvious that there are going to be problems in no time at all. What is the point of Compli having a gate since any neighboring town or city can just drop by and do as they please. The citizens of Compli seem to be at the mercy of anyone passing through their gate. While it may seem like Avoida is safer and better off, a totally walled off city cannot last long. Without anyone to trade with, soon provisions will dry up and the people will starve or disease will run rampant. If any medicines or technology is needed that is not in the city, nothing can be done to seek help outside to make life sustainable (let alone easier). This may seem like a goofy example, but it frames the 1st two boundary problems pretty well.
Compliant people are the individuals who just can’t seem to say “no” to anyone. No matter how bad of a deal it is for them, pressures from work, home, family and other sources along with the desire to make others happy result in saying “Yes” to everything. This is a recipe for much stress, bitterness and burnout.
Avoidant people have a similar, but opposite problem. Whereas Compliant people always say “Yes” to bad things, Avoidant people always seem to say “No” to good things. They build walls without windows or doors desiring to keep anything and everything out. No matter how desperately they need the help or company of others, Avoidant people just cannot seem to open up and ask others.
Controlling people are those who, either through aggression and force or manipulation and deceit seek to violate other’s boundaries. Those who are controlling tend to lack responsibility and are typically impulsive because they only want to hear “Yes” from others. Controllers use fear, guilt and dependency to “pull the strings” of others into doing what they want. Non-Responsive people are those who either doesn’t recognize or doesn’t care about the needs of others. These individuals have gone bitter inside over their own needs or have become so distracted by the desire to fulfill their own needs they are blinded to others. The whole idea of having boundaries exists because we as humans are social creatures and we need each other. Non-Responsive people have decided they don’t want or need other’s and their problems in their life.
Finally, the authors make it clear that an individual does not have to fall in any of these categories and they also don’t have to fall into only 1 of these categories. As it turns out, Many people are Compliant and Avoidant at the same time. Additionally, many people are Controlling and Non-Responsive at the same time. These 2 combinations seem to attract each other because the Compliant/Avoidant seems “selfless” and the “Controlling/Non-Responsive” looks for someone to use.
There is much more to be gleaned from this chapter and this book as we read it and allow it to sink into our thoughts and our actions. After reading this chapter, we now see more clearly the boundary problems that others face and it helps us to maintain our own boundaries. By understanding the problem that you our another is facing, it allows for an adjustment to protect yourself and them from any further harm. In the next entry, we’re going to be looking at what helps us to form the boundaries we have in our lives (Chapter 4: “How Boundaries are Developed”).
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