The idea of maintaining good boundaries in life is a term that is commonly batted around Christian Ministry, and historically is an area that I have frequently found challenging. Managing a heavy workload, an active social life, commitment to church, and preparing for marriage has meant that over the last year, many people have ‘demanded’ my time. As a ‘yes’ person, I regularly over-commit, with the consequences being that I compromise on those who mean most to me, because it’s easier to say ‘no’ to them! It’s fair to say my boundaries have been fluid and inconsistent.
So when a colleague of mine told me about Boundaries by Dr’s Cloud and Townsend, I was intrigued to read it. I had never heard of the subject of boundaries being written about before, particularly from a Christian perspective, and was interested to see what I could learn for a more balanced approach to life.
The premise of this book is that you cannot control what other people say and do, but you can control how you react and make your own choices - and it explains in simple terms how to go about that. The first few chapters help the reader understand what boundaries are, and then it moves on to exploring boundary conflicts with those alongside us – family, friends, spouses, children, work, the self, and God. I was surprised in reading this book that my prior understanding to boundaries had been so limited; understanding ‘…mental boundaries [give insight] to the freedom we have to have our own thoughts and opinions. Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others. Spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish God's will from our own and give us renewed awe for our Creator’.
Cloud’s basic framework for understanding and applying boundaries is that they are a personal property line that defines those things for which we are responsible. They are not selfish, but vitally protect us to be able to nurture healthy relationships and balance in life. He eloquently explains God's purpose for setting boundaries, ten laws and myths of boundaries, how to teach children to set boundaries, and how to require responsibility from others. For me personally, this was particularly helpful. I regularly find myself with an attitude that says ‘it’s easier to do this myself’, which results in being overloaded in responsibility. Not only does this attitude impact the self detrimentally, but also disempowers those around us.
Perhaps an air of caution would be that, as Christian psychologists, Cloud and Townsend emphasize scripture heavily throughout the book. Whilst this isn’t incorrect or offensive by any means, there were points where I felt like they try to stretch scripture to fit the boundaries model.
All in all, if you are tend to be a yes-person, a people pleaser, frequently struggle prioritizing, or all of the above, I would recommend reading this book. You may find that minor adjustments for big consequences can be made for a healthier and more sustainable life with yourself, friends, colleagues, and family.