Book Review: Boundaries (Henry Cloud and John Townsend)

24 04 2010

The premise of this book is rather simple, but has very far-reaching consequences – in life, some things are our responsibility, and some things are other people’s responsibility. We need to have clear boundaries in our lives so that we’re quite sure what is in our court and what is not.

For example: If you find yourself with an acquaintance or friend who is always pushing you around and calling the shots in the relationship – and you find yourself giving in all the time, and resenting it – you both have boundary issues. Your friend has an issue with respecting the boundaries of others by always trying to get their own way. You have a problem with boundaries, because you’re scared of putting up a boundary of saying “no” to your friend, in case something bad will happen.

The book is laid out in a fairly straightforward way – the first half sets out what boundaries are, and what they should look like, and then chapter by chapter, the authors take us through some of the outworkings of boundary problems in various areas of life. The kind of topics are: People who are grown adults, but still feeling under the thumb of their parents. Parents learning how to enforce boundaries with their toddlers. Friends learning to set boundaries with each other. Husbands and wives learning how to set boundaries to work out where loving your spouse ends and putting up with a selfish person begins. Work boundaries – knowing the difference between doing a great job and becoming a workaholic because you can never say no to your work colleagues or bosses.

As someone who struggles with being a people pleaser (ie my natural instinct is to say “yes” to anything anyone asks me), this is one of the more important books I’ve read this year. If you have no trouble saying “no” to things, then this may not be for you. But if you have ever felt like you’re giving and giving and you’re exhausted, it may be that you have trouble saying “no”. In which case, learning about boundaries will be really helpful. I certainly wish I’d been thinking about this stuff several years ago.

The only real concern I have with the book is that, being written by Christian psychologists, they are trying to emphasise the Christian part as much as possible by putting lots of Scripture references in the book. I’m not against Scripture references, but often the book feels like it’s trying to stretch Bible verses to fit their boundaries model, rather than fitting the model to the Scriptures. Of course, I think this is done in all sincerity – if I was to ask Cloud and Townsend, I’m sure they, in all seriousness, think they’ve handled the Scriptures correctly. I’m not so sure.

With many of these books written by psychologists that you can pick up at Koorong or Word, I’d be more happy if they just said, “Look, these principles aren’t strictly found in the pages of the Bible. But we’re comfortable that they don’t disagree with the Bible, and they’ll provide a useful framework for how you can relate to others.”

But that aside, I think the advice in this book is great, and will affect many, many portions of your life. Pretty much, if you answer “yes” to either of these questions: Do I always feel like I’m giving and I’m resenting it? or Do I have trouble saying no to people and it’s overwhelming me? then I can guarantee you’re going to get a lot out of this book.

4 out of 5.

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3 responses

29 10 2010
Don

Some of the biblical reference in this book is definitely taken out of context. I was often left scratching my head as to use of scripture. They are trying to make the bible fit what they are saying. They may be good psychologists, but theologians they are not.

15 05 2012
Ross

Have you got any examples – your point “may” be valid, though it is somewhat vague!

23 08 2013
john lategan

Die to self. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Turn the other cheek.
Give to those who don’t return. No boundaries here

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