Title: Boundaries, When to Say Yes How to Say No
Plot: The importance of setting and enforcing social boundaries
Note: This book is fantasic (particularly for Christians)!
Listen to "Boundaries When to Say Yes How to Say No [16 Mins]" on Spreaker.
Hey, welcome back!
Today I will be reviewing Boundaries. When to say yes how to say no to take control of your life by Dr’s Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
The first edition came out in 1992 and the second in 2017, the latter is the subject of this review.
It would seem, by the way, that I am two for two now on books that were saved by their great middle. Because as with the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, this book also had a lackluster beginning and ending. Had the authors improved their first and last chapter I would have given this book six stars. But, it easily gets the full five star rating based on content alone.
Dr. Henry Cloud is an American Christian self help author. His 1992 Boundaries book sold two million copies and evolved into a five-part series.
Cloud was born in 1956 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He has a BS in psychology from Southern Methodist University and a PhD in clinical psychology from Biola University (1987).
Dr. John Townsend was born in 1952 (just four years earlier) and grew up in Wilson, North Carolina. Townsend holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology with honors from North Carolina State University, a Master of Theology degree with honors from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a PhD degree in clinical psychology from Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University.
That was a mouthfull!
Dr. John Townsend co-founded a Clinic that operated treatment centers in 35 cities in the western US.
Now I’m not married and I have no children, so I would never have read these child psychology book, Don't let your children kill you, had it not been for you my faithful podcast listeners. So I thank you for that!
Now this book on boundaries does have a lot to do with children, your relationship with your kids, your wife, etc... your family, your parents...
Suddenly I’m a huge fan. It would seem I have some issues that simply must be addressed. Apparently I have some hangovers from childhood that are about as undesirable as hangovers from drinking.
When I read books written by other authors I can’t help but compare their style to mine. I would have done many things differently than these two authors did, and yet I still loved their book.
Now since I have the luxury of this podcast I will open with a problem statement of my own design to help them with their cause. So this is my introduction not theirs, but we will get to their material soon enough:
The best way to articulate the importance of boundaries is to use the natural boundaries that are supplied by life and circumstance. Water is a natural boundary for fish just as bedrooms are a natural boundary for families and roommates. Overstepping these boundaries can be offensive, dangerous and even life threatening.
That would be my introduction designed to communicated that boundaries are akin to the laws of physics, bad things happen when you ignore gravity, just ask the Wiley Coyote. And gravity isn't a law you can ignore. Just as you can't really ignore boundaries. At least not for long...
I would expect that most people can relate to living in a college dorm and having that roommate who eats your food, wears your clothes and walks into your bedroom unannounced. We hate that guy whether we tell him so or not. This roommate has a problem with boundaries. And the more roommates you have in your apartment the more boundaries become crucial. Some boundaries are visible, some implied, but most are invisible. One thing is certain: boundaries are not only vital to our survival and peace of mind, they also change over time. And that last bit is very important.
When we are a child the fence is a boundary that keeps us safe from the street. When we grow up we can cross the street, but not leave our neighborhood. A parent who doesn’t plan for the changing freedoms of their child makes both themselves and the child miserable. And when the child leaves home, it often becomes necessary for him to establish boundaries for the parent. We’ve all been on the receiving end of guilt trips and unannounced visits from mom and dad, and some parents lack the self control to respect the boundaries of their kids.
Parents who see their children as an extension of themselves often lack a healthy understanding of boundaries. God uses parents to bring people in the world, and while viewing your child as a little you, might help you bond with them incenting you to take care of them, it’s important that parents remember they are just stewards and their kids are not their possessions. Though you have a legal obligation to finish what you started, you don’t own them and it eventually becomes inappropriate for you to control them.
Some Parents lack the sense to respect their adult child’s space, and sometimes even after they’re married and even after they're warned.
In the most healthy cases repeated boundary violations can lead to temporary or even permanent separation. And in more extreme cases they can lead to violence and death.
It is the changing nature of boundaries that makes this book so valuable.
And much of the misery of life could be avoided if we all understood that boundaries are a life essential and that by nature they must constantly change.
For those of you struggling with depression, resentment, hatred, anger and fear you might be able to set yourself free by learning the art of setting and enforcing boundaries.
As I said, I have learned much from reading child psychology books of late, and they are so important I think they should be required reading for everyone. Especially before you have children. For example: The comment was made that if you start out by saying yes to your child and then later imposing restrictions, they will become rebellious and difficult. But if you start with restrictions and boundaries and loosen them over time your child’s love for you will grow and grow. Because as you can imagine, loosening a boundary shows increased trust and increased trust is associated with deepening love. Meaning they will reflect back to you what you are showing them.
So if you start by giving and then taking away, they will respond in kind. There are only a few things a child can take away from you, by the way: their obedience and their love are among the few tools they have at their disposal.
Marriage introduces a boundary conundrum. The married couple often faceplants through life groping around in the dark attempting to discern proper boundaries and potentially arguing that boundaries were eradicated by the marriage itself. However, that is untrue. And this book on boundaries goes into maticulous detail that makes that fact self-evident. And it communicates the importance of revealing our boundaries to those we are in relationship with.
If you have a complex set of invisible laser beams surrounding your psyche people will get hurt without warning. It is your job to make your lines visible so that others can work with you and you can grow together. Furthermore, you are in charge of your feelings. So if you feel bad and you want that fixed, it is your responsibility to go to the person, and tell them how you feel and why. If you are failing to do this, you are failing yourself. No one can make you angry and no one can make you happy. You decide to be angry or happy yourself. And you know this to be true because you've seen people try. And no one knows how you really feel inside, except for you. So if you have a feeling you dislike and you fail to say something about it, that is your problem. Your feelings are your problem. Who else would you think has ownership for the problem of your feelings? The authors go to great lengths to reveal that as a self-evident truth through examples as well.
I am convinced that if we understood and leveraged the power of boundaries combined with consequence, we could end conflict and usher in world peace. I might be exaggerating, but I assure you this book is a must read!
While reading this book I realized that it is impossible for a parent to raise a child without hurting their feelings and causing occasional irreparable harm. This is because mom and dad usually have more than one child and multiple children inevitably hurt each other and divide their parent’s interest so that someone gets hurt. Furthermore, I realized that the home is the proving ground for life and life can be unfair and cruel. Therefore, if a kid is going to learn that life is unfair, and get hurt, the best place for that education is at home with people who love him.
It is encumbent on us all to recognize the impossibility of a happy, comfortable, perfect childhood because life is a battle and relationships are war. Even if you could manufacture such a happy home, you would send your child off to war without battle training. Meaning even if you could actually manufacture that Utopia you so planned in your heart, your kids having unrealistic expectations for the world, would inevitably be hurt by others and they wouldn’t even see it coming.
After reading this book, I see the folly in attempting to right the wrongs that I suffered as a child and I now see the importance of ensuring my kids meet resistance so that they grow up strong and self-sufficient.
This leads me to the problem with the first and the last chapter in the book. In a stroke of irony the authors craft a day in the life Sherrie. In chapter one her inadequate boundaries make her life miserable and in the last chapter her mature boundaries put her on top of the world. And that struck me as condescending.
And as I said in my podcast in the New Atlantis a Utopia is in the eye of the beholder. So if I were to describe my version of paradise, it would likely make your eyes roll and destroy any respect you have for me. It’s bad story-writing policy to attempt to describe our worst day or our best day because our readers can’t help but make comparisons. Unless your worst day is indisputably bad and your best day is indisputably good, those comparisons will never ever go well for you.
Therefore, I would open their book with the opening statements I used in this podcast and I would have ended their book on the chapter where they described the importance of setting boundaries with yourself. Partly because I didn’t see that coming. And also because I realized that failure to establish boundaries with myself leads to obesity, addictions, bankruptcy, joblessness and the like. One could make the argument that boundaries with myself are the most important and possibly the most overlooked.
This book is a fantastic read!
And maybe because I’m not a parent I have the luxury of realizing that kids teach their parents more than their parents teach them. I’ve recently spent time around kids who are shockingly wise. But I’ve learned as much or more from their behavior than I have from what they actually say. Watching them interact with each other, play games, argue, and stay in relationship has taught me volumes about people. And so I no longer see kids as a community service performed by the parent. I see them as tools God uses to transform adults into better people.
Meaning kids are a grand object lesson in learning about boundaries, discipline, commitment, and the like. Because in my last book review called, Don’t let your kids kill you, I commented that the resolve of the child to avoid drugs seems to be proportional to the resolve of the parent to avoid enabling them. So if the parent wants a child strong enough to say no to drugs, the parent must be strong enough to say no to the child. Particularly to anything that would enable them.
And this makes me wonder. If some girls marry assholes because it takes one to transform them into something better. We often see a gorgeous girl who is admittedly often a Bitch and wonder why she married such an asshole. Well maybe there’s a connection there. Maybe they need each other to become decent human beings. Maybe after being around someone as toxic as they are, they will reform. And perhaps a string of marriages and divorces implies he or she just isn’t getting the message.
And maybe kids too, are part of that process. Perhaps the presence of a problem child is an indication the parents have a hidden sin that desperately needs attention. And it's not getting it.
And this leads us back to the book where the author points out that if you struggle with self-boundaries such as trouble dieting or exercising, it’s usually an outward indication of an inner problem that went untreated. And as soon as you resolve that internal problem, your body will naturally take the shape God intended.
These authors are Christian writers. That took me by surprise by the way. However, I went back and read the back cover and realized they did in fact make that clear up front.
And I would actually point out that makes this book even more valuable, because I believe Christians in particular struggle with boundaries. They go to church and they’re taught about the authority of Scripture, which ultimately gets distorted and twisted until they find themselves on the receiving end of control freak manipulator, who either never learned boundaries or discovered the power of manipulating Christians.
The authors emphasize the importance of support groups and they suggest that should be the church, but I’m concerned there is so much boundary confusion in church, that in my opinion you shouldn’t go anywhere near that place until you’ve worked that problem out for yourself first.
The worst thing you can do is seek help with boundaries from the community of people who probably caused that confusion in the first place. Meaning you have no business going to your church seeking help with boundaries unless they're specialize in teaching it.
I am a big believer in God and the Bible, but when it comes to churches I say proceed with caution. While it’s true that a chord of two or three strands can’t be broken, it’s equally true that a sheep among wolves or vipers is dinner.
I would say start with this book, and follow the breadcrumbs there. They have many other books, classes, and they point you to resources designed to help you with boundaries.
There are some crucial teachings in the book, I know it's thick, but nearly every page has great value.
I’ll give you some examples: no one likes hearing the word no. Especially parents and especially coming from their five-year-old. But If children can't tell people who love them no, when they’re young, then they will struggle saying it to the drug dealers they meet in life later. You want your kid to have ten or eleven years of practice saying no before meeting drug dealers. Therefore you must let your kids say no to you, let them become comfortable especially when it's warranted. But when it’s not you can make a counter offer:
If your child says, “I don’t have to go to school,” you could say, “You’re right. You don't have to go to school. But I wonder who will hire you if you don’t finish the third grade. So stay home if you like, but I don’t have to let you watch TV or play Nintendo because I’m not going to give you money or feed you when you turn 18. You’re going to have to earn a living. So if you stay home you should study. How would you like to proceed? Have you decided you want to stay home?”
This let’s them feel like they can legitimately make choices for themselves and it teaches them the value of consequences. And also their impact on you.
The Dr’s both said that a boundary with no consequence is no boundary. So you must create and enforce a consequence that makes sense.
For example, If you make a huge consequence for disobedience and you use it for large offenses and small alike, the child will favor breaking big rules knowing that big consequences are coming either way. They won’t even trouble with little offenses, because that would be unthinkable in light of the size of the consequences. So they go for the gusto.
And in closing the doctors made the argument that while the initial stages of creating the boundary cause people to get upset, later stages are bliss because people value structure and the freedom to make choices.
Once again, I gave this book five stars. It is a fantastic read and the audience is anyone who considers themselves to be an earthling.
As always, thank you for listening. Y’all come back now. Ya here!
Podcasts mentioned in this episode
Author: Washington Irving
Title: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Plot: A story about a love triangle that ends in confrontation
Note: A Classic Halloween Story
Listen to "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving [12 Mins]" on Spreaker.
Author: Charles Rubin
Title: Don't Let Your Kids Kill You
Plot: How to navigate life as the parent of drug addicts
Note: Many useful tips are given regarding parenting techniques useful in deterring drug addiction. This book is fantastic!
Listen to "Don't Let Your Kids Kill You by Charles Rubin [12 Mins]" on Spreaker.