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Boundaries

When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

By Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend
15-minute read
Audio available
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend

Boundaries (1992) is a handbook for those who can’t say no, those who won’t take no for an answer, and everyone in between. Grounded equally in Christian faith and contemporary psychology, this book is an eloquent argument for the emotional and spiritual necessity of firm, healthy boundaries.

  • Doormats who let others walk all over them;
  • Emotionally unavailable people who never let anyone in; and
  • Martyrs who do everything for others but accept no help in return.

Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist and leadership expert. Dr. John Townsend is a business consultant, leadership coach, and psychologist. Separately, each has authored multiple books on leadership and psychology. Together, they are co-authors of the New York Times best-selling Boundaries and leaders of the acclaimed GrowthSkills workshop series.

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Boundaries

When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

By Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend
Synopsis

Boundaries (1992) is a handbook for those who can’t say no, those who won’t take no for an answer, and everyone in between. Grounded equally in Christian faith and contemporary psychology, this book is an eloquent argument for the emotional and spiritual necessity of firm, healthy boundaries.

Key idea 1 of 9

Setting boundaries is an act of kindness.

Walls, fences, No Trespassing signs: when you think about it, your physical environment is delimited by all kinds of concrete boundaries. What’s more, those boundaries exist for good reason. That barbed wire fence around a nuclear power plant? It’s there for your own protection – it prevents you from inadvertently wandering into a hazardous zone.

Boundaries are just as necessary for your emotional and spiritual protection. Unlike physical boundaries, however, emotional and spiritual boundaries aren’t laid out in a way that’s clear to everyone. That can make it difficult to establish your own boundaries and to discern those of others. Worse, enforcing your boundaries can make you feel mean. But it shouldn’t.

The key message here is: Setting boundaries is an act of kindness.

When you set a boundary, you take ownership of your needs, wants, and feelings. Yet when we do this and prioritize ourselves, we often feel like we’re neglecting those of others.

Let’s be clear: setting healthy boundaries doesn’t mean you have no stake in other people’s problems or spiritual concerns. It simply means that you’re not solely responsible for them. As the Bible’s book of Galatians teaches, you are responsible to others but for yourself.

Still confused by this distinction? We can unpack it with the example of a hypothetical family. Let’s call them the O’Rileys.

The O’Riley’s are a loving family, but their son James has lost his way. He’s been expelled from school and developed a drug problem.

The O’Riley’s can take responsibility for their son’s issues by enrolling him in another school and paying the fines when he’s busted for drug possession. But will James solve his problem? Unlikely. Functionally, he doesn’t even have a problem – his parents have shouldered it for him.

Alternatively, the O’Riley’s could own their responsibility to their son without taking responsibility for his problems. They can listen to him, support him, and take steps to facilitate his sobriety – all without stepping in to solve his problems for him. The O’Riley’s are taking care of themselves by setting those boundaries. But they’re also taking care of James. Setting boundaries is not just an act of kindness toward yourself. It’s an act of love toward everyone around you.

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