Thursday, April 13, 2006

Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

There are a huge number of self-help books out on the market today, in as many categories as there are problems in the world. Without actually going to counseling and getting professional help, for the price of a book, most people can find the help they need if they are only willing to take the advice laid out in the book and put it into practice. As a frequent and long-time reader of self-help books of every kind, I was delighted with the book entitled, Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Boundaries is a unique self-help book in that it addresses nearly every type of relationship anyone could have, and it gives the reader practical tools to change behaviors that give the wrong impressions or attract unpleasant results.

Boundaries is about just what the title implies: putting up barriers to people, behaviors, words, and other input by those around us that we do not want in our lives. Just the way we put up walls around our homes and fences around our yards, boundaries are mental, physical, and emotional barriers that help us protect ourselves, protect our loved ones, and allow only those visitors, words or behaviors that we want inside our space. The authors explain in the book that in the physical world, boundaries are easy to see, as in the aforementioned fences and walls; but they also give examples of signs, moats, and hedges. While physical boundaries are easy to see and define, mental, emotional and spiritual boundaries, while just as real, are much harder to see and differentiate.

The book defines a boundary as showing "what is me and what is not me." Boundaries show where I end and where someone else begins. This is an important thing to know because it forces us to take responsibility for our lives, not for what is inside someone else's boundary. The authors point out that boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out, just as in our backyard, we may keep our own dogs inside the fence, but stray dogs outside where they belong. One example of spiritual or mental boundaries is words. The word "no" is a prime example. People who struggle with boundaries have a hard time saying "no." Other examples of spiritual or mental boundaries are geographical distance, truth, emotional distance, time, and having other people as a support network. The book helps the reader understand what should or can be within our boundaries and helps each individual see what may or may not work for him.

The book addressed boundary issues in a multitude of relationships including family, friends, marriage, children, the work environment, issues with our selves or our past, and God. The reader will find concrete, real-life examples of others who have struggled with boundary issues and overcome them successfully. The authors give examples of boundary problems, they show how boundaries are developed, and they show us how to keep them intact when others try to knock them down. The book also covers the ten laws of boundaries as well as some common boundary myths.

After the reader has come to understand the concept of boundaries, there is encouragement to start implementing the concepts in the book. After explaining how the people in our lives will show resistance to our newly established boundaries, the authors encourage us to press on and they show how successful boundaries can be. Finally, we are given a chapter called, "A Day in a Life with Boundaries," to give us a last bit of encouragement about how it all works.

Readers really will find self-help in this book because they will learn how to set limits while still being a loving person; they will learn that boundaries are not selfish and that while it is normal to feel guilty or afraid while setting boundaries, that it is not necessary. Perhaps the best quote from the book is the following: "Remember, if you are a doormat, you will attract heels." This sums up the entire concept of boundaries; that our behavior directly influences the way others will treat us. Once we change our behavior and put up boundaries, others will find that they can no longer treat us the way they did formerly. Find out what your legitimate boundaries can be and see your life change!

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