If you've ever struggled with saying "no," felt resentment towards an individual for trying to manipulate you through guilt or anger, or simply felt like your life is chaotic and out of control, then Boundaries is for you.
In this helpful and enlightening book, Cloud and Townsend establish the importance of creating healthy boundaries in your life. Not only do these boundaries keep your life sane and orderly, but they also help the people around you develop a healthy sense of personal responsibility. By creating healthy boundaries, you also free yourself up to be available for the specific ministries and activities for which you are responsible.
It seems like many Christians fall into the trap of being "people pleasers" and wind up taking on responsibilities that, in reality, they have no business taking on. By taking on the burdens that should belong to others, the people-pleasers wind up simply enabling irresponsibility and bad behavior in the person that they think they're "serving." While Cloud and Townsend do stress that it is important to help people with legitimate needs, they also emphasize the need to be discerning and realize when others are simply playing on your sense of guilt in order to manipulate you into doing what they should be doing themselves. As they put it, we all have a knapsack we are meant to carry - don't agree to carry someone else's knapsack. As my parents would say, "Don't let someone else put their monkey on your back."
As you're reading this book, the advice may seem almost selfish or insensitive at times. However, if you truly care for the other person, then helping them develop a healthy respect for your boundaries is actually a good thing for them. For example:
Say you have a relative who is constantly getting into financial trouble. He makes bad decisions, behaves irresponsibly, and has no work ethic. Whenever he gets into trouble, he comes to you for help.
While it may seem like the "Christ-like" thing to give him money and help him out of the jam that he's in, if you bail him out (yet again), you're simply enabling his bad behavior. You're shielding him from the consequences that might actually knock some sense into him and change him for the better. He never takes responsibility for his actions, because you step in and take it for him. He simply continues the behavior, because he knows that you will always bail him out and shield him from the unpleasant results that usually accompany such actions. By shielding him from his consequences, you keep him handicapped and prevent him from growing into a healthier, more mature person.
By learning to say "no" in situations like this, you not only keep your own life less stressful and chaotic, but also help the needy person to grow up and become a productive, responsible member of society.
Overall, the book has a lot of excellent advice, and Cloud and Townsend give a lot of practical tips for discerning between legitimate needs and manipulation and how to begin developing the ability to create boundaries and reinforce them with others.
As with most authors writing in the field of psychology, I disagreed with them on a few points. For instance, I didn't agree with how many freedoms they said small children should be allowed to have. I also found some of their scriptural illustrations of creating boundaries to be a bit of a stretch according to the context, although I didn't necessarily disagree with the points they were trying to make.
I'd definitely recommend reading the book. Personally, it helped me clarify some things in my own life. I'm sure it would be helpful to you as well, whether you're having boundary issues in your home, family, friendships, workplace, church, or self. With all apologies to Robert Frost, Boundaries makes a valid argument that good fences do make good neighbors, after all.