The Barnabas Ministry
Book Review


Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No To Take Control of Your Life
By Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend (Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI. 1992). 304 pages.

Cloud and Townsend, both holding doctorates in clinical psychology, have written a readable (i.e. simple) yet profound book on the concept of personal boundaries. ("Boundaries" is modern language for discerning what is your responsibility and what is someone else's responsibility.)

Beginning with a matrix of those who can't say no, those who can't hear no, those who can't say yes, and those who can't hear yes, they provide a great discussion on the topic of personal responsibility. This book will be more than just thought-provoking, it will likely motivate the open-hearted person to examine his own boundaries in life.

Cloud and Townsend discuss boundary formation at various stages of childhood, including a fascinating look at the importance of children being able to say "no" when they want to do so. They show how parents may unwittingly introduce boundary problems in their children. As a parent, it offered me encouragement and instruction on not just expecting obedience from my children but training their character to make good choices. One day they will be adults-- but much sooner than that, they will need to exercise adult-like judgment in decision-making. This work of training is one of the most important aspects of parenting-- more than just getting them to "obey so my life will be easier."

Cloud and Townsend also discuss boundaries in various adult contexts-- everything from demanding bosses to irresponsible spouses, from self-centered church leaders to manipulative parents. But-- beware-- this isn't a "rip on the other person" type of approach. Cloud and Townsend tell us that we are the ones who allow others to control us, whether by bullying, fear or guilt. They discuss the importance of anger, forgiveness and responsibility in addressing and correcting these and other boundary violations, and how taking resposibility for one's life is the ultimate form of Christian stewardship. What you read might surprise you at first, but the wisdom of their approach will be apparent upon reflection.

The book could be used beneficially by participants in a support- group setting to address various forms of boundary issues that members want to address (though such groups may indicate the need for professional counseling in some cases).

I wish my summary here could do justice to the philosophy and approach they take in addressing these issues. But I'll have to simply recommend reading the book instead.


Copyright © 2001 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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