When to Say YES
When to Say NO
To Take Control of Your Life
by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Zondervan Publishing House, 1992. 304 pages.
I finally read this book that I have heard recommended or referred to many, many times. It struck me as the Christian version of Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More. Boundaries deals with many of the same issues, but I do think that the term “boundary” is easier to understand than the term “codependency.”
What are boundaries, anyway? Drs. Cloud and Townsend say:
“Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries. Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t.”
“Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not ‘own’ my life, my choices and options become very limited.”
The authors definitely take a Christian perspective.
“The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines himself as a distinct, separate being, and he is responsible for himself. He defines and takes responsibility for his personality by telling us what he thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes.”
Often, Christians think that we are supposed to be “nice” to everyone, and it doesn’t feel nice to hold onto our boundaries. The authors are good at showing why this doesn’t truly help anyone.
“Two aspects of limits stand out when it comes to creating better boundaries. The first is setting limits on others. This is the component that we most often hear about when we talk about boundaries. In reality, setting limits on others is a misnomer. We can’t do that. What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right.
“Our model is God. He does not really ‘set limits’ on people to ‘make them’ behave. God sets standards, but he lets people be who they are and then separates himself from them when they misbehave, saying in effect, ‘You can be that way if you choose, but you cannot come into my house.’…
“Scripture is full of admonitions to separate ourselves from people who act in destructive ways (Matt. 18:15-17; I Cor. 5:9-13). We are not being unloving. Separating ourselves protects love, because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love.
“The other aspect of limits that is helpful when talking about boundaries is setting our own internal limits. We need to have spaces inside ourselves where we can have a feeling, an impulse, or a desire, without acting it out. We need self-control without repression.
“We need to be able to say no to ourselves. This includes both our destructive desires and some good ones that are not wise to pursue at a given time. Internal structure is a very important component of boundaries and identity, as well as ownership, responsibility, and self-control.”
It’s struck me that there are several boundary issues going on in my life right now. The big one is negotiating a divorce settlement. I started feeling guilty that we might have to go to court. But then I realized that if I don’t stand up for what I need and deserve, who will? Sometimes if being “nice” means allowing yourself to be mistreated, it’s not really very nice at all.
The authors warn us,
“No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. People with poor boundaries almost always internalize guilt messages leveled at them; they obey guilt-inducing statements that try to make them feel bad….
“Do not explain or justify. Only guilty children do that. This is only playing into their message. You do not owe guilt senders an explanation. Just tell what you have chosen. If you want to tell them why you made a certain decision to help them understand, this is okay. If you wish to get them to not make you feel bad or to resolve your guilt, you are playing into their guilt trap.”
I also like what they have to say about blamers:
“Blamers will act as though your saying no is killing them, and they will react with a ‘How could you do this to me?’ message. They are likely to cry, pout, or get angry. Remember that blamers have a character problem. If they make it sound as though their misery is because of your not giving something to them, they are blaming and demanding what is yours. This is very different from a humble person asking out of need. Listen to the nature of other people’s complaints; if they are trying to blame you for something they should take responsibility for, confront them.”
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the writing in this book; I still find Melody Beattie’s books more inspiring. However, the concepts are basic and important and life-changing. This book deserves its status as a classic.
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