I had heard about this book many times over the years, and never got around to reading it, so it was timely that I have finally done so. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend it if you have the chance as it is a very helpful foundation to a healthy emotional life. I would also recommend it if you happen to be needing to help someone in a relationship problem and are not sure what you can do for them.
The authors use many examples and metaphors in this work to help understand their concepts. One great analogy is that our life burdens can be likened to a ‘knapsack’, which is the daily load we all must carry on our own, and that ‘boulders’ are those big burdens which are simply too large for us to manage.
“Problems arise when people act as if their ‘boulders’ are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their ‘daily loads’ are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”
For those with boundary problems (who doesn’t??), it can be difficult to know what to be responsible for, and what to let go of.
“People with boundary problems usually have distorted attitudes about responsibility. They feel that to hold people responsible for their feelings, choices and behaviours is mean.”
The book outlines where many of the boundary problems we have come from. A proper outline of what a boundary looks like is addressed, and then it goes into debunking some of the more common myths of setting boundaries, such as, “If I set boundaries I am selfish,” and many others.
Boundaries often get crossed in our daily life, particularly if we are seeking to live a faithful Catholic life in the world today. It requires extra tools in order to survive this particular form of martyrdom.
The middle part addresses boundary issues in the context of our relationships with others – our family, friends, spouse, workmates etc. If you have ever tried to step out of the mold and have more than the standard 1.2 children or practice your faith in a meaningful way, including not parenting like a bush turkey, then chances are this quote will resonate with you:
“The problem arises when one trespasses on the other’s personhood, when one crosses a line and tries to control the feelings, attitudes, behaviours, choices, and values of the other. These things only each individual can control. To try to control these things is to violate someone’s boundaries, and ultimately, it will fail. Our relationship with Christ – and any other successful relationship – is based on freedom.”
In addition to parenting and family, the boundary issues around work can be a difficulty as well.
“Many people are unable to ever find a true work identity. They stumble from job to job, never really finding anything that is ‘them’. More often than not, this is a boundary problem. They have not been able to own their gifts, talents, wants, desires and dreams because they are unable to set boundaries on others’ definitions and expectations of them. This happens with people who have not separated from the family they grew up in.”
Another common area can be lack of internal boundaries in our lives.
“Often out-of-control patterns disguise a need for something else. You need to address the underlying need before you can deal with the out-of-control behaviour…as you deal with real needs, fail, get empathic feedback, suffer consequences and are restored, you build stronger internal boundaries each time. As you stay with your goal and with the right people, you will build a sense of self-restraint that can truly become part of your character for life.”
Developing healthy boundaries is the focus of the final section. It addresses topics like resistance to your attempts at establishing boundaries, including an important section on the role of forgiveness in any true plan for growth.
“Unforgiveness destroys boundaries. Forgiveness creates them, for it gets bad debt off your property… Forgiveness is not denial. You must name the sin against you to forgive it. God did not deny what we did to HIn. He worked through it. He named it. He expressed his feelings about it. He cried and was angry. And then he let it go. And He did this in the context of relationship. Within the Trinity, He was never alone. Go and do the same.”
Using many practical examples helps to flesh out the theories in this book, and its popularity is due to the fact that there are many who are seeking to live a richer life who have been held back by poor boundaries in their lives and the lives of those around them.
If you have not read this book, I would recommend it in the context of supportive relationships, be they from your family, friends, church or counsellor. It would be very difficult to attempt to gain any lasting change from the information here without that kind of reinforcement. The book is hard work if you are genuinely seeking to grow in truth and grace. The journey may be a difficult one, but the freedom and peace that can be gained from this experience make it worth the effort.