Is Your Family Holding You Back?

When some individuals begin to develop boundaries, they say, “But my mother (or father, or sister, or brother) is my best friend.” They often feel fortunate that, in times of family stress, their best friends are the family in which they were raised. They don’t think they need an intimate circle of friends besides their own parents and siblings.

They misunderstand the biblical function of the family. . . .

Enjoy the Rewards of Boundaries in 3 Straightforward Steps

Jean used to believe that she would never learn how to say no and make it stick. But, as she sat at her kitchen table with a teacup in hand, she felt amazed. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but a pleasant one. Her mind wandered back to the events of the morning. Her eight-year-old son, Bryan, had begun the day with his usual waking-up shenanigans. He sulked and pouted his way to the breakfast table, announcing, “I’m not going to school — and no one’s going to make me!”

Normally Jean would have either tried to talk Bryan into attending school, or blown up at him in frustration. However, this morning was different. . . .

How to Cure Your Fear of Being Alone

Boundaries in Dating

“Just call him and tell him that it is over,” I (Dr. Cloud) said to Marsha. I had listened to her for months now about her dating relationship with Scott and how she could not stand some of his hurtful patterns. And I was getting both concerned and tired of her denial of the kind of person that he really was. I began to push her.
 So she decided to do it. She called him and broke it off. As expected, he went crazy and showed up at her door begging for her to not go through with it. There were all sorts of promises of change and the usual things that people in denial say when threatened with loss of love. But she held her ground. At least for a day. . . .

What to Do When Trust Is Broken

Several years ago, I (Dr. Cloud) went to a conference on working with character disorders, and the instructor was giving a list of priorities to psychologists who treat them. “Character disorder” is a catch-all term, but one way of defining it is “people who do not take ownership and responsibility for their lives.” I will never forget what the instructor said about the number-one priority—other than protecting your personal safety—in treating character disorders. He said, “As soon as there is any kind of deception, stop everything.” If you are trying to help someone and he is lying to you in some way, there is no relationship. The whole thing is a farce, and you should not go any further in trying to help the person until you settle the issue of deception. There are no other issues at that point except that one. Trust is everything in a helping relationship, and when it is broken, it becomes the only issue to work on. Either fix that or end the relationship. Where there is deception, there is no relationship. It was wise training and good counsel from a very experienced leader in the field. Thirty-five years of practice had taught him... Continue Reading »

The Cure for the Disease of Entitlement

Entitlement is the belief that I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment. Entitlement is: The man who thinks he is above all the rules. The woman who feels mistreated and needs others to make it up to her. I (Dr. Townsend) need you to understand the concept of entitlement thoroughly, so that you can recognize it and help others get past it. It is not always easy to understand. Entitlement is not the person who has needs or struggles that she cannot deal with on her own. She is in need. Chronically ill individuals and disabled veterans often are in great need of help, and we need to help them. Entitlement is the person who is capable of taking care of himself and still expects others to do that for him, because he feels he is owed that. This includes the able-bodied adult child who continues to live with his parents, refusing to work, to contribute to the home’s upkeep, or even to clean up after himself. It can also include the worker who takes advantage of disability benefits after she has recovered. There is a solution to entitlement, which I call the Hard Way. The... Continue Reading »

Common Signs of a Lack of Boundaries with Family

Let’s look at some common signs of a lack of boundaries with the family we grew up in. Catching the Virus A common scenario is this: one spouse doesn’t have good emotional boundaries with the family he grew up in — his family of origin. Then when he has contact with them by phone or in person, he becomes depressed, argumentative, self-critical, perfectionistic, angry, combative, or withdrawn. It is as though he “catches” something from his family of origin and passes it on to his immediate family. His family of origin has the power to affect his new family in a trickle-down effect. One sure sign of boundary problems is when your relationship with one person has the power to affect your relationships with others. You are giving one person way too much power in your life. I remember one young woman who made steady gains in therapy until she talked to her mother, when she would withdraw for three weeks. She would say things like, “I’m not changing at all. I’m not getting any better.” Fusing with many of her mother’s ideas about her, she wasn’t able to stay separate. This fusion with her mother affected her other relationships.... Continue Reading »

Are You Blackmailing Your Children?

“Every time I disagree with my mother, even on little things, I feel this terrible sense that she’s not there anymore,” mused Ingrid over coffee with her friend Alice. “It’s like she’s hurt and withdrawn, and I can’t get her back. It’s really a horrible feeling to think you’ve lost someone you love.” Let’s be honest. None of us enjoys being told no. It’s difficult to accept another person’s refusal to give support, to be intimate, or to forgive. Yet good relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Good relationships are built on appropriate no’s. Even when we’re children, young or old, we need to know our boundaries will be honored. It is crucial that our disagreements, our practicing of saying no, and our experimentation will not result in a withdrawal of love. How often do we hear the statement that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”? It’s true. His love is constant and never fails. When parents detach from a misbehaving young child instead of staying connected and dealing with the problem, God’s constant love is misrepresented. When parents pull away in... Continue Reading »

Boundaries, Compliance, and the Fear of Saying No

“May I tell you something embarrassing?” Robert asked me (Dr. Townsend). A new client, Robert was trying to understand why he had so much difficulty refusing his wife’s constant demands. He was going broke trying to keep up with the Joneses. “I was the only boy in my family, the youngest of four children. There was a strange double standard in my house involving physical fighting.” Robert cleared his throat, struggling to continue. “My sisters were three to seven years older than me. Until I was in sixth grade, they were a lot bigger and stronger. They’d take advantage of their size and strength and wale on me until I was bruised. I mean, they really hurt me. “The strangest part of it all was my parents’ attitude. They’d tell us, ‘Robert is the boy. Boys don’t hit girls. It’s bad manners.’ Bad manners! I was getting triple-teamed, and fighting back was bad manners?” Robert stopped. His shame kept him from continuing, but he’d said enough. He had unearthed part of the reason for his conflicts with his wife. When parents teach children that setting boundaries or saying no is bad, they are teaching them that others can do with... Continue Reading »

How to Set Holiday Boundaries with Family

When you were born, God placed you into a family for a season of time to help you grow into a mature adult. At some point this season ends, and your relationship with your parents changes from child-to-parent to adult-to-adult. The roles change from dependency and authority to mutuality. While you are to respect and care for your mother and father, you are no longer under their protection and tutelage. Children are to obey parents, while adult children are to love and honor them. Therefore, situations will occur where you need to make decisions and set boundaries with family with which they may not agree. For example, you might decide to spend some traditional holiday time apart from your family. This can often be a cause for a confrontational talk: You: “Mom, I wanted to let you know as soon as I could that I’ve made plans to go to the mountains with some friends this Christmas. I know this will be the first Christmas I won’t be with you and Dad, so I wanted to talk to you about it.” Mom: “What are you talking about? You always spend Christmas with us. Your father will be so hurt.” You:... Continue Reading »

When Negatives Are Really Positives

Written by Dr. John Townsend, exclusive to BoundariesBooks.com. People who have a hard time setting limits in their relationships often are concerned about their effect. They don’t want to be negative with others. For example, a wife with a controlling husband may be afraid he will become angry if she says no to his control. A father may fear alienating his adult child when he sets a time limit on how long he can live at home. Or a boss may be concerned about morale dropping if he has to have a tough talk with a key employee. As a result, they often postpone the talks that need to happen. It is true that confronting problems and setting limits is not a “positive” experience. That is, it involves some difficult talks and actions that feel negative in nature. People can react in defensive, angry or hurt ways. However, just because something feels negative at the time doesn’t mean it will have a negative outcome. A “no” can often result in a problem solved. Speaking the truth in love (see Ephesians 4:15) and setting an appropriate limit may result in very healthy outcomes. The husband gets defensive, then in time sees... Continue Reading »