Book notes: Boundaries by John Townsend & Henry Cloud

Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud book summary review and key ideas.

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Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by John Townsend & Henry Cloud


“Does your life feel like it’s out of control? Perhaps you feel like you have to say yes to everyone’s requests. Maybe you find yourself readily taking responsibility for others’ feelings and problems. Or perhaps you focus so much on being loving and unselfish that you’ve forgotten your own limits and limitations. Or maybe it’s all of the above.

In the New York Times best seller, Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend help you learn when to say yes and know how to say no in order to take control of your life and set healthy, biblical boundaries with your spouse, children, friends, parents, co-workers, and even yourself.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I believe this book was recommended by a friend of mine who is also a fellow Christian. He said that this book really changed his perspective in regard to relationships with others. I really enjoy books about navigating relationships with the people around us so I’m really looking forward to this one.

Key notes:

Part One: What Are Boundaries?

Chapter 1: a day in a boundaryless life

  • Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries
    • We need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibilities and what isn’t 
  • Some appropriate questions:
    • Can I set limits and still be loving person?
    • What are legitimate boundaries?
    • What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?
    • How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, money, or energy?
    • Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?
    • How do boundaries relate to mutual submission in marriage?
    • Aren’t boundaries selfish? 

Chapter 2: what does a boundary look like? 

  • Boundaries define us. They define what it’s me and what is not me
    • A boundary shows me where I end and where someone else begins leading me to a sense of ownership
  • The Bible says we are responsible to each other and for ourselves
  • Creating boundaries between adult children and their parents are needed, and usually improves the relationship
  • Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart a space it needs to be safe. It is never a permanent way of living
    • People who have been in abusive relationships need to find a safe place to begin to thaw out emotionally
  • Many people are too quick to trust someone in the name of forgiveness and not make sure that the other is producing fruit and keeping with repentance
  • Your most basic need in life is for relationship
  • Own your feelings and be aware of them
  • Setting limits and accepting responsibility will save lives
  • Our behavior reaps consequences
  • What we value is what we love and assign importance to
    • Often we don’t take responsibility of what we value
  • We are told to take responsibility for our talents
  • We rarely see people as they really are
    • Our perceptions are distorted by past relationships and our own preconceptions of who we think they are, we do not see clearly
  • Often our loneliness is a result of our own lack of responsiveness

Chapter 3: boundary problems

  • Blocking a child’s ability to say no handicaps that child for life
  • Compliant people have fuzzy and indistinct boundaries
  • God desires compassion, not sacrifice
    • In other words God wants us to be compliant from the inside out -Compassionate
    • Not compliant on the outside and resentful on the inside
  • Avoidance is saying no to the good
    • The inability to ask for help, to recognize one’s own needs. To let others in
    • Avoidants withdraw when they are in need. They do not ask for the support of others
  • Boundaries are supposed to be able to breathe, to be like fences with a gate that can let the good in and the bad out
  • Controllers: not respecting other people’s boundaries
    • Controllers can’t respect others limits
    • They resist taking responsibility for their own lives so they need to control others
    • Caring for someone so that they’ll care back for us is simply an indirect means of controlling someone else
  • While we shouldn’t take on the responsibility of others feelings, attitudes and behaviors, we do have certain responsibilities to each other
    • Married couples do have a responsibility to connect with one another, not only as providers and parenting partner, but also as a loving husband or wife
    • Connecting emotionally with your spouse is part of loving them as yourself 
  • You aren’t responsible for your partners feelings, but you are responsible to them
  • Don’t withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is within your power to do it
  • How do you develop boundaries?
    • Why do some people seem to have natural boundaries while others don’t?
    • It had a kit to do with the family in which you grew up

Chapter 4: how boundaries are developed

  • God’s desire is for you to know where your injuries and deficits are, whether self-induced or other-induced
    • Ask him to shed the light on significant relationships and forces that have contributed to your own boundary struggles
    • The past is your ally in repairing your present and ensuring a better future
  • Boundaries aren’t inherited, they’re built
  • Our deepest need is to belong, to be in a relationship. To have a spiritual and emotional home
    • The very nature of God is to be in relationship. God is love
    • Love means relationship, the caring, committed connection of one individual to another
    • Our most central need is to be connected
  • Attachment is the foundation of the soul’s existence
    • When this foundation is cracked or faulty, boundaries become impossible to develop
    • When we lack in relationship, we have nowhere to go in a conflict
  • Parents play an important role in helping their child develop healthy boundaries when growing up
  • Children learn that if someone they love pulls away when they become angry, cantankerous, or experimental, children learn to hide these parts of themselves
  • God’s discipline teaches, not punishes
    • God disciplines us for his good in order that we share in his holiness
    • Discipline later on produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it
  • The problem of over-control is: While a major responsibility of good parents is certainly to control and protect, they must make room for their children to make mistakes

Chapter 5: Ten Laws of Boundaries

  • A person who continually rescues another person is a co-dependent
    • In effect, co-dependent, boundary-less people co-sign the note of life for the irresponsible people in their lives
      • Then they end up paying the bills emotinally, physically, and spiritually
  • You cannot change others
    • More people suffer from trying to change others than from any other sickness
    • What you can do is influence others
    • Since you cannot get them to change, you must change yourself so that their destructive patterns no longer work on you
      • Change your way of dealing with them
  • We need to love others and respect their boundaries in order to command respect for our own
  • It is a blessing to give than to receive
    • If you don’t feel happy, you need to examine your motivation for giving
    • The law of motivation says: freedom first, service second
    • If you serve to get free of your fear, you are doomed to failure
    • Let God work on the fears, resolve them, and create healthy boundaries to guard the freedom you were called to
  • Many people who are inherently passive are not evil or bad people. But evil is an active force, and passivity can become an ally of evil by not pushing against it
    • Passivity never pays off. God will match our effort but he will never do our work for us
    • God wants us to be assertive and active
  • We exist in relationship. Boundaries are really about relationship, and finally about love
    • Your boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them in relationship

Chapter 6: common boundary myths

  • Myth 1: If I set boundaries, I’m being selfish
    • Appropriate boundaries actually increase our ability to care about others
      • People with highly developed limits are the most caring people on earth
    • Our lives are a gift from God. We have a duty to develop ourselves and say no to things that are harmful to us. This protects God’s investment
  • Myth 2: Boundaries are a sign of disobedience
  • Myth 3: If I begin setting boundaries, I’ll be hurt by others
    • Many Marriages are strengthened after boundaries are set because the spouse begins to miss the relationships
  • Myth 4: If I set boundaries, I’ll hurt others
    • Appropriate boundaries don’t control, attack, or hurt anyone. They simply prevent your treasures from being taken at the wrong time
    • We are a group of lumpy, bumpy, unfinished sinners who ask for help and give help
      • When our supportive network is strong enough, we all help each other mature into what God intended us to be, beating with one another with love
  • Myth 5: Boundaries mean I am angry
    • Anger can serve as an early warning signal for danger
    • It also provides us with a sense of power to solve a problem
      • It energizes us to protect ourselves and those we love, and our principles
    • Anger doesn’t understand time and doesn’t dissipate automatically
      • It doesn’t matter when the danger occurred recently or a long time ago. That’s why it needs to be worked through appropriately
      • This is why individuals with injured boundaries are shocked by the rage they feel inside when they begin setting limits
    • Boundaries decrease anger
  • Myth 6: When others set boundaries, it injures me
    • It’s is crucial to develop several deep significant relationships
    • This allows those in our lives to feel free to say no to us without guilt because we have somewhere else to go 
  • Myth 7: Boundaries cause feelings of guilt

Part Two: Boundary Conflicts

Chapter 7: boundaries and your family

  • One sure sign of boundary problems is when your relationship with one person has the power to affect the relationship with others
    • You are giving one person way too much power in your life
  • Adults who do not stand on their own financially are still children
    • To be an adult, you must live within your own means and pay for your own failures
  • The way to avoid triangulation is to talk to the person you have a conflict with directly and not loop in other people
    • And only if the person denies the problem, talk to someone else to find ways to resolve it, but not to gossip or bleed off anger
      • Then talk together with the person directly
      • Never say something about someone to a third party that you don’t plan on telling them directly
  • Giving to your parents is good, but make sure it is within your boundaries and what you are comfortable with given your situation
  • Look at the boundary problems in your family of origin and pinpoint the laws being broken and the resulting negative fruit
  • Forgive those that have hurt you and relieve them of the debt that they will or may never be able to repay
    • This ends your suffering
  • Respond, don’t react

Chapter 8: boundaries and your friends

  • The answer to relationship problems is to be in Christ Jesus
    • When we stay connected to God, our friends, and our support group, we are filled up with the grace to hang in there and fight out the boundary conflicts that arise
    • Without this external source of connection, we’re doomed to an empty willpower that ultimately fails or makes us think we’re omnipotent
  • All commitment is based on a loving relationship
    • Being loved leads to commitment and willful decision making, not the reverse
  • Couples need to know where they disagree and lock horns, and be honest about it

Chapter 9: boundaries and your spouse

  • The problem arises when one person in the relationship trespasses on the other’s personhood, and tries to control the other feelings, attitudes, behaviors, choices, and values of the other
    • Trying to control others boundaries will fail
  • Marriage is about getting conflicted wants worked out
    • The other person is not responsible for our limits
    • Only we know what we can and want to give
    • Only we can be responsible for drawing that line. If we do not draw it, we can quickly become resentful
  • Allowing people to chose the way to act but giving appropriate consequences for their actions is the better path
  • Love and limits go together
    • When you set boundaries, be lovingly responsible to the person in pain
      • Spouses who are wise and loving will accept boundaries and act responsibly towards them
      • Remember that a boundary always deals with yourself, not the other person
      • Only these kinds boundaries are enforceable for you so have control over yourself
  • The law of exposure: the need for revealing your boundaries is important
    • Passive boundaries and passive behavior are extremely destructive to a relationship
    • Passive ways of showing people that they do not have control over you don’t lead to intimacy, they only estrange
  • Honest communication is always best
    • Own the truth about your feelings and hurts, and communicate them directly to your spouse with love
  • Physical space: when you need time away, tell your spouse
    • Sometimes it’s for nourishing, sometimes it’s for limit setting
    • In either case, they shouldn’t have to guess why you don’t want them around
    • Communicate clearly so they know they’re not being punished but knows they are experiencing the consequences of their behavior
  • In an troubled marriage you may need emotional space
    • Waiting to trust again is wise. You need to see if they are truly repentant, and they need to see their their behavior has a cost
    • Your spouse may interpret this as a punishment, but the Bible says we are to judge a person by their actions, not their words
      • In addition, a hurt heart takes time to heal. You cannot rush back with too much stuff unresolved hurt
      • That hurt needs to be exposed and communicated, as well as owned
  • Spouses in healthy relationships need time apart so they can appreciate and feel the desire to be together
    • Spouses cherish each other’s space and we champions of each other’s causes
  • If you need outside help and support for setting boundaries in your relationship, do so
    • Do not seek support from the opposite sex, but seek those with built in boundaries like support groups or counselors
  • Communicate consequences clearly and enforce them firmly
    • This gives your spouse a choice about whether or not they want those consequences to happen
  • Every marriage has two ingredients: togetherness and separateness
    • Ideally, each spouse will carry an equal load of each
    • Setting boundaries can correct imbalances in a relationship
  • Boundaries are like muscles. They need to be built up in a safe support system and allowed to grow
    • Shouldering too much weight too quickly will cause injury
  • The goal of boundaries is love coming out of freedom
    • When you are in control of yourself, you can give and sacrifice for loved ones in a helpful way

Chapter 10: boundaries and your children

  • In addition to helping children learn how to bond and form strong attachments, they need to give children a sense of responsibility
    • They need to know what they’re responsible for and what they’re not responsible for
    • They help then know how to say “no” and how accept a “no”
  • Practice is important in learning boundaries and responsibility
    • Discipline is an external boundary designed to develop internal boundaries in their children
    • It provides a structure of safety until children have enough structure in their character to not to need it
    • Good discipline always moves children towards more internal structure and more responsibility
Punishment vs Discipline
  • Punishment is payment for wrongdoing
    • Legally it’s paying a penalty for breaking the law
    • Punishment doesn’t leave a lot of room for practice however. It’s not a great teacher as the price is too high
    • Punishment looks back and focuses on making payment for wrongs done in the past
  • Discipline looks forward
    • The lessons we learn from discipline helps us not to make the same mistakes again
  • Allow children the space to verbalize their feelings, opinions, and needs so they are comfortable even if it goes against the family grain
    • Allow them to talk about and feel their emotions without needing to cheer them up or talk them out of feeling it
  • Children must learn the skill of delaying gratification
  • Children need to learn that people won’t always be available for us
    • It will teach them to be inwardly directed instead of externally driven
  • We need to accept that we will be told “no” and to learn to accept other people’s limits

Chapter 11: boundaries and work

  • Work will grow to fill the time you set aside for it 
  • Don’t get baited or sucked in by critics or mockers
  • Ask God to help develop your work identity
    • As you develop your talents and skills, see it as a partnership with God

Chapter 12: boundaries and the digital age

  • We are to use our freedom to serve one another humbly in love
    • You are free and your boundaries are meant to protect that freedom
    • But do not use your freedoms to hurt yourself or those around you
    • Boundaries are to keep the good in and the bad out of you
  • The sabbath was meant to protect us and keep us safe, and enhance our lives with God
  • Adhering to structures, boundaries, or rules can be very beneficial
    • But rules in and of themselves should not be your master, robbing you of the freedom to do good for others or yourself
  • Find the misery and make a rule
  • If you are incapable of not using it, you are mastered by it
  • Teen formula: freedom = responsibility + love
  • Relationship and love both fill us up and displace fear and anxiety
    • Resist fomo and wanting to stay connected on social media
  • Obverse regular, non-digital time periods 
  • Miss out on the right things to have the best life focusing on the important things
  • Protect your most important asset, your relationships
    • When it comes to relationships, set a limit on the digital and prioritize the face-to-face
  • Synchronous communication is needed to resolve conflicts as the warmth is needed to convey difficult truths
    • Asynchronous communications are less effective at problem solving
    • Physical presence with each other is what we need to thrive 
  • Calendar important relationships
    • Schedule time to meet with people
    • Be the initiator of synchronous communication
  • Having a full life means investing your time and energy in relationships and activities that are meaningful, enjoyable, and engaging in

Chapter 13: boundaries and yourself

  • Not having control of your spending or not being responsible with finances is a self-boundary issue
  • Not being good with time is also a self-boundary problem
  • Will is strengthened by relationship
    • If we rely on willpower alone, we’re destined to fail

Chapter 14: boundaries and God

  • We also have to accept God’s freedom and boundaries, and the consequences we get from him because of our actions
    • Like with God and relationships, we shouldn’t withdraw love just because the other doesn’t do what we want them to do
  • When we make our feelings and wishes known, God responds
    • We can influence God. It wouldn’t be a real relationship if we couldn’t
  • When we are hurting, we need to take responsibility for the hurt and make some appropriate moves to make things better

Part Three: Developing Healthy Boundaries

Chapter 15: resistance to boundaries

  • Anger is a typical reaction to boundaries because of entitlement
  • Don’t allow someone’s anger to control or affect you
    • Recognize guilt messages and don’t let them affect you or cross your boundaries
  • You face a risk in setting boundaries with others and gaining control of your life
    • In most instances, the results are not drastic for as soon as the other person knows you’re serious, they start to change
    • They find the limit setting something to be good for them
  • Learn what your limits are and give what you have decided in your heart to give, then send them to people who can further help them
  • Prayer is the best antidote to the anxiety about the future
    • Lean on God
  • Forgiveness is not denial

Chapter 16: how to measure success with boundaries

  • Before setting boundaries, examine your heart and your feelings
  • Loving others’ boundaries increases our capacity to care about others
  • Boundaries help us build empathy

Chapter 17: a day in a life with boundaries

Closing thoughts:

I absolutely loved this book. This was one of the rare books that fundamentally shifted the way I think in my life. The concept of boundaries made me examine my own interactions and relationships with others.

I found that in our lives, we need to examine our own feelings, emotions, and boundaries. This is the only way we can strengthen our relationships with others. This also helps us to respect and protect others’ boundaries. It’s through boundaries that we have the freedom and ability to truly love others. If we don’t set boundaries, our relationships will be strained.

The thing I loved most about this book is that it is focused on Biblical principles and focuses on spiritual principles in relation to God. As a person of faith, when self-improvement insights are rooted in Christian principles, they make an even greater impact on my mind.

I understand that not everyone who reads this book or my summaries will be a person of faith. However, for me, this reinforces the validity of the advice in the book.

Overall, I highly recommend this read. Even if you aren’t a person of faith, the concepts outlined in this book will affect the way you understand and approach relationships.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

The biggest and main takeaway I got from this book is:

  • Understanding, clearly communicating, enforcing, and respecting boundaries (your own and others’) will improve your relationships

If there was one takeaway I would pass along to someone else based on this book, this point would be it. Understanding our own boundaries, then communicating and enforing them will improve all of your relationships. Respecting your own and others’ boundaries will help build empathy and compassion all around.


Understanding and utilizing healthy boundaries are the keys to gaining control of your life and improving the relationships in your life.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.


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