Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The 7 Laws of Boundaries

boudaries cover.jpg
One of the classic books on how to establish better personal boundaries is “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. This summer I brought it to the pool with me the week before our family vacations–just to help me get into better shape … you know, given the complications of family situations–and it provoked all kinds of interesting discussions about family neuroses among my friends and other pool members. Apparently boundary problems are quite common … which is why Cloud and Townsend have sold more than 2 million copies of their book.



Especially intriguing was chapter five, on the ten laws of boundaries. For the purpose of length, I highlight seven of them below, excerpting text from that chapter.

Happy boundaries making to you!

Law 1: The Law of Sowing and Reaping

The law of cause and effect is a basic law of life. Sometimes, however, people don’t reap what they sow, because someone else steps in and reaps the consequences for them. Establishing boundaries helps codependent people stop interruption the Law of Sowing and Reaping in their loved one’s life. Boundaries force the person who is doing the sowing to also do the reaping.

Law 2: The Law of Responsibility

Problems arise when boundaries of responsibility are confused. We are LOVE one another, not BE one another. I can’t feel your feelings for you. I can’t think for you. I can’t behave for you. I can’t work through the disappointment that limits bring for you. In short, I can’t grow for you; only you can. Likewise, you can’t grow for me.


Law 3: The Law of Respect

If we love and respect people who tell us no, they will love and respect our no. Freedom begets freedom. Our real concern with others should not be “Are they doing what I would do or what I want them to do?” but “Are they really making a free choice?” When we accept others’ freedom, we don’t get angry, feel guilty, or withdraw our love when they set boundaries with us. When we accept others’ freedom we feel better about our own.

Law 4: The Law of Motivation

These false motives and others keep us from setting boundaries: fear of loss of love or abandonment, fear of others’ anger, fear of loneliness, fear of losing the “good me” inside, guilt, payback, approval, over-identification with the other’s loss. The Law of Motivation says this: Freedom first, service second. If you serve to get free of your fear, you are doomed to failure.


Law 5: The Law of Evaluation

We cause pain by making choices that others do not like, but we also cause pain by confronting people when they are wrong. But if we do not share our anger with another, bitterness and hatred can set in. We need to evaluate the pain our confrontation causes other people. We need to see how this hurt is helpful to others and sometimes the best thing that we can do for them and for the relationship.

Law 6: The Law of Envy

Envy is a self-perpetuating cycle. Boundaryless people feel empty and unfulfilled. They look at another’s sense of fullness and feel envious. This time and energy needs to be spent on taking responsibility for their lack and doing something about it. Taking action is the only way out.


Law 7: The Law of Activity

Many times we have boundary problems because we lack initiative–the God-given ability to propel ourselves into life. Our boundaries can only be created by our being active and aggressive, by our knocking, seeking, and asking.

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  • Thom Hunter

    These boundaries make sense because they actually equip us to be able to better manage and make choices. What is happening with some people today is they’re not really using any criteria for establishing boundaries, but they’ve heard we’re supposed to do so for our own good. So, when asked to do something, they say, “I’m sorry. I’ve learned I just have to say ‘no.’ A person has to have boundaries.”
    If our boundaries are based on something they are meaningful and useful. If not, they just isolate us and keep us from stretching.

  • Jodi Hill

    Codependency is such a subtle evil…takes eyes to see and a stalwart will to extricate from the enmeshment. Not for the faint of heart.
    But, for those who venture out, freedom is found, fresh air is breathed, a weight is lifted…so worth it.
    Thanks for the post. I haven’t read Boundaries in years. Always good to review…

  • SuzanneWA

    I have learned the hard way about giving – and accepting – boundaries. I have just rented a room to a homeless woman, and for the first month (this one), we were “best friends,” doing and “being” for each other. Not a week ago, she turned on me, saying I was insulting her and using sarcasm. I immediately got my “dander up,” and apoogized PROFUSELY if she had misunderstood me, that my way of expressing myself could have been misunderstood. The next day, when she came in sometime before I had, a friend of mine came in, and we discussed certain personality “tics” of my roommate. Suddenly, she came out of her room, and left, slamming the door behind her.
    When she came in the following afternoon, I acted as if nothing was wrong, and asked her how her day went. She said, “I won’t tell you, because you’ll tell EVERYBODY and I won’t have a life.” At first, I was taken aback, but saw the logic in her reasoning. I really DIDN’T mean to gossip about her behind her back…I was just ignorant that she was there and the walls were so thin.
    Today, things are better between us, because, although she’s 13 years younger than me, she took the “high road” and set the boundaries for our living relationship. We still give each other advice and are friendly…just not “nosy.” I have found that setting boundaries -in ANY kind of relationship – is VERY important. I’m just sorry it had to happen at ALL. BUT, if it will make a difference in our living together harmoniously, I’m all for it.

  • EC

    Thanks for summarizing the main gist of the book. I’ve always wanted to read it but never found the time so thanks for doing the difficult part!

  • LeesaB

    This book is amazing. I read it last year and it made a profound impact on my life. It’s remarkable how we are led to a book and find it’s the one that we’ve been waiting for. I know when to say yes now and know how to say no. It’s very liberating. I highly recommend this book, and it’s partner workbook, to anyone who needs a hand in setting up their own boundaries. You’ll be glad you made the investment in yourself.

  • S.

    If only half of these fundamental laws were followed things wouldn’t get so messed up!

  • Judy

    So this morning I went to get into my car and couldn’t the neighbor backed in so clost to my car there was no room. I was so bothered but how I handled it was I left a nice friendly note asking if he could pull over a tad as he left me know room to get in. So is the way to handle it if you were going along w/some of the concepts in this book? I was very proud of myself cause I wanted to freak and didn’t

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