Boundaries: Shallow and Frequently Abused

Lots of people have recommended the book “Boundaries” to me.

Most of them are not people who know me very well.  🙂

My regular readers might have seen this review coming a mile away.  But, let it be known that I tried.  I really tried to read Boundaries with an open mind…

Boundaries offers approximately one chapter’s worth of material, stretched into 300 pages of repetition, repetition, repetition.

The book doesn’t give the impression that its author carefully considered other perspectives. If Dr. Henry Cloud had spent some time wrestling with his main thesis, then perhaps he would have predicted what was inevitible:

His message was published in 1992 with the intention of helping victims, but it has become a weapon weilded by the abusers in 2018.

(I wrote about the increasingly “blurry line” between victims and abusers in the post found at this link.)

Within the pages of Boundaries, over-simplified scenarios only serve to confirm what most readers already want to believe:  that he or she (probably “she”) has worked too hard and given too much to a bunch of ungrateful relatives who don’t deserve it.

In the very first chapter, the opening example reports all the many ways the heroine (“Sherrie”) is under-appreciated by the people closest to her. One of those people taking advantage of Sherrie is her mother, who is described as having “elevated her widowhood to the status of martyrdom.”

Martyr Mom is pushy.

Martyr Mom feels sorry for herself.

Martyr Mom has a way of making the world revolve around her…

Bluntly, Martyr Mom is the character type predominantly reading and recommending the book “Boundaries“–but she thinks she is the poor, put-upon “Sherrie” who needs to speak up for herself.

Boundaries, then, amounts to 300 pages worth of opportunities for The Martyr to build herself up and validate everything she already believes about how her only flaw is loving herself too little.

Now, I don’t blame Dr. Cloud entirely for the mismanagement of his book.  After all, God’s Book also gets twisted when a self-centered abuser uses it to control other people instead of allowing him/herself to be humbled.

But, where I do take up issue with Dr. Cloud is when he’s the one doing the twisting, in an attempt to support his idea of self-protection.   Cloud writes:

“Don’t confuse self-absorption with a God-given sense of taking responsibility for one’s own needs first so that you’re able to love others. (Phil. 2:4)

…God wants us to take care of ourselves so that we can help others…”

Yes, he used Phil. 2:4 to demonstrate a supposedly biblical mandate of putting ourselves first. Do you know what Philippians 2:4 says?  “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also to the interests of others.”

I take that to mean DON’T just look at your own interests (as humans do naturally), but ALSO consider others (which takes more intention and practice).

The verse right before it says “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, value others above yourselves.”  And the verse AFTER the one Dr. Cloud referenced says:

“Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…”


That’s an almost unbelievable misuse of Scripture.

Suddenly it’s not difficult to see why Dr. Cloud’s book has been elevated above the Bible in certain circles.  He does a masterful job of making American Pop Psych beliefs sound like they came from God…even when they didn’t.

Now, I want to make it clear, I didn’t disagree with everything written in the book.  In fact, 90% of Boundaries is simple fluff that was so basic and vague there’s nothing to disagree with at all.

Take the advice on page 60 of my eBook copy:

“The husband isn’t responsible FOR [the wife’s] emotional well-being. But he is responsible TO her. His inability to respond to her needs is a neglect of his responsibility.”

Anybody who thinks that passage is helpful ought to clarify it for the rest of us. I suspect it’s psychobabble. This type of pretty wordplay makes up at least half the book, appealing to the masses by sounding similar to whatever worldview the reader already holds.

Dr. Cloud didn’t convey a solid concept with his “emotional responsibility” jibberish. He only put words on a page.  But sentences bordering on nonsense might sound great to anyone with some sort of belief about “husbands” and “emotions,” because word salads appeal to poor readers.

Thus, the vast majority of the book is shallow and boring.

Most of it isn’t “wrong,” so much as it’s useless. There is absolutely no acknowledgement that interpersonal relationships are complicated and difficult. There’s no admission that concepts such as sacrifice and suffering are mentioned in the Bible waaaaaay more than “personal boundaries.” (Way. More.)

And that’s why my overall conclusion is that Boundaries is silly at best, veering into downright dangerous when adopted by The Martyr.

If you want to have an interesting conversation, go ahead and read Boundaries and then read A Fierce Love by Shauna Shanks. 

This woman kept treating her husband with grace and patience, even when he told her he wanted a divorce and started dating other women.  No joke–she tells the story of making dinner in the kitchen while her husband was in the bathroom getting ready to go out with someone else! And what did she hear God telling her during that season?  To keep loving him fiercely.

Are your eyes bugging out of your head right now, Reader?!  Does that sound crazy to you? I think everyone who has read Boundaries should pick up Shanks’ book as well, and THEN we’ll be ready to wrestle with the concept of unconditional love in a meaningful way…


In the meantime, I’m getting pretty tired of immature, controlling, martyr-minded folks putting their hands in my face and shouting, “BOUNDARIES!”

Everytime I’m blocked on social media, it’s done by someone who cites the need for “boundaries” to be placed on “toxic people” (like me).

Reader, someone close to me actually said, “I’m setting boundaries for my own health, and you just don’t like them” within seconds after referring to me as a jackass and a bitch. I was told I’m not parenting properly and my children are rotten. Later, she warned me to call the cops because “I’m coming to your house!” and called my husband while en route to announce, “I’m going to slap your wife for what she said!”

….this woman thinks she needs boundaries.

On the other hand, I’m still drawn to the “Fierce Love” approach myself.  I will keep my promise to this loved one, to continue with as much grace and patience as I can manage, even as I’m being threatened with physical assault.

Jesus loved people who spit on him.

What I’m saying is, relationships are complicated–and they are certainly more nuanced than Dr. Cloud’s book would suggest.  In the wrong hands, Boundaries becomes a hundred times more spiritually damaging than “caring too much” ever was.  That’s why I just can’t recommend it.

Here’s the link again to the post about victims and abusers having a role-reversal in the last couple decades.  Click here to read it.

And, if you’re someone who loved Boundaries, I just want you to do something for me. Imagine the person you were thinking of when you read it. (You know the one I’m talking about!)  Your husband or kids or boss or whoever you were thinking of when you were trying to learn how to stand up to narcisstic, manipulative, boundary-less people. Now imagine that person buys a copy of Boundaries and starts quoting Dr. Cloud back to you instead. Would that be a healthy thing?


Okay, I rest my case.


4 thoughts on “Boundaries: Shallow and Frequently Abused

  1. mrsmcmommy Post author

    Note: I started this post MORE THAN TWO YEARS AGO.   I have been putting off working on it for various reasons, even though every few months someone would mention “Boundaries,” and it would remind me I needed to finish outlining my problems with it.

    Finally, this month, it became clear that it was time to hit “publish.” There’s an obvious flaw with a book about standing up, saying no, and not allowing others to question your resolve. It’s dangerous when abusers claim victimhood.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kara

    Howdy! I’ve been reading your blog for a bit but I’ve been a bit shy of responding. I was also recommended this book at the end of the year last year. I read it and I neither enjoyed it nor did it sit right with me. I think you’ve outlined a lot of my problems with it.

    I’ve also had people who need these mythical boundaries for their health yet they’re rather abrasive to me. My crime? Being a conservative Christian.


    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Thanks for reading, Kara! And for peeking out to say “hey!”

      … I think the next step for me is to podcast with my dad about this. After reading the comments under the post that Cheryl shared above, I’m thinking this is a topic that could resonate with a lot of people.



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