Boundaries: Is Your Family Dysfunctional?

Reviewing Boundaries website teachings and comparing them with Scripture. 

Christians understand that we are fallen human beings who need grace. So why are we so impressed with "Boundaries"?

For an introduction and review of the Boundaries online teachings, see Are Henry Cloud's Boundaries Teachings Biblical?

We're all dysfunctional.

We don’t need to spend too many minutes on the Boundaries site before realizing that the authors believe that pretty much everyone has a dysfunctional family. 

It’s true that every family has to deal with differences and difficulties. We are fallen human beings.  

However, when we are open to correction, honest about our own sins, and interested in the concerns of others, we can learn to get along in some very difficult situations. We Christians can operate in God's strength and we know the importance of offering grace to others because God has offered it to us. 

We aren't called to avoid difficulties. We're called to work through them graciously and biblically. We aren't called to give up, we're called to persevere.

The power of suggestion is potent.

Cloud’s first line in How to Set Boundaries Within a Dysfunctional Family is: “Look at your own life situation and see where boundary problems exist with your parents and siblings.” 

This statement appeals to our fallen human nature. We'd much rather blame-shift than take responsibility for our sins. Pointing fingers is easier than obeying the instructions in Romans 12:17-21:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In rare situations boundaries are right.

Christians understand that we are fallen human beings who need grace. So why are we so impressed with "Boundaries"?
If we’re talking about violent, criminal, or drug-addicted family members, “boundaries” would be necessary. But most people reading Boundaries articles are simply dealing with difficult, annoying, or negative family members. And those who set up boundaries are often part of the problem.

Cloud occasionally reminds readers to take the log out of their eye (Matthew 7:1-5). But his definition of a log is not the definition in Scripture.

Matthew 7 warns against judgmental, hypocritical attitudes toward others. Cloud believes our log is our failure to set up boundaries: See yourself as the problem and find your boundary violations.

Cloud's Freudian beliefs are present in many of his explanations: “You do not act in inappropriate ways for no reason. You are often trying to meet some underlying need that your family of origin did not meet. Maybe we are still entangled because of a need to be loved, approved of, or accepted.

The Bible never blames our problems on others. It tells us that we are responsible for our choices (James 1:13-15).

Cloud tells readers to avoid people who have abused and controlled you in the past.But he often uses words like abuse and control to define normal relationship differences, not actual abuse or control. For further proof of exaggerated descriptions in Boundaries teachings, see Are there Really Just 3 Types of People?

There is a great deal of contradiction in Cloud's explanations. For example:

✔ “It is good to sacrifice and deny yourself for the sake of others. But you need boundaries to make that choice.” 

✔ “Nothing clarifies boundaries more than forgiveness...Let go of the dysfunctional family you came from.

Blaming our family for our problems and setting up boundaries to protect ourselves from difficult relationships rarely flows from self-denial and forgiveness. More often those attitudes flow from pride and bitterness.

As one writer described it: “In today’s environment, where pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narratives predominate, therapists have become the new high priests providing moral legitimacy to decisions about whom to keep or lose in one’s life, parents included… This perspective – with roots not only in Sigmund Freud, but John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau – implies that the self is born in an exemplary state, free of weaknesses or shortcomings.” (source)

Cloud recommends boundaries to deal with manipulative family members, but boundaries can end up being the most manipulative aspect of the relationship.

Christians understand that we are fallen human beings who need grace. So why are we so impressed with "Boundaries"?

Let's replace "boundaries" truths with Bible truths.

Philippians 2:3-5: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus."  

Let's look at the example of Joseph who forgave and refused to set up boundaries against his evil brothers because he knew this truth: 

Genesis 50:19-20: "But Joseph said to them, 'Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.'"  

Whether intentional or not, boundaries teachings often put us in the place of God, judging others for their failures instead of seeking to grow and mature in our relationship skills. Instead of learning to work through problems, boundaries encourages us to give up and move on.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, quotes come from How to Set Boundaries Within a Dysfunctional Family. 

For a collection of helpful articles about specific Boundaries errors in their teachings about marriage, family, and church relationships, see Are Boundaries Biblical Collection.


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