Book Reviews

Dave Jetson’s new book Setting True Boundaries is the kind of book everyone can benefit from. Life can be very messy when we let other people run our lives for us, when we do not learn to say no, when we spend our time worrying about others’ feelings or seeking to fulfill their wants, and when we give all our time to their needs or let them mistreat and take advantage of us. Unfortunately, most of us learn the hard way that not having boundaries results in a messy and usually not very happy life.

Jetson begins this book by using an example of a basketball game that has no rules or boundaries. The result is chaos for everyone involved. Even the fans have to move to the higher bleachers for safety. Without boundaries (the rules of the game), a game of basketball is truly impossible.

The same is true of our lives. Without boundaries, no one is happy. Even teenagers will tell you, as Jetson notes, that they want their parents to set boundaries so it’s clear what is expected of them and so they can feel safe knowing what the rules are.

Boundary-setting, however, is not easy. Jetson knows many people fear to set boundaries because they don’t want to upset other people. However, while boundary setting creates some initial discomfort, in the long run, it benefits everyone involved.

Jetson explains first what true boundaries are. They have three components: limits, consequences, and consistent enforcement and follow-through. He provides numerous examples to explain these components, dedicating a chapter to each one. We see how boundary setting then enhances marriages, improves relationships between children and parents, and even helps the workplace function more smoothly.

Jetson also explains what boundaries are not. Too often, people try to set boundaries but fail because they do not understand all three components of boundary setting. They mistake a threat or an ultimatum for a boundary, or they only set a limit without providing a consequence or following through. For example, a parent might set a limit by telling a child if she forgets to bring her homework to school again, she will have to get a zero rather than have the parent bring it to school. However, if the parent then brings the homework to school the next time the child forgets it, the child will not learn to respect the boundary.

Jetson explains that people often overreact when setting boundaries, doing so to punish rather than to create a boundary everyone can benefit from. We have to show respect to the person we are setting the boundary with. We cannot control someone with a boundary, but we can give that person a choice. As Jetson explains, “When you create true boundaries, you are not controlling others or their behavior. You are allowing them to choose either the positive or negative consequence by the behavior they choose to act out.”

It is also important to be emotionally neutral when setting boundaries. Jetson says this emotional neutrality is often called “detachment with love.” For example, when someone violates a limit, the boundary setter chooses not to take the action personally and does not follow through with the consequences in a punitive way depending on their emotional state. For example, if reacting from an emotional state, a parent might send the following message to a child: “If I’m in a bad mood, I might punish you; if I’m in a good mood, I might not.” Instead, if a boundary is properly set, then the consequences have been specified and they can be carried out without emotion. As Jetson says, “The boundary setter might feel some sadness or hurt if the other person doesn’t respect a limit, and yet the deep emotions do not get triggered or escalated.”

Besides showing us how to set true boundaries, Jetson analyzes why we have had issues with boundary setting in the past. He discusses topics ranging from fear to manipulation and codependency. Codependency is ultimately the underlying problem to all boundary setting issues. Jetson describes codependency as “a false belief that we must put other people’s emotions, needs, and wants ahead of our own. We have some resentment about this, and we continue to act as if our own feelings and needs are secondary because we have been taught that we don’t matter.” He further clarifies: “Believing we need to live life in such a way that we don’t upset anyone is actually another way to describe codependency.” Through learning how to set true boundaries, we can start to break the cycle of codependency that often afflicts our families.

Parents will especially appreciate the examples Jetson includes of how children can learn to set boundaries with other adults as well as with other children, including their siblings. The example he provides of a student being picked on by a teacher is one that teaches true respect for both people involved in the situation and will show children how to be assertive rather than bullied by others.

Each chapter of Setting True Boundaries ends with exercise questions to help readers examine their own relationships where boundaries may need to be set, and then to practice what they have learned by actually setting those boundaries.

Setting True Boundaries is a phenomenal guide to creating better relationships with everyone in your life. I know because I have used many of the techniques in this book myself as a recovering codependent. My life is calmer, happier, more productive, and more relaxing as a result of setting boundaries; therefore, I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s time for you to enjoy a peaceful life and meaningful relationships as well.

For more information about Dave Jetson and Setting True Boundaries, visit www.JetsonCounseling.com.

— Tyler R. Tichelaar, PhD and award-winning author of Narrow Livesand The Best Place.