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Relational Boundaries

Cloud and Townsend identify four types of personalities that have boundary problems, which I think can be very helpful in identifying where your relationships may need adjustments. You can find a fuller description of each type in the Boundaries book.

  1. Compliant: People who can’t say no.
  2. Controlling: People who can’t or won’t hear no.
  3. Non-responsive: People who can’t say yes.
  4. Avoiding: People who can’t hear yes.

Compliant people are often driven by fear, and so they say yes to everything. Over-committed, often running late, critical of themselves, and sometimes trapped in unhealthy relationships, the compliant person needs to say NO!

Controlling people are interested in dominating others, either through aggression or manipulation. They may be irresponsible, afraid of facing consequences, and unable to delay their gratification. The controlling person needs to respect the other person’s no.

Non-responsive people do not respond to requests for anything, either because they consider the request invalid or because the request inconveniences them. They may believe they are setting boundaries, but in fact, they are driven by narcissism or a critical spirit. They need to learn how to love others effectively, which means saying YES.

Avoiding people cannot receive help from others. They do not believe their needs are significant, or they believe they should be able to do everything themselves. Even if help is offered, they refuse it. They need to learn how to accept love and assistance.

These types are not exclusive. It is common to recognize elements of yourself in more than one type, or to see that you operate differently in different areas of life. For example, you might be controlling at work and compliant at home. Or you may realize that a friendship only works because you are avoiding and your friend is non-responsive. Honest conversations with your support community can help you identify where your boundaries need help.

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