Review: Boundaries for Your Soul


Boundaries for Your SoulAlison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019.

Summary: A therapeutic approach to dealing with overwhelming emotions through a process of understanding them as parts of oneself, allowing one’s Spirit-led self to befriend and care for these parts, and integrating the parts as a “team of rivals” within one’s life.

Some feelings are so powerful that they overwhelm us–anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy, shame, and guilt. These unruly emotions break the boundaries that enable us to function in a healthy and productive way. How do we control these emotions?

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller propose an approach drawing on the Internal Family Systems Model of Therapy that sees our inner selves, or souls as consisting of a family of parts that works to free unruly parts from controlling roles and our various parts working together harmoniously under our Spirit-led self.

This model works off a map of the soul centered around the Spirit-led self who leads with creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, and confidence. Around this Spirit-led self are two types of protectors and one vulnerable part. One of the protectors is the manager that manifests in worry, people-pleasing, striving, self-criticizing, controlling, and perfecting. This part tries to protect by keeping us emotionally safe and free of pain. The other protector is the firefighter, that jumps in after painful events to extinguish pain through actions like overeating, addictions, overspending, self-harm, daydreaming, and lashing out. The third vulnerable part represents the exile: shame, fear, insecurity, hurt, loneliness, sadness. Often, a person seems to be struggling with one of the two protectors in action, and a key is quieting them to hear what the exile is saying and needs.

The key to beginning to bring these emotions under the control of the Spirit-led self is taking what the authors call a “You-Turn.” Instead of fighting or suppressing emotions, this approach assumes we can differentiate our self, particularly our Spirit-led self, from our unruly emotions. They commend five steps:

  1. Focus: Noting where we sense the feeling, thoughts or images that come to mind when we focus, early memories of feeling this way.
  2. Befriend: Are we able to feel curiosity and compassion toward this part of our soul. If there is some other emotion, that may be a different part, perhaps self-criticism, that needs to be asked to step back. Then as we return to our emotion, we ask, is there more it wants us to know?
  3. Invite: Would this part like to invite Jesus to be near? If not, what are its fears and concerns? Can it tell Jesus? Then ask Jesus if he wants to say or do anything, or give a specific gift.
  4. Unburden: what has this part been carrying? What does it fear about giving up the burden? Does the part want to release the burden and is it asking anything in exchange?
  5. Integrate: This involves checking in with other parts that might not have liked how a part was expressing itself. How can these parts work together as a harmonious family?

After outlining these steps, they apply the steps to specific emotions: anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy and desire, guilt and shame, and the challenging parts of others. Throughout the book, each step, each situation is illustrated with client stories (with details and identities changed to protect privacy.

What is attractive about this book is the clarity and simplicity with which it is written. In addition, for those who share the authors Christian assumptions, it addresses in one of the most tangible ways I’ve ever seen, how one lives a Spirit-led life, particularly as this applies to disabling emotions and defeating habits. Finally, this book is a refreshing alternative to the “try harder approaches” that seem to rely on human resolve in either suppressing or overcoming unruly emotions or habits. Instead, it builds on the idea that all of these might be focused on, befriended and listened to. These emotions point to places where we need the Spirit’s care and healing. The authors hold out the hope that, in the words of the subtitle we may “turn…overwhelming thoughts and feelings into [our] greatest allies.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Curious Bibliophiles


Karel Rélink [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bibliophiles are curious people. That may be taken in two ways and both are true. They are “curious” in the sense of being kind of odd or unusual. Books are part of their home decorating scheme. When packing for a trip, the question of “what books will I take?” may be more important than what clothes will I need. A great day is when I discover a new bookstore, or find a book I’ve always wanted to read. We are “curious” people, to be sure.

We are also curious people in that we read to understand our world. At least one of the reasons for at least some of our book choices begins with, “I always wanted to learn about…” or “I came across a book about…and I decided that might be fascinating to read.” Sometimes our curiosity is driven by real life concerns, such as when I read an in depth account of the battle of Gettysburg before visiting the battlefield. And sometimes, our curiosity seems just sparked by a whim.

Curiosity has taken me all kinds of places, from exploring the doctrine of the Trinity to the everyday phenomenon of rain. It has led me into the delightful world of Wendell Berry’s Port William Society, and through a friend’s suggestion, into the fantasy world of Middle Earth, a place I’ve visited again and again in every decade of my life. It’s taken me into darker places as well–the specter of eviction, the “problem from hell” of genocide and the evil of human trafficking.

This brings me to a question I’ve been thinking about lately. Ought we have any boundaries on our curiosity? I’m not talking about boundaries others set, which I would consider an improper, and in the American system, unconstitutional intrusion upon our liberties. The question was provoked for me when I read Bookstore, and particularly passages in which the store owner spoke of her fascination with reading about inter-species sex and about cannibalism. I think my first response was “yuck” and my second to wonder “why ever would you be interest in that?” Then it occurred to me that, much as I find these things repugnant, the truth is that they are part of the human experience, and it might not be utterly bonkers that someone would research these things and others understand them. As far as I know, this person never participated in such things and curiosity to understand phenomena like these no more necessarily leads to doing them than reading about human trafficking inclines me to traffic human beings.

I do wonder if there might be two situations in which curiosity might exceed the bounds of health. One is where that about which we are curious leads to an insatiable quest to know more and more, to the neglect of duties in real life. Do you know those who have developed an unhealthy absorption with conspiracy theories, who are constantly reading about them, talking about them, worrying about them, and in the process, alienating their friends?

The other is when curiosity leads to our minds and emotions going to places we know that for us are not healthy or even tempt us to act out in ways that are morally wrong. And here, two people may be very different. Descriptions of violence, even when not gratuitous, or erotic scenes may affect two people very differently. I had to set down the work of one science fiction writer, fascinating as I found his writing, because there was something in his recurring portrayals of violence that was not good for me. Nor do I think exploring the world of the occult, with the view of searching out the things God has hidden to be a healthy exercise of curiosity.

That said, for the most part, I think curiosity a good thing–that we were given minds of such capacity to explore every nook and cranny of God’s good world. Books are a wonderfully convenient way to do that. I don’t just read pages, but embark on a journey of discovery, whether it is of astrophysics or the composition of a Mozart. I think curiosity is one of the reasons for why we read. Curious bibliophiles, indeed!

What do you think?

Blogging into My Second Year

Can you believe it has been almost a year? In a few weeks, I will mark a year at blogging. It’s been an education and a revelation. The education part includes everything from blogging software like that of WordPress to writing catchy titles and attention grabbing first sentences to figuring out what I want to write about. The revelation part has been how much I enjoy putting into writing my thoughts, reflections and reviews on books I’m reading and connecting my own life narratives to the narratives of others.

I have also learned a tremendous amount in dialogue with those who read and comment on the blog. When I’ve written about growing up in Youngstown, I’ve been reminded of memories buried deep but that are part of the fabric of my past that shape my present. When we dialogue about issues or books, I’m made to examine my own take on things and go deeper still. And I kind of hope, reader, that we have done this together.

I’ve been amazed by the exploration of working class and the tremendous interest from many Youngstown friends, and the awakening sense that how growing up in working class industrial cities shaped people in particular ways. As I go forward, I want to keep blogging about these things as well as to continue to explore and share some of the books I’m reading and thoughts about literacy in what seems to be an increasingly visual age.

My faith does inform my writing yet I hope not to be “preachy”. For some, my faith might not seem explicit enough in what I write. My own sense is that Christian spirituality touches all the ordinary and extraordinary things of my life and I hope shows through not in the “preachiness” of what I write but simply that the goodness, truth, and whatever beauty I can muster point to the One who I believe epitomizes these things.

My faith also challenges even how I think about blogging. I’m on a kind of retreat right now and it has struck me that  blogging has become too big a thing in my life at times. I’ve become compulsive  about writing daily. And it is easy to become compulsive about checking one’s numbers of followers, views, comments, and likes. So I’ve reached a couple of decisions. One is that I will take a blogging “sabbath” each week. Sabbath has actually been a life-giving practice in my life and my compulsiveness to write every day has encroached on this. So I won’t be posting, or checking the blog at all on Sundays, the day I usually set aside to sabbath. And second, I’ve decided that I will check the blog twice a day for comments and views and that sort of stuff–once in the morning, once at night. More takes away from other things that matter including time with my wife.

So I definitely want to respond to comments. And I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t interested in knowing whether anyone is interested in this stuff. But it’s time to define some boundaries that keep it from becoming an inordinate thing in life. I actually hope that all this helps me better serve the craft of writing well.

For my blogging friends, how have you dealt with the compulsions that are peculiar to blogging?