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Beyond Boundaries Participant's Guide: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships

Beyond Boundaries Participant's Guide: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships

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by John Townsend

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In this six-session small group bible study, bestselling author Dr. John Townsend helps you discover a simple path to regain the intimacy and fulfilling closeness that every person needs.

Difficult relationships can damage our ability to trust, causing us to shut down. But God designed us to experience freedom and love. To live this way, we all eventually need to


In this six-session small group bible study, bestselling author Dr. John Townsend helps you discover a simple path to regain the intimacy and fulfilling closeness that every person needs.

Difficult relationships can damage our ability to trust, causing us to shut down. But God designed us to experience freedom and love. To live this way, we all eventually need to take a risk.

After six books on Boundaries, bestselling author Dr. John Townsend realized that, though people who experienced tough relationships may put up an emotional all to protect themselves, they often have no idea how to reconnect – either with the person who has damaged their trust, or with new relationships.

Sessions include:

  1. Understanding the Problem (18:00)
  2. Knowing When You’re Ready, Part 1(16:00)
  3. Knowing When You’re Ready, Part 2 (15:00)
  4. Knowing When the Other Person is Ready (17:00)
  5. Moving into Relationship, Part 1 (17:00)
  6. Moving into Relationship, Part 2 (18:00)

Designed for use with the Beyond Boundaries DVD 97801310684480 (sold separately).

Product Details

Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.04(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.44(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Beyond Boundaries Participant's Guide

By John Townsend


Copyright © 2011 Dr. John Townsend
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-68447-3

Chapter One

Understanding the Problem RECLAIMING TRUST

Why hadn't I seen that the price of being safe—is the cost of being solitary? Why hadn't I seen that distrust can destroy a life? Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience blog post


Welcome to Session 1 of Beyond Boundaries. If this is your first time together as a group, take a moment to introduce yourselves to each other before watching the video. Then let's get started!

Video: Understanding the Problem (18 minutes)

Play the video segment for Session 1. As you watch, use the accompanying outline (pages 14–16) to follow along or to take notes on anything that stands out to you.


We can live an island-like existence, but God did not design life this way. We were meant to be connected and in relationship.

God never designed us to live like an island forever—protected and guarded and safe.

We can move beyond isolation and withdrawal—even when there's been a lot of damage—and move back into intimacy and vulnerability the way that God intended.

Four sequential events:

1. We were designed for relationship. Vertical relationship with God (Psalm 42:1)

Horizontal relationship with others (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

2. There is damage. We are not good to each other (Genesis 3).

Functional trust: You trust someone because they are dependable.

Relational trust: You know all of me and still accept me; you're safe.

3. We need boundaries. Boundaries help us when a relationship is difficult.

Let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matthew 5:37).

Defining boundary: Your values, beliefs, and what you stand for

Protective boundary: Protects you from harm

4. We experience the return of desire. We are relational beings.

Double-bind: We need relationship and we fear relationship.

Beyond Boundaries is about learning when it's safe to trust again and how to open up to the right sorts of people.


1. Admit to someone you trust that you might not want to move beyond boundaries.

2. Write down two protective boundaries and two defining boundaries you have.

3. Ask God to prepare your heart to move toward vulnerability and intimacy again.

Group discussion (40 minutes)

Take a few minutes to talk about what you just watched.

1. What part of the teaching had the most impact on you?

Designed for Relationship

2. God created us with a desire for connection so we would be drawn into deep and life-giving relationships—with him and with other people. The psalmist describes his draw to relationship with God as an intense thirst: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God" (Psalm 42:1).

• How do you experience your desire for relationship with God? In other words, what makes you aware of your need for God and of your desire to be closer to him?

• Similarly, how do you experience your desire for relationship with others (family, friends, a spouse, etc.)? What makes you aware of your need to be with others and of your desire for strong and authentic relationships?

• What similarities or differences do you notice between your desire for connection with God and your desire for connection with others? For example, is one desire stronger or more frequent than the other? Easier to recognize? Harder to act on or experience?

3. On the video, John uses an island to describe how boundaries keep us safe for a time but can also cut us off from developing trusting relationships. Using the same analogy, imagine there is a sign posted on buoys off the coast of your island. Which of the phrases below comes closest to describing what the sign might say?

No access: I pretty much hold everyone at arm's length in one way or another.

Restricted access: I rarely entrust myself to others. If I do allow someone into my life, it's typically on a temporary basis.

Guarded access: I trust and connect with a few people, but I'm cautious about allowing new people into my life.

Fair access: I have long-term and trusting connections with others and am generally open to allowing new people into my life. Open access: I work to strengthen connections in my existing relationships and actively seek out new relationships.


Overall, how have difficult relationships influenced your "access"—the degree to which you are accessible or open to connecting with and trusting others?

Damage and Boundaries

4. When relational trust is damaged, it changes the way we experience life. Which of the following common responses to loss of trust do you relate to most? If you feel comfortable, share an experience that illustrates your response.

Withdrawal: I become careful, reserved, and avoid situations in which I might feel vulnerable.

Movement to task: I overinvest in tasks related to work, career, school, activities, hobbies, or service.

Unbalanced "giver" relationships: I become the "giver" in my relationships to avoid being the "receiver."

Bad habits: I develop a troublesome behavior pattern, such as eating or sleep problems, obsessive behavior, or an addiction.


5. We establish protective boundaries in relationships to separate ourselves from people who have harmed us. Sometimes those boundaries are formal and clearly articulated to the other person; and other times they may be informal or unspoken, such as emotional withdrawal.

• Protective boundaries that are clearly articulated to another person include statements like these:

If you continue being thirty minutes late to events, I will take a separate car.

I need a better work ethic from you in the office or we'll have to make some changes.

If you won't stop drinking too much, I will take the kids and move out.

I want to see my grandkids at times when you don't need a babysitter; otherwise, I feel taken advantage of.

Have you ever had to establish this kind of protective boundary with someone? Or has someone else ever set this kind of boundary with you? Briefly describe the situation and the impact the boundary had on you.

• Protective boundaries that are informal or unspoken might include such things as:

Emotional withdrawal or distancing

Choosing not to talk about certain topics

Limited interest in new relationships

Unwillingness to be vulnerable

Maintaining a pleasant relationship rather than a close relationship

Little demonstrated desire for connection or emotional intimacy

How have you experienced this kind of boundary, either in yourself or in someone close to you?

The Return of Desire

6. We need relationship and yet we also fear relationship. It's not uncommon to feel pulled back and forth between the two desires—one says, "I want to get closer," and the other says, "Warning, danger!" Generally speaking, which are you more aware of in your life right now—your desire for relationship or your fear of relationship? Why?

7. Beyond Boundaries is about taking relational risks and learning how to trust again. Which number on the continuum below best describes how you feel about exploring these issues?

8. As you work through the six sessions of this curriculum together, what do you need or want from the other members of the group? Use one or more of the sentence starters below, or your own statement, to help the group understand the best way to companion you. As each person responds, use the chart on pages 22–23 to briefly note what is important to that person and how you can be a good companion to them.

It really helps me when ...

I tend to withdraw when ...

I'll know this group is a safe place if you ...

In our discussions, the best thing you could do for me is ...

Individual Activity: What I Want to Remember (2 minutes)

Complete this activity on your own.

1. Briefly review the outline and any notes you took.

2. In the space below, write down the most significant thing you gained in this session—from the teaching, activities, or discussions.

What I want to remember from this session ...

Closing Prayer

Close your time together with prayer.


Read and Learn

Read chapters 1–4 of Beyond Boundaries. Use the space below to note any insights or questions you want to bring to the next group session.

Study and Reflect

1. In which of your relationships do you currently have some kind of protective boundary (formal or informal) to guard your heart and help you feel safe? Check all that apply.



Extended family members

Spouse (current or former)


Dating relationships

People at church



New people or people in general


Generally speaking, what kinds of things caused you to establish boundaries in these relationships?

How have these boundaries been beneficial and served you well?

What have these boundaries cost you, or in what ways might they no longer be serving you well?

2. To better understand the differences between defining boundaries and protective boundaries, read "Two Kinds of Boundaries" on pages 26–28. Then use the charts on pages 29–30 to identify some of your defining boundaries and protective boundaries and how you have acted on both kinds of boundaries recently.

• Briefly review the defining boundaries you wrote on your chart on page 29. Which one would you say is your greatest asset or strength in relationships? In other words, which one tends to consistently draw you closer to others?

• Briefly review your protective boundaries in the chart on page 30. Which one is or has been most important in providing you a sense of emotional safety and protection?

• What parallels or contradictions do you notice between your most important defining boundary (the one you identified as your greatest asset in relationships) and your most important protective boundary? For example, if a commitment to always tell the truth is your strongest defining boundary, how is telling the truth evident or absent in your most important protective boundary?

3. When you think about moving beyond boundaries and learning to trust again, what relationships come to mind? (You may wish to review the boxes you checked in response to question 1, page 25). Use the chart on page 33 to write down any names you think of. If you also have difficulty trusting new people or people in general, write that on the chart as well. Note that in writing down someone's name, you aren't making any decisions or commitments about choosing to trust this person again. You are simply identifying relationships in which you have a boundary because trust has been damaged. Once you've written down the names, briefly assess your current level of trust for each one using the following scale:

3 = I have some trust 2 = I have limited trust 1 = I have very little trust 0 = I have zero trust

As you review the names you wrote on the chart on page 33, what emotions are you aware of? For example: fear, excitement, resistance, dread, anticipation, or something else?

In which relationship, if any, do you feel most drawn to reestablishing trust or to developing a deeper connection?

How do you hope this relationship might be different than it is now?

4. Choosing to trust someone requires taking a risk and stepping into unknown territory. In the midst of all we do not know when we take a risk with another person, God invites us to throw the full weight of our trust on him. As you read the following verses, underline the images used to describe God's trustworthiness.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. Psalm 28:7a

This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. Psalm 91:2 NLT

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. Psalm 125:1

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. Isaiah 26:4

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. John 12:46 NLT

Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. Ephesians 3:17 NLT

Of the images you underlined, which one resonates most with you?

In what ways, if any, does this image of God's trustworthiness encourage or reassure you about potentially taking a risk to trust other people in your life?

Guided Prayer

God, thank you for creating me with a desire for relationship—with you and with other people. I believe my relationships have the potential for many good things I want and need. Even so, I feel caught in the double-bind of both wanting and fearing closer relationships. The possibility of opening myself up to new people or to someone who has hurt me brings up all kinds of things—thoughts, concerns, emotions, questions. Right now, I am especially aware of ...

More than anything, I need your help with ...

Give me wisdom as I discern the people you are leading me to consider trusting again or to trusting for the first time. Particularly, I need your wisdom about ...

Please prepare my heart to be open to what you have to teach me and to begin to move toward risk again. I ask for courage to surrender my resistance to you, especially my resistance to ...

Thank you for being a place of safety for me and a rock I can rely on as I learn to trust again. Amen.


It's important to understand that there are two types of boundaries—defining boundaries and protective boundaries.

Defining boundaries are values that establish who you are and who you are not. They are at the core of your identity and reflect what you believe is important and valuable in life. Here are a few examples:

• I follow God and his ways and will always live my life in him. • I love my family and friends, and I will treat them with grace and truth. • I say and receive the truth; I'm neither silent in saying it nor defensive in receiving it.

These defining boundaries help you and others know the real you, the person who has substance and stands for things that matter. They help guide your decisions and directions in life.


Excerpted from Beyond Boundaries Participant's Guide by John Townsend Copyright © 2011 by Dr. John Townsend. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. John Townsend is a leadership consultant, psychologist, and New York Times bestselling author. He has written twenty-seven books, selling 10 million copies, including the 3 million-selling Boundaries series. John is founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling and conducts the Townsend Leadership program. He travels extensively for corporate consulting, speaking, and working with leadership families. He and his wife Barbi have two sons, and live in Newport Beach, California. One of John's favorite hobbies is playing in a band that performs in Southern California lounges and venues.

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