Love, But Don’t Let Yourself Be Manipulated


It’s no secret that quite often, when people begin telling the truth, setting limits, and taking responsibility, an “angry cloud” follows them around for a while. They become touchy and easily offended, and they discover a hair-trigger temper that frightens them. Friends will make comments like, “You’re not the nice, loving person I used to know.” The guilt and shame caused by these remarks can further confuse new boundary setters.’   

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend                

But Can We Be Loving Without

Being Manipulated?

I want to be loving and gentle. But how do you do that and yet also not let yourself be manipulated or taken advantage of? Like you said, we think: aren’t we supposed to lay down our lives, turn the other cheek, etc. etc…? What exactly does that look like? Wasn’t Christ reviled and treated worse? But does that mean always having to be everything to everyone and doing everything for everyone else?

Flying Free Reader

I agree it one of the most difficult things to do – to stand by those boundaries (okay and to articulate them!) It feels odd and strange (and guilt inducing) to NOT to feel awful. NOT to take on other people’s burdens. I feel like I go down this path multiple times a day as I am learning that I even have the boundaries muscle. You quoted: “You’ll either come out with increased intimacy— or learn that there was very little to begin with.” That is the part that makes me second guess – aren’t we (in general) supposed to be creating intimacy? And because I’m setting boundaries (and just revealing that there really was no intimacy that was already there) I’m the one who is “marked” as crazy and mean and disrespectful.

Flying Free Reader

A Story with Three Endings

Once upon a time there was a Family who moved into a new neighborhood. They put a fence around their yard to keep their small children and dog safe. They put locks on the doors so Bad Guys couldn’t plunder them in the middle of the night. Then they set about getting to know their neighbors. Sometimes they invited the neighbors over for a BBQ in the backyard. Life was good.

Until one day they came home from grocery shopping and found the neighbors having a BBQ in their backyard without them. What should they do?

Ending #One

They were uncomfortable, but the neighbors were good with it, so maybe they were missing something? Maybe it was really OK? Maybe this is the way it was supposed to be, since everyone was happy? They tried to put on their most polite smiles – and joined the neighbors. They said nothing about it and patiently waited for the neighbors to get tired and leave. They certainly didn’t want to ruin everyone’s fun. They didn’t want to be known as the “Neighborhood Party Poopers.” They were a NICE family. And nice families make everyone happy. All the neighbors like the nice families. Right?

Pretty soon the neighbors were coming over every day. Now they were making themselves at home inside their house. Raiding the fridge. Grabbing a jacket from their closet if they got cold. Helping themselves to their wallets if they needed some cash.

But the Family felt it was their Christian duty to love on their neighbors for the sake of the gospel. Eventually they had no more money or food or even clothes. Their home was stripped bare. Their children were hungry, and the dog was taken by a neighbor who wanted him. Nobody had any respect for them. Nobody wanted to be like them. And nobody wanted to have a God like theirs – who would make them give up everything until they croaked.

Ending #2

The Family exploded in indignation, spewing forth obscenities at the shocked neighbors. How dare anyone come over into their yard? Doesn’t anyone have any respect? What a bunch of losers in this neighborhood! Just GET OUT OF OUR YARD YOU MORONS!

The neighbors angrily hollered back while stomping around packing up their things.

They never had another BBQ again. Nobody had any respect for them. Nobody wanted to be like them. And nobody wanted to have anything to do with their stingy old scroogy God.

Ending #3

The Family raised their eyebrows. What bizarreness was this? They watched for a few minutes, and then said to the crowd, “We’re sorry, but we aren’t having a BBQ tonight. Can you please take the party somewhere else now? We have other things we need to do.”

Some of the neighbors grumbled, “Why you gotta be so rude? Don’t you know we’re human too?” Others swore under their breath while gathering their things. Still others threw dirty looks their way. BUT – a few neighbors came up to the Family and said, “We’re sorry. We should have asked first. Would you like to come over to our house next week? We’d love to get together when you’ve got some time!”

And so it was, that the Family found a few good friends in their neighborhood. Most of the folks respected the Family.  And some wanted to get to know their God – Who demonstrated real love and honor for others, their time, and their property.

Which Family Was Most Loving?

Family #1 thought the only way to love and acceptance from God and man was through letting others control them. Making others happy at any cost. And eventually it cost them everything because, when given the chance, some people will suck other people dry. Was this good for the Family? No. They starved. Was this good for the neighbors? No. They eventually used up all the Family’s resources and were just as empty as they had been before the Family moved in. No healthy relationships were formed, and nobody came out happy.

Lesson: Don’t be like Family #1.

Family #2 thought the only way to love and acceptance from God and man was through making it happen themselves. Demanding things go their way, and getting pig-biting mad when they didn’t. Was this good for the family? No. They lost their dignity and all their relationships. Was this good for the neighbors? No. They didn’t have a chance to learn and practice selflessness and respect. No healthy relationships were formed, and nobody came out happy.

Lesson: Don’t be like Family #2.

Family #3 knew that God loved them no matter what, and that some people are healthy and some aren’t. Knowing this, they were able to say “yes” to some things and “no” to other things, and then tolerate the disapproval of those who didn’t agree. They rested in knowing they had God’s approval for sure – and enjoyed the perks of finding a few choice friends in the crowd with whom to develop closer, honoring relationships. The rest they let go. A few healthy relationships were formed, and those folks experienced real love, intimacy, and happiness.

Lesson: You can be Family #3.

Simplistic? Yes. But it always helps me to boil things down to their bones first and add the flesh that fits from there. The angst some of us have about this is because of the wrong ways we view ourselves, other people, and God. I hope these little stories will help reveal a better way of looking at boundaries. Family #3 wasn’t mean. They were honest. Kind. Empathetic. And strong. Just the kind of people we want to be. Just the kind of people Jesus was. Just the kind of people you and I can be with a little tweaking of our belief systems.

Fly Free,

Natalie Hoffman

P.S. Do you like boiling things down like this? In the Flying Free Sisterhood education and support community, I make everything easy to understand so you’re able to change the false beliefs you don’t even know you have into beliefs that will serve you and those you love much better. What I teach has already changed the lives of hundreds of women. I’d love to invite you to join me in a safe space where we’ll do this together in community. Learn more HERE!



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    I just need to vent tonight cause it’s been days since he has even helped pick up the house. I started crying (granted I was already emotional) tonight while cleaning up cause I realize he doesn’t give a rip how I feel and how much I do it’s never enough it seems with all the comments about the messy house. At this point I clean for myself cause I feel better. Idk I’m just sick of everything for the thousandth time! I hope the job I applied to today accepts me so I can save up to physically separate…

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    What a great illustration Natalie! Love this story! You are so good at telling stories!

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Thank you! That’s quite a compliment from a queen of story-telling!!

  3. Avatar

    Your stories make this simple to comprehend. I was family #1. I’m sitting here in tears. I am feeling validated. Because it feels really wrong…but , you have to to the ‘christian’ thing. I wish I’d met your teaching as a young woman. This lesson would have saved me from a lot of pain, guilt , anxiety,and loss. Thank you.

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    This is so timely for me. I’m in the process of a divorce and have a mother-in-law who wants a deeply intimate relationship with me and to support her son who abused and betrayed me for over two decades. We had a little falling out and I asked for some space because things were hard for me. She assumed it was that I was “bitter” and “unforgiving”. She invited herself to my home (two hours from her house). She wouldn’t listen to me talk and try to express myself. She sweetly (oh, so sweetly) told me how spiritual and moral she was in her actions. It was all love. And then she proceeded to give me a guilt trip. After forcing a couple of hugs on me, she left. I wrote a letter asking her to not come to my home without an invite and to give me some space. I was unbending in demanding some boundaries and told her that her spirituality and morality didn’t help me or change my circumstances in any way. What followed that was an anemic apology that excused and pitied herself and laid another guilt trip on me. Add that to a message she sent my pastor telling him I had come unhinged and asking him if I had attended church regularly and if he had been paying attention to my spiritual health. All I wanted from her was space and to not be lectured to on my own porch. What she got was completely cut off. I found out there was no real relationship there. I was a prop in her Christian mom world. When I didn’t behave properly she betrayed me and showed me exactly what she thought. At first I felt guilty, but now I just feel free of the chains of trying to make her happy.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      AMEN! You did the right thing. It hurts at first, and you have to work through the uncomfortable feelings of false guilt. But in the end, you are making room for healthy relationships. Hopefully your MIL will learn some life lessons and grow into maturity as an adult. But either way, you are free to move forward without toxic gas suffocating the life out of you. YAY! Thank you for sharing your experience so others can see how it works!

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    You know, your story sounds far-fetched to us but in some cultures it’s actually fairly common. My father lived as a missionary in Fiji where there’s a huge pressure to respect your elders. The people there take this to the extreme. He had church members whose slightly older relatives would show up and request (demand) money from them and culturally they were obligated to give it.

    My father counseled his church members to put aside a sum of money to give to relatives and when it had been taken, he told them to say their money was all gone. This way, they could still fulfill familial expectations but not to the detriment of their own families.

    Talk about boundaries!

    • Natalie Klejwa

      That’s interesting. It shows that even though we can be generous, everyone draws lines eventually. Thanks for sharing that!

  6. Avatar

    Great post … looking forward to Friday’s portion. 🙂

  7. Avatar

    Being “nice” by not calling people on bad behaviors isn’t nice; it’s being very mean to yourself.

    Setting boundaries does feel strange at first. I struggled with feeling unlovable if I wasn’t “nice”; after all, why would someone want to be around me if I wasn’t a “nice” person? Well, a therapist helped me clear up that when I said “nice”, I really meant “a doormat”. She was right; I believed that no one would want to be around me if I wasn’t a doormat.

    I did cut off some relationships after I started setting boundaries. I know I’m supposed to say I miss those people, but I don’t. See, those relationships were entirely about the other person. The other person generally behaved immaturely and irresponsibly and I would trot along after them cleaning up the messes. On the rare occasion that I had a mess that I needed help cleaning, that person was missing in action. Once you start setting boundaries, the one-sided nature of the relationship becomes very clear – and saying goodbye is surprisingly anti-climatic.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Well said!!! Thank you for contributing here!

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    I use stories a lot to illustrate my points to my kids. I think I learned with my Grandmother. 🙂 I loved this. It was right on!

    BTW, I bought Boundaries with kids and began reading it. The next day I had an issue with my 12 y.o. and after cooling off I brought her in the bedroom and told her I was reading a book about boundaries. And I shared with her what I was learning and told her we needed to establish some boundaries in our relationship and respect them so we could have a good relationship. We probably talked for about 30 minutes and it was such a profitable conversation. We are so on the same boat now. My daughter is very logical, so anything that speaks to that side of her makes sense. She also likes to know all the “rules” of engagement so it was a plus too to know where I was coming from when I ask or tell her what to do. Anyway, just wanted to thank you for sharing that book with us. 🙂
    I also liked that is so character focused. I was looking for something to help me train my kids in character and maturity. It’s been helpful.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Yay! I’m so glad you like it and it’s been helpful!

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    When you put it this way, it seems so simple that I almost feel silly, lol! But it’s still more difficult to actually carry out in real life. I need prayer!
    Thank you (to you and everyone who did) for addressing my question. I eagerly await Friday’s post.


    • Natalie Klejwa

      I know, real life is far more complex, and yes – difficult. My hope is that the story will help us see how boundaries are an important, positive part of good relationships, and if we see them this way, we won’t feel mean or guilty when we need to exercise good stewardship over our time, our bodies, our emotions, and our resources.

  10. Avatar

    ?? This was right on my level! Keep writing, Natalie! “Nice” people need to hear what you have to say! ?



  1. Seven Ways to Love Difficult People | Visionary Womanhood - […] or two. Maybe they live under our roof. God calls us to love, but like I wrote in my…

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