Are You In Charge of Making Everyone Else Happy All the Time?
Her younger sister, Dorothy, was depressed and lonely on her birthday. Julie felt sorry for her and wanted the rest of her family to reach out and help make this day a little more special, but she knew her older brother probably didn’t even remember. He hadn’t been around since he moved out of state seven years earlier.
Julie decided she’d better call and remind him of Dorothy’s birthday and see if he could give her a call to cheer her up.
Julie could hear the edge in Steve’s voice when she called. “I don’t need you breathing down my neck every time something’s up with Dottie.”
Julie was upset. The conversation didn’t go well. It never did. Why couldn’t Steve even do the bare minimum to help keep the family together?
She felt like it was all her fault that everything was falling apart. Steve was mad at her again, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t seem to help Dorothy get her life together.
Does this sound familiar?
Have you ever felt like it was up to you to make sure things worked out the way they were supposed to? To make sure people did what they were supposed to do so things would run smoothly and everyone would be happy?
On the other hand, have you ever expected others to pick up the pieces for you? To help you when you need it most? I mean, you only expect of others what you expect of yourself, right?
Boundaries Mean Letting Go
When Jesus met Mr. Rich Guy and gave him boundaries (give away all your money and follow me), the man couldn’t do it. He walked away, and Jesus let him. He didn’t chase after the guy, “No! Wait! I love you – let me make this easier for you!” He let the man make his own choice without manipulating him.
We can do no less. We can’t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a “litmus test” for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our no. They only love our yes, our compliance. When Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets” (Luke 6: 26), he was saying, “Don’t be an ear tickler. Don’t be a chronic peacemaker.” If everything you say is loved by everyone, the odds are good that you’re bending the truth. Setting limits has to do with telling the truth.
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Setting limits and telling the Truth doesn’t mean barking the Truth at others or being belligerent. Yet, this can happen at first. While learning how to do this after a lifetime of struggling with not having boundaries, I’ve spoken Truth in anger. Shaking with anger. A lot of what is underneath that kind of anger is fear. Fear that if we set those boundaries we will lose everything we love. Setting boundaries feels mean (and people will tell us so), and we never wanted to be put in that position. We were comfortable letting people tromp all over us because it made us feel good about ourselves. We were the nice person doing the serving and getting no thanks. We were the martyrs. We were like Jesus. (One of our own imagination.) At least that’s how I felt.
And I’ve noticed in some conservative circles that I’ve experienced online and even a bit locally – there’s this notion that the wife (or even just being female qualifies you) has a particular role of “laying down her Self as a living sacrifice for others to consume in the holy fire of selfishness and entitlement.” That’s how we go from Eden to Hell in one small “I do.”
Boundaries are for Grown-Ups
But what happens later when we say, “I don’t?”
“I don’t want to do that.” “I am not going to support that.” “I will not put up with that behavior.”
What happens when we implement natural consequences for those people in our lives who consistently will not respect our “No?” I’m not just talking about marriage here. I’m talking about friends. Extended family. Kids. We get manipulated all over the place. (And we manipulate too!)
This is all related to boundaries.
The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who love truth and those who don’t. First, there is the person who welcomes your boundaries. Who accepts them. Who listens to them. Who says, “I’m glad you have a separate opinion. It makes me a better person.” This person is called wise, or righteous. The second type hates limits. Resents your difference. Tries to manipulate you into giving up your treasures.
Try our “litmus test” experiment with your significant relationships. Tell them no in some area. You’ll either come out with increased intimacy— or learn that there was very little to begin with.
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
It’s a difficult process to implement boundaries when you haven’t developed the skill yet. It’s like an atrophied muscle you need to strengthen. As I mentioned above, I felt a lot of anger because I just wanted to be a good wife. A good mom. I wanted my love, my sacrifices, my behind-the-scenes labor to be recognized and appreciated. When I absorbed an insult, I expected it to be noticed and admired. When I took all the responsibility, I wanted the extra credit points.
The problem is, it’s human nature to let someone else take on our stuff, and most people naturally take the road of least resistance. So my family and friends gladly gave me the burden of taking care of everyone while they took less and less responsibility for the relationship.
Boundaries Set Us Free
To implement boundaries is to dig out. To dig out and find the life God really meant for you to live. And that’s not under a bunch of people. Eventually, you get burnt out and angry because everyone is taking advantage of your no-strings-attached services. But there ARE strings! The Brownie points. The admiration. The love. Yes. I thought this was the only way to be loved.
See what a tangled mess this becomes? Truth mixed with little lies thrown in here and there is Satan’s weapon of choice. Like lemonade with a hamster turd in it. Would you want to drink that?
God wants us to give and love and serve others, but we answer to Him alone as our Master.
So back to the anger thing.
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
Be prepared for this. It’s the worst. But when you start exercising a weak muscle, it should hurt if you’re doing it right.
One of the most positive things that will happen as you set healthy boundaries is that you’ll be less critical of the boundaries of others. Because when you have no boundaries yourself, you EXPECT others to have no boundaries, and you get offended when they do. Part of growing up into your full stature of healthy emotional adulthood involves this important work of setting boundaries.
The following year when Dorothy’s birthday came around, Julie didn’t meddle in Steve’s business. She realized the relationship between Dottie and Steve had nothing to do with her, and she was able to reach out and love both of her siblings, accepting them and their choices while being free to make and be responsible for her own.
- Deal Breakers: Advice to Unmarried Women (and Daughters) | Visionary Womanhood - […] honoring the desires of others and taking them into consideration because it delights you to do so. Healthy boundaries…
- How Can We Be Loving Without Being Manipulated? | Visionary Womanhood - […] my recent post, Maintaining Boundaries is Hard Work and Doesn’t Feel Nice, there were some good follow up questions…
This book was the very first book I read at the start of my awakening. It was a game changer! But after (at the time) 22 years of intimidation and control, I sucked at boundaries. I still remember the first time I “set a boundary.” My h was telling me to do something. I sat on the couch, crossed my arms and said, “Make me!” Haha! I still laugh about that! But as raw as that first attempt was, his reaction was a teaching moment for me. He absolutely had no idea how to respond! He did figure out quickly to go back to intimidation but those few seconds of deer in the headlights was enough for me to realize, :hey, there’s something to this boundaries thing!” It was the first time I had ever had a tiny glimpse of empowerment and it was delicious! Over the next 10 years, I became an EXPERT at boundaries. It’s freeing in every area of life.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the book Boundaries in our church library some months back. (A donated copy from a woman who had formerly been in an abusive marriage.) What a read! I inhaled the book, finishing it the day after I started it. So much in there this people-pleaser needed to understand — I purchased a copy for myself, and have returned to it often.
Thank you for writing about boundaries, Natalie Anne. The word needs to get out about the importance of implementing (and following through on) limit-setting in our human relationships. I would have never guessed how vital — and how BIBLICAL — boundary-setting is in our relationships.
Keep on writing, sister. It’s an encouragement to me.
Thank you, J! ((hugs))
I am a college senior, and I am discovering that I have a very unhealthy relationship with my mom. We had no boundaries towards each other, and now that I’m growing up and making independent decisions, I’m putting up boundaries. She hates it and tells me that I’m “anti-family,” refuses to acknowledge my actual discomfort with situations, and says the only reason I think I’m uncomfortable with her is because I’m “projecting fear and anxiety on a situation that hasn’t happened yet.” That’s not true, and it hurts to hear all her explanations that ignore my feelings and the true situation. Sometimes I begin to doubt if I am doing the right thing in setting boundaries, because if it was right, surely my mom wouldn’t be upset at me for it… But I made no upset comment towards her and she’s reacting like this. I don’t understand, but this post and the one about the BBQ really helped me see that I am doing the right thing. It will just hurt a while because we’re not used to me saying no.
Nice work, Kara. It’s hard to get started when everyone is used to other patterns. It is also very painful to have people we want to love and accept us shift blame on us because they can’t see their own behaviors. Your character will grow more beautiful and strong through this experience. It’s often part of really growing up, and some of us in our 40s and 50s are still trying to do that – so you’ll have a leg up on many of us!
I am so encouraged by reading these posts. A book I read and loved, that spoke to a lot of lies I was believing is “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You” Are by Brene’ Brown.
Just wanted to pass that along. Blessings to each of you.
I recently finished my first Brene Brown book, Daring Greatly. Now the others are on my wish list at Amazon. 🙂 Thank you for recommending her work here.
I needed to read this tonight. I’ve always been “nice,” the one who gives what is asked and sticks around when others leave. This past year I have been in a situation that has taxed and tested me greatly. I have finally realized that boundaries are good and necessary, not only for my family and me, but for the good of this difficult person, as well. If I just keep giving what is asked without limits, she will never see that I was not meant to supply her needs. I have to draw lines and point her to Christ for fulfillment. I have struggled through annoyance, followed by anger. Now God has given me compassion for this wounded one who is wounding others (including me). I’m still struggling to identify my role in her life and to set God-honoring boundaries, but God has provided encouragement and guidance through you, as well as a godly friend here, who knows the situation. Thank you for your rugged honesty. You are speaking truth that many of us need to hear.
Sarah, Thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience with a friend a few years ago and am still walking out our friendship in a healthy way, and praying for wisdom to what capacity I am to be in her life. I took a class at my church a few years ago on c0-dependency, not sure the author, but it helped me to see how I had allowed this friend, unknowingly, to become co-dependent on our friendship. I truly had no idea. Then when the Lord started showing me a few years in that I was being too much to her, I started setting boundaries and the fruit was anger in my friend. I became angry at her because she would not honor my boundaries. I got outside help, and took a very long break (6 months) from having any contact, because I didn’t like who I had become toward her (spewy angry mess). We do have a friendship now, with boundaries – my husband must be present when we talk by phone (speaker phone), or use Skype. Her emails to me go to my husband first, he reads them and if he feels they are healthy, he will forward to me. At some point, in the Lord’s timing, this may change. For now, this is where things are.
Sarah/Natalie, Do you have any resources/books, or any thoughts about how you feel is the right capacity to be in relationship with your friend? I am still praying about my own boundaries with this friend and want to walk in health and wisdom in this. The boundaries book really helped me during that season. I am still learning about restoration, and although restoration doesn’t always equal relationship, sometimes it does. Thanks! Paula
I will think about this and write on it. I think there’s a whole blog post here. 🙂
Thanks for sharing, Paula. I don’t have the option of cutting ties, but I have cut back on our interaction. I am praying much about my role in her life. Ultimately, she needs the healing that comes from the Great Physician. I need to point her to Him, over and over again.
Oh Natalie! I just don’t say it enough here, but I read every one of your posts and they have helped me beyond what I could describe in the comments section -which is probably why I don’t say much. It’s all too big to describe, too hard to describe, for me. but you always put it into words that I can grab hold of; words that sink right down into my heart. Thank you again (and again) for what you faithfully do here!
That makes me very happy. Not happy that you are going through so much, but happy that I can help provide a little relief or hope in a small way. ((hugs))
I love how this is slowly becoming a more mainstream topic in the church. It goes against all of our religious nonsense. Boundaries really do make such better people.
I’m a newborn in the boundaries department. I’ve set them in my marriage which resulted in great freedoms for myself. But how do I set boundaries with my parents? I feel like I’m breaking one (or maybe two) of the 10 commandments. I’ve mustered up my courage, prayed for strength through the Holy Spirit and sat down to tell them, but I can’t get ALL of it out. As they sit before me, I immediately feel like I’m the one about to be scolded for staying out too late. I look at them looking back at me and I’m frozen, only giving them the “little boundaries”. The major ones are causing me great distress, but they are still hiding inside this little girl (by the way I’m 42). It wouldn’t be any urgency to proclaim my boundaries right away if they were living in their own home (out of state). But they are at my house, in our face (myself and two tween kiddos) everyday! I need them to go home. Mom is all healed now from her foot surgery she had FIVE MONTHS AGO. She won’t leave….(help me)!
You’re not breaking any commandments. It is not dishonoring to expect your parents to be adults. In fact, it is dishonoring NOT to expect that. They are not children.
If they’ve outstayed their welcome, they need to go. “I love you, and it’s been nice to have you here for a while and help you out, but I need my space back again. Could you please be out by _________.”
You can do it! If they are capable of taking care of themselves, then they need to do that. That’s what grown ups do. That’s healthy and safe. When someone is not being healthy and safe because they are taking advantage of others, they need to be gently asked and then expected to assume responsibility for themselves.
The fear comes in because we are afraid of rejection or broken relationship. So that’s the place where we are weak and need to build those core strength muscles. If your parents reject you or get mad, then you will have the opportunity to model what being an adult means.
Have you read Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious? She talks a lot about stuff like this. 🙂
Someone wise told me that not telling the truth to and not setting boundaries with your parents is actually what is dishonoring. You honor them by telling them the truth and being honest with them and by forcing them to respect your boundaries. Because if they are not, they are sinning against you and not right before God. You cannot enable that. No matter how much they throw a fit, or how much they tell you that you are mean.
The other part of this is that you are a child of God. You are worthy of respect and worthy to be treated with honor. When we allow ourselves to be martyrs and don’t put up those boundaries that we know we need to have, we are allowing other people to treat God’s child (us) in a way that displeases him. Pray and ask for him to help you move from pleasing your parents to pleasing Him. Because ultimately, you are more scared of displeasing them than you are of displeasing God. When I wrapped my head around that, the rest fell in to place. Carry on brave warrior! Your strength is in Him!
Wow…I’ve been reading your posts about boundaries and it’s so much to take in that I need to chew on these thoughts for a while. I struggle with people pleasing and realized after I was saved how much of a disease it is. All you’re writing about hits close to home as I struggle through extended-family difficulties due to my resistance to meet their expectations. It’s been rough and challenging. A lot of soul searching and truth seeking. It can be super confusing as a believer in Christ to know when you’re truly setting boundaries or when you’re being selfish. It can hurt to be labeled and criticized based upon boundaries that you make. But I can’t control others’ responses/reactions. That needs repeating most definitely. I’m rambling now but am thankful for your thoughts in these most recent blog posts and am sorry for the pain you’ve experienced/are experiencing. Yet I know nothing is wasted in God’s hands 🙂
It IS tricky!! Just because we FEEL mean doesn’t mean we ARE mean. Feelings aren’t always reliable indicators of truth. Keep working those healthy boundary muscles!
This is the truth! Fine a friend who can validate you are doing the right thing in setting boundaries. It feels so counter-nice.
Bought the kindle book. Thank you for the link!
You’re welcome! Enjoy!
LIFE CHANGING book. I read it about 7 months ago, and now almost finished with the kids one. It’s crazy how screwed up a person (me!) can be and never know it. But knowledge is power and then freedom can come!
Picture this. We are walking through the mall, my husband and I. One of those pushy hair straightener sales guys tries to get my attention. I said, “No thank you.” He asked again, I declined and kept walking. He asked a third time, which brought on the out of body experience where I heard and saw myself screaming at this guy from somewhere outside myself. I told him he is rude and disrespectful of people ‘s boundaries. We are talking full on screaming at the top of my lungs episode. And then he was quiet and I was still walking. The guilt lasted about two days. My husband said he was proud of me for finding my voice. Similar situation happened in a culvers drive through with a rude old man.
But I’m getting better. Much better. And I’m walking closer and closer to freedom. Christ came that I would be free. And He doesn’t like it when I allow myself to be treated badly, so I need to protect me. Love you friend.
I LOVED reading this. I know exactly where you are coming from!!
My friend who ministers to women through prayer for emotional freedom, told me a few years ago “Getting free is messy, but it’s soooo good!” The same one who said “Stop shoulding on yourself. And don’t let other’s should on you either.”
I say Right on to the mall episode!
Oh Natalie, I believe God is speaking through you directly to my heart! The confirmation of your articles this week have been overwhelming! I was told three years ago that I needed to put up boundaries in my marriage and other areas. I did the best I could, even felt “empowered”. . . but when they were disregarded and disrespected the root of anger and resentment reared it’s ugly head. I can relate so much to the anger. . . I developed panic attacks because of the frustration of not being the “nice” person I used to be; should be. But, when beating myself up about it didn’t work I asked God for “wisdom” and I am receiving confirmations to His Word and encouragement through articles like yours that I am on the right path with His amazing peace finally giving me rest!
Satan will do his best, but greater is He who is in me than He that is in the world. No weapon formed against me shall prosper and every tongue that rises in judgment against me I will condemn, this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and my vindication is from Him. 1 John 4:4 Isa. 54:17
I am walking through the first steps of realizing I’ve set no boundaries during my four year marriage due to a situation we can’t change. I am praying hard for my husband, in whom I recognize some of the signs of abuse, but who I pray will recognize this in himself (with counseling, and firmness from me). I am also praying for myself, that God will give me the desire for wholeness and delight in Him. Thanks for writing!
I pray you will find all these things as well. Subscribe to A Cry for Justice blog and read it every day. It will be life changing and give you strength along the way. http://cryingoutforjustice.com/
We CAN create intimacy – but not alone. It takes two people working together and respecting each other to do that. People who are unable to do this can’t take responsibility for themselves and their relationships, so they have to put it on someone else. This is exactly what I’m working on in myself. Strength to withstand the blaming and shaming while firmly grounded in the Truth of who I really am in Christ. I think the key is disconnecting and disengaging, actually, with abusive individuals while still being polite and honoring. “Feed them with a long handled spoon.” As Jan Silvious puts it in her book, Foolproofing Your Life. Intimacy is not possible with them.
“I think the key is disconnecting and disengaging, actually, with abusive individuals while still being polite and honoring.” Setting boundaries was the first difficult thing for me followed by disengagement (still working on). To do this in a respectful, God-honoring way challenges me continually. I am living separated under the same roof and daily crying out for the Lord’s grace to represent Him well from a distance.
I feel your pain. I really do.
Thank you for being honest and real. You blog posts are helping me to walk this road with a friend who is in an emotionally abusive marriage. I have sent her your most recent posts. She is reading one of the books you suggested. The light bulb keeps going off.
She sent me a quote that I believe is from the book “The emotionally abusive marriage”, and it says: (this can apply to marriages but also friendships and any relationship really)
ESSENTIALS TO THRIVING RELATIONSHIPS
Every grown-up relationship requires three essential ingredients to thrive: mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom
>Mutuality means that both individuals contribute specific qualities essential for the care, maintenance, and repair of the relationship. These qualities are honesty, caring, respect, responsibility, and repentance. In marriage, both individuals make efforts to grow and change for the welfare of the other and the preservation of their relationship.2 Corinthians 6:11–13, NIV
>.Reciprocity means that both people in the relationship give and both people in the relationship receive. Power and responsibility are shared. There is not a double standard where one person gets all the goodies in the relationship while the other person sacrificially does most of the work. 2 Corinthians 8:13–14
>Freedom means that in your marriage (friendship) you are allowed to make choices, give input, and express your feelings without fearing you’ll be badgered, manipulated, and punished. When freedom is present, you’re not afraid to be yourself nor are you pressured to become something you’re not.
Me writing again:
Being on the outside, not having walked in your shoes, or the shoes of my friend. She lives in this town, mostly with no friends, because she moved here when she got married, and her one friend she had, divorced her physically & emotionally abusive husband, & moved last year out of state because the guy threatened her life. The Lord is having me walk this path with her, and so thank you for being real and for sharing your heart and the resources. This is something that is very common in the church, in every denomination and in the non-denominational settings too.
I am praying for your hearts to know the love of Jesus and for healing, and freedom. You ladies are very strong and brave, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Thank you for letting me into your hearts, even though I am on the “outside” because I have not walked in your shoes in my marriage, it is an honor for sure.
Thank you for sharing this excerpt. I love your heart, Paula.
Please keep up this raw, vulnerable writing. It is singing to my soul. I am grateful for your honesty, and I am searching for mine. May God be glorified in our messes– physical, emotional, etc.
Hugs from KS
Thank you. Hang in there. Hugs right back!
‘”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.’
Oh my! I read Boundaries years ago, and don’t remember this, but, my, how it applies to my life right now! I feel like jumping out of my seat after reading this! The only difference is, that it’s not others telling me how nice I used to be-it’s me telling myself! I tell myself, “I can’t keep going on like this, but I don’t like that I am not the nice person I used to be.” And so I’m stuck. And I don’t know where to go or how to move on from there. 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? And so, round and round I go…sigh…
I get this. I will try to answer it in a post next week. 🙂
I can’t wait to read your response to this because this is where I get all tangled up, too.
The same questions I battle with as well…
I have learned that setting boundaries when a person is unhealthy, is love. When we don’t set boundaries, it’s not love for the other person, it’s a lie when we say yes out of obligation. And it’s especially not love for ourselves. God will sort out the mixture (our anger, our “not niceness”, etc). Sometimes when God is doing something in my heart, I have to swing to the opposite end of the spectrum – pretty messy, and seemingly not nice. Then he swings me back to the middle, where there is health and balance. Jesus had a righteous anger for sin. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to be who we are right now – for me that meant not following the “christian rules” that people wanted to make sure I was following, but I couldn’t. I just needed to get free, walk in God’s grace, and not the “shoulds” in my head and the “shoulds” of others – that were constantly there. I was so afraid of sinning, of not being nice, of making a mistake where I would hurt someone, fears of not being a good christian if I set this boundary. I had to stop caring and just do it, and it was messy, and it was a huge pendulum swing, but that is where God could work and show me the lies by His Spirit, and most importantly, His Truth. All the other voices had to be silenced, in order for me to hear Jesus only. It’s okay to not be nice when we are getting free. His is the inside, outside, upside-down Kingdom to be sure.
All of this is so good and SOOO true. I’ve had to learn this, too. Still learning it.
The Boundaries book is not 2.99 right now. It has gone back up but if you see it again for this price, please let us know. I’d like to get that one for a good price. Thanks for your blogging. Prayers for you and your family.
I’m sorry – I linked to the wrong book. I’ve corrected that link now. The Boundaries with Kids Kindle version truly is only $2.99!
Once again, you have brought something good into my life. Thank you for your writing.
I can so relate to this. My husband took a course at work for sales and one topic was personality types. He says I’m the amicable type. My side of the family have disowned me because about 5 years ago things came to a head and I couldn’t do what they wanted. I started to lay boundaries. It got ugly. But I had to do it because what I was doing nearly ended me. Now my own family our happier. My husband is happier and we are in a good place. I foe the first time feel content and at peace with myself and others. Boundaries are so important. Thank you for writing this.
Thank you for sharing this, Loretta!