Your Boundaries Aren’t a Weapon for Your Parents Use Against You

May 19, 2020

Can you please do something for me? Would it be ok if I asked you for some of your time, your money, your energy? Would you mind making a sacrifice so that I could avoid having to do something that I am perfectly capable of doing myself?

If you're anything like me, you want to say “yes” every time someone asks for something from you. I really want to do whatever is going to make someone happy, and I bet you often feel the same way. However, we know that if we did this, we'd never have any time, money or energy to meet our own needs.

A woman I know, Lisa, once told me, "The biggest problem with telling my mother no is the 'hurt-silence.' It lasts about forty-five seconds, and it always happens after I tell her I can't visit her. It's only broken by my apologizing for my selfishness and setting up a time to visit. Then she's fine. I'll do anything to avoid that silence."

Lisa's mother has turned Lisa's personal boundaries into an offensive weapon that she can use to get what she wants. Rather than understand that her daughter has limits on the time, energy, money or other obstacles standing in the way of visiting her, she chooses to weaponize her daughter's love and regret to make her feel guilty, manipulating Lisa into giving her mother what she wants.

People like us sometimes forget that even though others treat boundaries as an offensive weapon, what they really are is a defensive tool. Appropriate boundaries don't control, attack or hurt anyone. They simply prevent your treasures from being taken at the wrong time. Saying no to adults, who are responsible for getting their own needs met, may cause some discomfort. They may have to look elsewhere. But it doesn't cause injury.

This principle doesn't speak only to those who would like to control or manipulate us. It also applies to the legitimate needs of others. Even when someone has a valid problem, there are times when we can't sacrifice for some reason or another. If you are the only place that an adult can turn to when he or she needs their needs met, that's a key indicator of a real boundary issue. Having more than one person in our lives allows our friends to be human. To be busy. To be unavailable at times. To hurt and have problems of their own. To have time alone.

Then, when one person can't be there for us, there's another phone number to call. Another person who may have something to offer. And we aren't enslaved to the schedule conflicts of one person.