I was frustrated, fed up and just plain, old mad. The family trip we had anticipated to be fun and exciting was turning out to be a nightmare. One kid had a bladder infection, making frequent washroom stops a must. Another had athlete’s foot that was aggravated by walking around the outlet mall (and I really, REALLY wanted to take a look in that Donna Karan shop!). The third had a medical condition that was not under control and it made going anywhere extremely challenging (BTW – sometimes Google does have better solutions than doctors!).
The combination of these 3 problems forced us to head back to the car before I was ready. I sat in my seat grumbling and complaining, making it known just how frustrated and mad I was.
And then I heard a little voice behind me. “Mommy, I am so sorry I made you mad.”
The conviction made my heart sink. I was all too familiar with what was happening because the same thing happened to me for many, many years – actually, it never really ended.
The Curse Of Over-Responsibility
Being an over-responsible person enables spiritual bondage. Taking on the responsibilities of other people is not spiritually healthy. But it seems to occur more often than anyone would like to admit. Because we are Christians, we are expected to be doormats for boundaryless people to wipe their muddy boots on. Or we become so accustomed to outbursts of rage we are afraid to even believe that we are not responsible for that person’s anger.
I know this all too well.
I have been made responsible for other people’s angry outbursts countless times.
If I wasn’t so ‘selfish’ I’d give this person what they wanted.
This person wouldn’t have become so angry if I hadn’t done such-and-such.
If I had done it the “right way” (right according to the angry person), then they wouldn’t be so mad.
And so on it goes.
The angry person never taking any responsibility for their behavior whatsoever. It’s just easier to blame everyone else than recognizing they have a serious problem and having to deal with it.
But what happens to the over-responsible person? She begins to live in fear; fear of never knowing when she will suddenly be ‘selfish’ or her approach to an issue is the ‘wrong way’. She takes on more than the burdens of others.
She begins carrying their load, which she was never meant to carry.
Those Eggshells Are Sharp
Over 20 years ago, I bought a book that was incredibly helpful in helping me set boundaries in several aspects of my life, especially in my family relationships. It helped me realize so many things, particularly how I was allowing myself to be held responsible for the behaviors of others and how to overcome that problem…and the fact that I could choose to set healthy limits. This book was “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (see link at bottom of post).
I realized that I was allowing other people to dictate “my” responsibilities, I was losing the person God created me to be.
Usually, when you are taking on the behaviors of an over-responsible person, you begin ‘walking on eggshells’. You tiptoe around those boundaryless people, hoping to not trigger another false accusation. And you begin to lose yourself. Those accusations attach themselves to your identity – and eventually become your false identity…out of fear. It is a lose-lose situation. The other person is never happy and neither are you. And your feet are bleeding from walking on those eggshells.
Just over 20 years ago, I started to learn about healthy boundaries, not accept responsibility for other people’s loads and I started to sweep away those eggshells.
Carry Your Own Load
Galatians 6:5 says that we are supposed to carry our own loads. Meaning that we will each have to give God an account of our own behavior. Yes, we have a responsibility to others when we are to help them carry their burdens, but we do not have a responsibility for them. It’s amazing the difference two little words make, hey? If we also take a look at the Greek words for burdens and for load, we get a completely different meaning between the two. Burden is excess burdens, load is the regular, everyday ‘cargo’. We are to help those who are overwhelmed with life, who truly need help. We are not supposed to ‘help’ other people with the stuff they are capable of carrying on their own.
Not the behavior of other people. We will not be asked about other people’s loads.
For example, let’s say a friend needs help carrying a huge, bulky trunk to the basement. Naturally, this isn’t something they can do on their own. They require your assistance. So, of course, you are more than happy to help out. You know it is necessary. But then you’ve got this other ‘friend’ who refuses to carry her own backpack. She is more than capable of carrying it herself, she just doesn’t want to. She thinks that you ought to carry it for her. If you don’t carry it for her as she demands you to, you are in for a heap of trouble. Aren’t you getting tired of carrying your backpack and hers?
When we say ‘no’ to harmful behaviors and false responsibilities, we are protecting God’s investment in us. And we experience more joy!
Consequences and Blessings
When I started to read that book so many years ago, I put into practice the tips and ideas presented by Dr. Cloud & Dr. Townsend. It was not easy! I was met with a lot of hostility and anger. I had to be firm in keeping my new, healthy boundaries. This change was not honored or respected by the ones who desperately needed my healthy boundaries!
I was learning to love in freedom and responsibility, not in guilt.
Fast forward 20+ years and my life has changed quite a bit. I’ve had to eliminate those people from my life who have refused to respect and honor my boundaries. This is unfortunate but it was probably on of the healthiest things to happen in my life!
Obviously, my boundaries were not helping the relationship improve. Setting limits on someone’s destructive and irresponsible behavior is biblical. I had to learn – and accept – that I could not rescue this person from her sin. The Bible is clear that we are to give to needs and put limits on sin. I could not help her if she wasn’t willing to help herself. No matter how hard I tried. No matter how much grace was given.
I had to accept that this relationship hasn’t changed in well over 20 years and it will never be the relationship I hoped it would be, what it ought to be…what it should have been.
Since then, I have been more joyful. I haven’t ‘walked on eggshells’ in 2 years! I can’t even begin to tell you what a relief that is! Finally, I can breathe. I can be who God created me to be. Worrying about when the next guilt trip will come or when someone will rage at me for whatever reason I could never foresee has come to an end.
I am free.
Stopping The Vicious Cycle of Over-responsibility
Are you wondering what I told my daughter when she apologized for making me angry? Did I speak truth to her?
I knew I needed to ensure she did not take on the life-sucking habit of over-responsibility. And because I am her mom, her parent, it was my job – my responsibility to ensure she did not.
I turned in my seat and gently spoke truth to my sweet girl. I told her that my frustration and anger was my problem, not hers. She was not making me angry and I would be ok. My responsibility was for me to manage my frustration and anger, not for her to deal with. I made sure she knew I did not blame her one bit.
And this has been a frequent discussion between us since then. She has been learning to not be over-responsible and to take responsibility for her own behavior – no one else’s. Not even mine…especially not mine (I’m the parent here, right?).
Tips For Healthy Boundaries
- If you are feeling resentful and not wanting to be around someone, this is an early warning sign that your boundaries are not being honored and respected.
- When you haven’t been doing well with maintaining healthy boundaries, practice setting them and keeping them with someone you trust before trying them out on those who will not respect your new boundaries.
- If people become angry and abusive towards you, keep your distance – short-term breaks are perfectly acceptable. In my case, none of the short-term breaks did any good and eventually I had to completely sever ties. This is ok, too. **If this is your spouse, please seek Biblical counsel before making any decisions unless your safety is at risk. If that is the case, get to a safe place right away.
- Surround yourself with a good, strong, Godly support system.
- Immerse yourself – and the situation – in prayer.
- Get into His word – know His truth. The biblically illiterate are more likely to have unhealthy boundaries. You have the tools and the resources. There is no excuse.
- Stick to your boundaries. Don’t waver.
- Know it will be hard. It will hurt. But it is worth the freedom!
Below, you will find the Boundaries book I mentioned above as well as the workbook that is available. I have also included a couple of books that have helped me tremendously in coping with mental illness – learning strategies (unlike the boundaries books, these books do not hold a Christian worldview – books on the topic of mental illness, especially BPD, are difficult to find. But these books were still incredibly helpful in helping me to understand the disorder and how to cope). If you have someone in your life who constantly tramples over your boundaries, consider the possibility of mental illness. I think it is much more prevalent than we know.
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