You are personally responsible for everything inside the boundaries that define “me” from “not me.” Everything! You are responsible for your feelings, your values, your behavior, your thoughts, choices, insights, beliefs, limits – everything!
That is fortunate. Why wouldn’t you want to have control? Would you trust someone else to raise your children? To choose your wardrobe, your furnishings, or your mate? To run your business, your home, or your marriage?
Because you set the limits, you are personally responsible for protecting yourself. Your duty to yourself and to your Maker is to take care of yourself and not allow others to trespass. This includes cultivating your ability to say “no,” to others even if your actions disappoint them or hurt them. The good news is that since you are responsible for yourself, other adults are responsible for themselves. Always! They have to deal with your limits. You have to deal with theirs. People have a real hard time with this concept.
Common Boundary Questions:
- Isn’t it my responsibility to make my partner happy?
- Isn’t it selfish to set limits with others?
- How can I set limits and still be a “good” person?
- Why do I feel guilty when I try to set limits?
- Sometimes I know what’s best for my partner. Isn’t it my job to care for them?
Let’s take them in order:
Isn’t it my responsibility to make my partner happy? No. Not only isn’t it your responsibility to “make” another happy (or miserable, or anything else), but you simply can’t do it. You don’t have that kind of power. (Unless, of course, your partner gives it to you.)
Go out of your way to treat your partner well! Knock yourself out…do all sorts of wonderful things! However, despite what you do, you are only responsible for your own feelings. Your duty to yourself is to be aware of your own motivation and expectations, your delivery, how you feel, and everything else about your actions.
Your partner’s reaction to you is your partner’s responsibility. Even if they try to pin their reaction on your actions, their reaction is their responsibility. Period. End of story. For example, a verbally abusive husband who spends much of his time trying to create a safe environment for himself by controlling his wife (and treating her poorly in the process) is not responsible for his wife’s feelings. She is. She lets him violate her boundaries. Now the pair can continue their mutual boundary violation ad nauseum: he can blame her for his woes and she can guilt him for hers. And on and on the story goes…
In reality however, the abusive husband ultimately answers only to himself and to his Maker. The usual price is the loss of self, the loss of inner peace, symptoms, etc. The wife, who discounts her feelings and makes excuses for her husband’s mis-behaviors, is also responsible to herself and her Maker. She pays much the same price for selling out.
With or without self-awareness, each person has chosen to put themselves in the position they are in. When the angry husband is mad that his “ungrateful” wife did not react to his kind efforts as per his expectations, that is his problem. If his wife allows him to make it her problems, that is her problem. This co-dependent relationship style really complicates matters. According to these assumptions, the couple might seek marital counseling so the wife can learn to be appreciative of her husband’s kind acts. There is an assumption that there is something wrong with her for being unappreciative.
Isn’t it selfish to set limits? No, no, no. In fact, it is destructive not to set limits. Who will take care of you if you don’t? Who knows more about what you need, or don’t need, than you do? It is unfortunate that the word “selfish” has such a bad connotation. Perhaps we need to think in terms of “self-caring.” Then we may more appropriately ask, “Isn’t it self caring to set limits?” You bet!
How can I set limits and still be a “good” person? How can you not? By the way, what is a “good” person? (The word I prefer is “integrity.”) How do you feel when you’ve been sooo good, that you have been taken advantage of? Do you hide your angry, resentful feelings, smile and pretend – often even to yourself – that all is OK? Or, do you let your anger out on the next poor soul who crosses your path? How can you possibly feel good about yourself if you carry so much luggage?
Why do I feel guilty when I try to set limits. Because you are well-trained to believe that it is your responsibility not to disappoint others, to please, protect, “make” them like you, etc. There are cognitive techniques that can effectively help stamp out irrational guilt.
Not all guilt is irrational. Each situation needs to be examined. What is the individual’s underlying motivation? An example is the jealous, insecure husband who did not want his pretty wife attracting male attention in his flashy convertible. He “set limits” on her use of his car despite his not needing it and despite her responsible driving record. Since he was trying to control, he has every reason to feel guilty (assuming Mr. Ego would ever admit it).
Sometimes I know what’s best for my partner. Isn’t it my job to care for them? Absolutely not! Care about your partner; do not care for them. Big difference! They have the right to make their own choices, including choices that you believe are wrong.
You may state your opinion once, even twice. Then you need to drop it. Stop trying to control them, fix them, guide them. Spend your energy controlling yourself, including learning to tolerate your partner’s choices. You don’t have to agree with your partner’s position. You do have to respect it.
- Read more of what Dr. Irene says about taking responsibility here.
- More of Dr. Irene’s collection of articles here: http://www.drirene.com/contents.htm.
- For articles about relationships &Venus on Skywriter, see the categories Relationship Astrology and Relationship Help.
About the Author: Dr. Irene Matiatos, has a PhD in clinical psychology from Long Island University who has specialized in family therapy, domestic abuse issues, and anger management. Her website, Ask Dr. Irene, has a large collection of helpful articles about abusive relationships, including verbal abuse as well as a forum and advice section. (See them at http://www.drirene.com/contents.htm.) She can be reached for private consultations, including phone consultations at 845-774-4393 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The article collection notes that the contents of her site may be reproduced expressly and exclusively for not-for-profit publication in printed format as long as the source URL, the website, and the author(s) are specifically mentioned. Sites interested in publishing specific pages online should link unless granted specific permission to reproduce. All material is intended for educational purposes and must not be considered a substitute for informed advice from your own health care provider.