“What?” You say. Of course not. But I’m not talking about their cool new tech or their new shoes. I’m talking about the way we struggle to not take on the more invisible things such as what’s going on inside of them… under the guise of healthy guilt or caring. But what if I said it can be rather boundaryless for us to do so? And what are those invisible things I speak of?
Their Feelings. We are only responsible for our own feelings, not those that belong to others. We have no control over their feeling angry, sad, disappointed or worse at us, for whatever reason. When we are learning to ask for what we need or set boundaries we often experience the manipulation of others via their defensiveness and/or blaming us for upsetting them with our ask or our no. The truth is that certainly, they may be disappointed and sad, but those feelings belong to them. Not us. We can feel badly that they are hurting but if we avoid hurting and people-please, we will the manipulating as well.
Their Beliefs. What they believe about life, themselves, or anything we do, think or feel is about them. How we feel and what we think about their beliefs is about us. We may be genuinely concerned about where their beliefs may take them and we may be right, but it doesn’t matter because only they can decide whether their beliefs are helpful and wise. It’s not our place to impose. It is simply our fear of negative outcomes for them, and perhaps our relationship with them. In my country the political divide is a good example of this, because when it comes to beliefs and values folks usually will stand their ground and struggle to be convinced there is a better way.
Their Denial. We are all “ready when we are ready” to take the blinders off and the protection of denial of reality. Some of us are more mature and proactive and catch it quickly before it gets bad, and others need a big avalanche of consequences to get our attention. The rest of us are somewhere in between, and it usually depends upon what the situation is. The bigger the stakes the harder it is to want to see the light. For example, admitting our child is not doing well in school could trigger our fears for their future, and hurt our view of ourselves as a loving, nurturing parent.
Their Choices. If you have been surrounded by folks who struggle to have good boundaries and tend to outsource the responsibly to others, you may not be so quick to realize we are always choosing whatever is within our control. Therefore, you may forget that you are not responsible for others’ choices. They are. They could do things differently if they wanted to or were ready to. The “poor them – I’ve hurt them by saying no.” might need to be examined further. They certainly have a right to feel hurt. But what about the reasons you had to say no? What about all the choices not to get help, get it together, learn how to communicate better etc. etc. that led to you setting the boundary to take care of yourself? I often joke with clients they need to get the white board out and “do the math” when figuring this stuff out. It is often worth analyzing so you don’t put your name on their choices or feel misplaced sympathy.
Control is an illusion, and it’s a trickster, often so subtle and insidious that we don’t even see we are trying to wield it until we are knee deep in it. When we only take responsibility for ourselves and start to let go of what belongs to others it can feel scary. What will happen? Can we trust things will work out?
I think what we can trust is every time we overstepped, overreached and over-cared, it didn’t end up the way we wanted, and often turned out worse. So here is the binary choice of sorts, and only one is healthier. That is something we CAN control.