I’ve experienced some hard lessons lately. Within one month, I was swindled by a con man, hustled by a greedy real estate agent, lied to by people I care about, hurt by a friend, and cheated out of money owed me. And that’s just the half of it. The result of this has been a boatload of stress resulting in daily headaches, insomnia, depression and extreme fatigue. I finally had to stop and ask myself some questions: What’s inside of me that I allowed much of this to happen? What can I learn from it all?

Ah! Boundaries, she answered. You need to set some strong, healthy boundaries!

But, it’s not that easy to set boundaries when doing your best to help someone by listening to their woes, trusting that their intentions are noble.  The problem, however, doesn’t lie with the cons, the cheats and the liars. The problem lies within me.

I have a compassionate, caring nature. But I was shut down in childhood by a shaming father, and I became a people-pleaser, hoping to gain my father’s approval. Unfortunately, that need for acceptance carried throughout childhood, into adulthood and now, into my senior years. I became aware of this recently when I found myself stressed out by people who lacked respect for me and manipulated me to get what they wanted. When I finally stood up for myself and put the brakes on manipulative behaviors that were upsetting to me, the people involved became abusive. I understand now that I was lacking in clear boundaries to protect my heart and my wallet.

It’s my responsibility to set healthy boundaries. It’s my responsibility to practice discretion and not believe everything I’m told. It’s my responsibility to protect myself and trust my gut. It’s my responsibility to take care of myself first, and not those who bully me and who opportunistically exploit my compassion and generosity.

What a lesson! I could say that it’s taken me too long to finally get this, but I won’t. That would  undermine my own process and minimize what I’ve experienced in order to integrate these new insights.

I certainly did not set healthy boundaries with my son and daughter-in-law. During the torturous events leading to estrangement,  I kow-towed and tried to please them.  I didn’t realize at the time that I was being scapegoated, lied to, lied about, and treated like dirt on the bottom of their shoes. Where were my healthy boundaries then?  Nonexistent, I’m sad to say.  I had never developed a strong sense of self-protection, so I was fodder for their insanity and dysfunction.

Recently, I had a visit from my son. We spent a day together (the first in ten years). It started out well, but then he became rude and abusive. I told him it would be impossible to have a relationship with him if he continued to be so disrespectful.  I stated that I was not willing to further engage with him because  it was not, on any level, acceptable to me to take his abuse any longer. We ultimately came to an understanding – which I’m glad about – but I had to get tough before we reached it. I never could have done that in the past. And for me – a mother – to choose to abort any interaction  going forward with my beloved child, well, it had to get pretty bad to arrive at such a turning point.

I finally understand how much I’ve allowed others to hurt me. I finally understand how I’ve hurt myself – out of ignorance, lack of inner awareness, lack of strength and the inability to say no. I finally understand the importance of honoring myself by setting boundaries to protect my heart and soul. And I finally understand that accepting reality, letting go, and walking away from disrespectful treatment, devastating as that may be, is the only way to find peace. 

7 thoughts on “Boundaries”

  • I too tried to please an alcoholic mother abusing an enabling father (switch parent), now have 3 adult children who basically ignore me. My oldest calls me a monster. I barely have relationship with my daughter and her baby girl . Just keep trying, keep praying, and hope for a better future.

  • Thank you for your book and your site. I will admit I almost lost my grandchild but am on a little firmer footing now but that may change. The best thing I did was set boundaries with her mother and it shifted things. It is not over though.
    I am also estranged from 2 other daughters. All 3 are mentally ill and it was a challenge just raising them and the divorce was the beginning of the end.
    What hurts is that those I love most don’t care. Recently I became estranged from another family member. The behaviour, comments and actions of one of my adult daughters and her new spouse were so hurtful to this person that I became lumped in, held responsible for the actions of adults because they are my daughters yet in no way in control of what they do or say or how they conduct themselves. What was even more hurtful is that this family member knows we are estranged but now refuses to accept that we are estranged and expects me to confront them and force them to take responsibility for their actions, something that puts me in damned if I do and damned if I don’t scenario. It was this recent event that led me to find the book and the site. Thank you.
    I too have asked myself what is it inside of me that takes abuse and has me contorting myself in knots to please others. I have had one daughter tell me to eradicate myself for the betterment of the World.
    I realized that boundaries were my problem as I had none. On top of that I always tried to please others and never was successful. It was something that started as a child trying to make peace with an alchoholic father who abused my mother.
    This journey is heartbreaking. I’ve often wanted to give up. Yet I find that I have good days now and am successful in others areas. Sometimes the hurt comes with a gut punching wrench. Then I dust myself off ger up and keep moving. Those who have stuck by me and personally seen what has happened tell me how strong and resilient I am. But inside is not so clear. Sometimes I wonder if I can detach because I’ve worked at it or if I am a sociopath and feel nothing? Yet my grief when it hits tells me this is not so. I hope one day that someone reaches out. In the meantime I live as best I can. Funny, those not related to me have become my family.
    I am just rambling but thank you for helping not to feel like I am alone or a freak. It’s been hard listening to other peoples happy family stories and I have nothing.
    I will keep working on building a life I can be satisfied with, for me and me alone. In a situation like this I think it’s healthy to be selfish in a way that promotes self love. Again thank you

    • Hi Marci,

      Thank-you for writing and reaching out. I’m so sorry you’re experiencing so much pain- I do understand what you’re going through.

      You’ve been put in a no-win position by the relative who has asked you to intervene on her behalf with your daughter. Not knowing the details, my first thought is that you might politely refuse and suggest that your relative work it out with your daughter, as she’s the one who insulted her (not you!). It would be a breach of healthy boundaries to agree to be in the middle, and your instincts to stay out of it are healthy. It takes courage to do the right thing, and you’ll probably need to be strong and risk losing the relationship with your relative in order to avoid getting embroiled in this unhealthy dynamic.

      I’m really sorry to hear of your daughters’ behaviors. How you raised three mentally ill girls is beyond imagination. Bless your heart.

      You also mention that you feel you could possibly be sociopathic, but you’re clearly not – so put that one out of your mind! You obviously care about your family a great deal and feel the sadness and sense of loss of knowing that you don’t have an intact family situation. You’re very courageous to choose to build a satisfying life for yourself.

      I hope you’ll keep me posted and do your best to enjoy the holiday season. Remember that you’re not alone.

  • My situation is very sim. I set few boundaries, I was the mom who let my kids have their best friends live with us at our beach house every summer. I did everything to make their lives so much more comfortable than mine. My husband ruled, then he got cancer & died. And my adult kids were never the same. Then my father died. And my kids actually took me to court, sued me, wanted guardianship. When I fought back, they rejected me, embarrassing me, hurting me, leaving me alone and still mourning the loss of their father, and my own father. Now 5 years later, my daughter had a baby and I’m allowed in. But my son, who has 2 daughters, is verbally abusive, insults me, refusing me any contact with my older granddaughters. It is the last thing I think about before bed, the the first thing I think of every morning. I should have demanded respect, when all I did was pathetic people please. My self esteem is a work in progress. I am so happy to be a grandma to this new granddaughter, but walking on eggshells. I pray every night, for all of us, and our grandkids, and our adult children who reject us. It is horrible. Stay strong, take care, and wishing you luck

    • Oh, Jean – you’ve certainly been through some serious heartbreak. I’m so sorry you’ve been so badly treated and been the recipient of so much hurt. You’re right about staying strong, though. It’s the only way forward and the only way to claim your own life. One day at a time, one step at a time, we get stronger. I pray for strength and courage every day. This is a tough burden to carry in life, and there are times when I feel I can’t go on, but, I always do. It sounds like you’re making a lot of progress and are learning some hard lessons. I’m glad you have a new granddaughter to shower your love upon. Wishing you blessings and good luck, also.

  • Kathy,
    You express your situation so well and I understand completely how you feel. I think it’s a good idea to continue to reach out for visitation. Keep a record of your efforts in case it comes in handy at a later date. In the US, grandparents have no rights when it comes to visitation, but that is slowly changing. Your grandchildren are still young and there may be hope for you in the future. Fingers crossed. I, too., have twin granddaughters who are now almost 14 years old. They have grown up without me and it’s definitely a heartache. I only have the one son who has four kids, all of whom have grown up without knowing their grandmother. It’s reprehensible, but I’m powerless to change it. And, like you, my daughter-in-law laid down impossible and ludicrous rules for me to follow and I finally had to wash my hands of the insanity and walk away. I think I may have mentioned this to you in a previous post, that since you have other grandchildren on whom you can shower your love, try to compartmentalize. Put the other grandchildren and their parents in a remote corner of your mind, especially when you’re with the grandchildren who are in your life. Tell yourself that you’re a loving grandmother, a good person and someone who deserves love and repect. Use it as a mantra throughout the day. What have you got to lose? Don’t let your daughter-in-law get to you, don’t allow her insanity to invade your heart and control your thoughts and feelings! I did this for years and all it did was hurt me and bring me down to the point where I got mentally and physically ill! Keep praying to see your grandchildren, then let it go and appreciate what you have! It’s more than many of us have (including me) and I urge you to get to a place of gratitude for being in the lives of your other grandchildren.

  • Nancy,
    It’s amazing how eerily similar our circumstances are. I too have never set boundaries with my adult children and their spouses as I grew up being a people pleaser. I felt if I had, they would not love me or that they would have nothing to do with me and the fear of that, drove me to remain silent and take it. Since the estrangement from my youngest son and daughter-in-law over 12 months ago, I am beginning through the hurt to see where I allowed them to be disrespectful in an effort to just get along. The hardest part of this is losing contact with the two twin grand babies as she has blocked me on social media and they won’t respond to requests to come and visit with the grand babies. In fact, neither will respond to any texts, calls, emails etc. I am struggling each day with low self esteem over this and trying to remain joyful for the sake of my other grandchildren with whom I have contact. I try at times to reach out to them but so far to no avail. My daughter-in-law sets unreasonable and unattainable demands on us that I am incapable of doing less I loose myself entirely. I keep praying someday I will get to see those babies before they are grown.

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