Beyond Blame

Freeing yourself from toxic emotional bullsh*t

Two Questions About Emotional Boundaries

People are pressuring me in uncomfortable ways

Dear Dr. Alasko: We're still paying off the loans for our son's college and we've helped him with a subsidy for a few years afterward. He still struggles financially but we can't keep helping him. My wife constantly worries about how he'll survive. Is there something we can do to be less stressed by his problems?

Dear Reader: It certainly seems that you have done everything that parents can do to launch their child. Paying for college is not within the range of many parents and providing him with a subsidy afterward is truly generous. It might be that your son has developed some advanced skills in parental manipulation, along with a finely tuned sense of entitlement and dependency he's not willing to surrender.

Because you've done more than enough to launch him, what you need to do now is to firm up your emotional boundaries, so as to protect yourself from his stress.

The purpose of an emotional boundary is to protect you from feelings about which you can do nothing. Without a strong emotional boundary, you are subject to constant pressure and manipulation and suffering. However, developing this boundary takes psychological and emotional effort. If your wife is unwilling to strengthen her boundaries, you'll have to do the work for yourself.

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Ultimately, you cannot live his life or develop his career for him. He must do that work on his own. Parents who set up a trust fund or otherwise subsidize their child for their entire adulthood usually don't do either themselves or their child any favors.

In practice, you’d set up an emotional boundary in this kind of case by regularly repeating this mantra: "It's not my life. He has to live his own life." And: "His needs and feelings are not my needs and feelings. I have to take care of my own, as he must take care of his."

 

Dear Dr. Alasko: A childhood friend is involved in numerous charities and organizations and she calls me every week with suggestions about how I could help. I admire her devotion but dread hearing from her because her requests and demands insinuate, even if indirectly, that I'm not as compassionate as she is. How can I get her to be less demanding?

Dear Reader: It seems that you have not yet had a heart-to-heart talk with your friend about personal boundaries, limits and choices. Perhaps because she's your friend from childhood, you are tolerating a level of intrusiveness that you would not accept from a more recent friend.

It's generally accepted that no one has the right to proselytize; to try to convert another person to a religious or political (or charitable) doctrine. You live your life in a way that works for you and you have a right to not have someone try to change you.

The only way out of this problem is to sit down and tell her that you need more from your friendship than her constant reporting on her activities in which you don't have an essential interest and implying that you should participate, too. If she cannot abide by your request, then you'll have to limit your contact with her. The next choice will be hers.

 

Carl Alasko, Ph.D. is the author of Beyond Blame (Tarcher Penguin), and like his first book Emotional Bullshit, it has been published in five languages.

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