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Tag Archives: enforcing boundaries

Hello, Captain!

Could you talk about how to be good at setting boundaries in a non-situation-specific way? You get a lot of letters from people who are having trouble with someone else not respecting their boundaries, and obviously that is not the time to say “are you sure you really communicated what you meant?” But I (she/her) am someone who is GREAT at respecting “no,” but really, really bad at understanding deflection and being ‘politely’ ignored. I sometimes worry that people may generalize your excellent advice for a specific situation –

1) Express boundary
2) Hold firm on boundary
3) Minimize contact

to –

A) Gently hint at boundary
B) Gently hint at boundary again
C) Walk away.

Because that is definitely a thing that has happened to me. Not all friendships/relationships are meant to be, of course, but I really enjoy being able to be friends with people who see the world differently than I do, even when it requires a little extra communication work. So I’m wondering what you think the best way is to check in with oneself early in a relationship, when things are just barely irritating (when you, Captain, are very unlikely to be getting letters), about whether the actual, literal word “no” (or “stop”) has been said and ignored? Because I’m also pretty sure I’ve been on both sides of this, because who loves provoking conflict? Not me!

A Libra Who Doesn’t Really Believe in Astrology Except For That Balance Thing Which Is Awesome

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Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.

The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?

For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:

>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””

In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’

Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.

Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.

– A Weary Woman

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A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.

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Captain and Crew,

I’ve been married to a wonderful man for almost 5 years now. He and I have worked hard to have a marriage based on openness and honesty.

We decided fairly early on we weren’t in a hurry to have kids, if ever. We wanted to have time to be just us. Then I had some medical issues which required a snip of the tubes, so it hasn’t even been an issue for many years.

The second question my MIL ever asked me was if I was going to give her grandchildren. To the point she stopped talking to us for a year after the marriage when we told her it wasn’t happening.

My husband has always, always handled her and stood up to her on our (and my) behalf. He’s never tried to make me do what she wants even superficially for “family harmony”.

Adding to the tension is the fact that for ten years her ex husband brutally abused my husband. When my husband finally talked to her about it and asked why she didn’t allow him to live elsewhere, her reply was “I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. I would rather you be abused and hurt than hear ‘I told you so’ from my mother”. She has also Whitewashed the abuse and makes it like they had a Rockwell childhood.

There has been therapy for all of this, don’t worry. And continues to be.

Husband and I are now talking about having kids in the next couple years, especially now that we have found out My body has reversed that surgery all on it’s own (super mutant Fallopian tubes for the win).

We will need to set boundaries, probably All over again. Going into it this is what We would want:

1. She would never be left alone with any of our kids. Ever. She has a history of poor decision making and drug use.

2. We would need to restrict how much time she is visiting for our own sanity, and to be honest, mainly mine.

3. That she will not argue every aspect of our parenting choices.

So when is the best time to establish these? What’s a good script that doesn’t involve my overprotective tendencies an easy out? Can I just hide being pregnant until the kid is like 13?

We are not telling anyone I am fertile again, but we are discussing all of this potential madness.

Thanks for your advice

Not yet a momma but already dreading grandmomma drama

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I’m in grad school for creative writing. It’s hard. Right now, I’m taking three classes, which means that I’m reading 500-plus pages a week, in addition to commenting on my classmates’ writing and producing a poem every week. Plus, I’m teaching a basic composition course for struggling writers, and a literature course (for the first time ever), so I’m writing lesson plans and grading essays for nearly 60 students. AND I work ten hours a week to supplement my stipend enough to buy things like toiletries, books and the occasional beer on a Friday night. Also, I need to clean my apartment and do laundry and run errands sometimes. And in addition to all of THAT, I’m expected to participate in meetings, go to outside lectures, and attend all the readings by my classmates and visiting writers. And I WANT to, because oh my god I love school. School is the best thing ever. I work my ass off and I LOVE IT. This is not really about grad school.

Millay

What people think an MFA is like.

Except it kind of is. I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which causes, among other things, crushing migraines and extreme fatigue. And there’s no cure for it, because ovaries, ew. Mostly, I manage. But there are days when I can barely drag myself around, and did I mention all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing? Sometimes I can’t do it all. Sometimes my whole body feels like a bag of wet sand that I’m not strong enough to lift. Sometimes I have to lie down and rest before I die. So I miss the reading, or the lecture, or the lunch meeting.

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fun house mirror

Your mom.

Dear Captain Awkward,
        Ever since I can remember my worth in my family has only gone up when my weight goes down. My mom was always telling me I was too fat and that I needed to pull my pants up over my stomach or that I needed to buy larger shirts so my “fat doesn’t hang out”. She even has my brother, grandmother and my father doing it. My mother is a functional alcoholic, and has been since before she was pregnant with me (my dad had come home to her being trashed when she was about 3 months along with me, but that’s not the point of what I’m writing about) and when she’s drinking her comments on my body get around ten times worse. She’s even gone so far as to text my father (whom she’s divorced) that I’ve gained [EXAGGERATED AMOUNT OF WEIGHT] and need an intervention. I honestly am not overweight, or at least don’t see myself to be. [WEIGHT INFO REDACTED] I have to wear extra large T-shirts because  I have an overly large bust and if I complain about not being able to find tops that fit she says that maybe if I went on a diet I would go down a few cup sizes. The only time she ever says anything positive to me is if she thinks I’ve lost weight. I would be completely comfortable with my body if it wasn’t for her breathing down my neck all the time about my weight. One minute she’s angry that I’m eating, and then another she’s angry if I haven’t eaten. There is absolutely no way that I can win with her. How can I make her leave the subject alone?

Sincerely,
I’m an 18 year old girl, not a victoria’s secret model.

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More on the theme of parents & communication with adult children today.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for just a few days now but I already caught on to the important part ‘speak up for yourself’.

Now my problem is that I can’t. Or rather I can’t make myself.

I’ve grown up with my bipolar mother. She’s in therapy, on meds and the whole family is very supportive.
She was stuck in depressive stage for what feels like my whole youth, so living at home was equal to walking on egg shells. No arguments, no unplanned behavior, no upsetting mom lest she burst into tears. No friends over (not that I had many). No going for a walk after school instead of heading straight home. No speaking my mind. Keeping my head down so dad wouldn’t have more to worry about.

While my younger brother dealth with the problem by taking drugs and acting up, I was the model daughter. Dream grades. Quiet behavior. Self sufficient.

I, well, broke around age 17 where she had another depressive plunge and went into the hospital. I was unable to visit her, speak to her, look at her without everything freezing. I had two years of therapy, at least one mental breakdown and unvited her from my graduation ceremony because I didn’t want to risk her ruining the day as she was almost but not quite out of the hospital.

Fast forward to today:

I’ve moved out and live with my boyfriend of 6 years. She’s not had a depressive episode in a while but is bordering on mania. She’s still self centered but more aware of her surroundings. Unfortunately she has this big idea of us being/becoming bffs. She tries to bribe me with presents (small things…flowers, yarn, chocolate). She says she loves me and I can see in her eyes that she wants me to just say it back.

But I can’t. It would be a lie. I don’t love her. She has serverely disabled me with this need for top grades, the inability to speak up for myself and the fear that one wrong step will have her telling me again what a horrible child I am and/or send her back into depression.

I generally keep my distance as she’s getting clingy again. I only visit my father (he works at me university, so I can just visit his office). But I don’t want to cut her out of my life. Or rather, I feel I shouldn’t. It would mean not seeing my father as much. I enjoy spending time with her in small doses (or at least I think so…might be self-delusion). I’m afraid it’ll push her back into depression and though I should be taking care and thinking of myself I just can’t.

The solution to my problems is just one talk/phone call/email/letter away
I could talk to my boyfriend.
I could call or email my father.
I could call or write a letter to my former therapist.

But I just sat here for three hours trying to make myself do any of it and couldn’t.

Any idea?

Lips Glued Shut

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