Monday, December 10, 2012

Informing versus Consulting

Most people with boundary issues have two different problems: one with drawing their own boundaries, and another with recognizing when their boundaries are being drawn for them.  

My last blog post addressed the first problem and talked about the importance of showing your boundaries rather than just stating them.  This post is about the second problem (which is actually just the flip-side of the first): how to know when someone is crossing your boundaries when drawing their own!

I came across a good example today:

A mother told me she was in the car with her son heading home for supper after picking him up from classes.  She stopped at a family friend’s along the way to collect a parcel and asked her son to go in and get it for her.  When the son came back to the car, he gave his mom the parcel and announced, “Here’s your bag; I’m staying for supper”.  His mother told him that she had already planned the meal and that he should have asked her first.  He said “Mom, you’re crossing the line.  I’m not a kid anymore and I don’t need your permission”, and he left.  Mom was disappointed and hurt but didn’t want to be a nag so she just drove away… 

What is wrong with this scenario?  

Well, the kid is certainly old enough to make his own supper plans; there’s nothing wrong with that.  He’s not breaking any rules.  Mom is old enough to make alternate supper plans; she's done it tons of times before.   So what’s the big deal?  

The deal is that Mom was informed, not consulted, about a decision that involved her.   Her son not only planned his evening, he planned hers as well.  She didn’t cross any line, he did. 

Nobody wants to be told they have to ask permission to live (especially not teenagers!), and I am not advocating that.  But when someone doesn’t check in with you about plans that directly affect you, it is more than thoughtless.  It’s a violation of your boundaries.  

You cannot tell someone what to do, but- if it involves you- ask to be consulted, not informed. 


  1. Hi Patricia. I do relate to this blog feeling that others have tried to organized my life somewhat with their own agendas. I never thought of it as my boundaries being violated more like simply others (e.g. kids, friends, family and co-workers) being inconsiderate, disrespectful, thoughtless, emotional blackmailing , but mostly just being self centered.

    I think the cartoon says it all. It is sad to think that one is on equal footing with another only to find that you are not and often off balance and confused and wondering what the hell happened! Somehow the tables got turned and you are the one being accused of crossing the line. How do you catch that from happening without being totally rigid?

    1. “How do you catch that happening?”

      Until quite recently I didn’t catch it at all and was only aware of a vague dis-ease after interactions with certain people, like the feeling of having just been pick-pocketed. Once I’d identified the dynamic, however, it became easier to catch. Mostly I'd catch it after the fact. Nowadays (if I'm lucky), I can sometimes catch someone "in the act". It's all about awareness.

      The trade-off, I think, is not so much “rigidity” as vigilance. If boundary-crossers are close friends or family, I usually tell them how I feel and ask them to please keep in mind that they should consult with me about decisions that involve or affect me. If they aren't close friends or family, or if the dynamic persists… give ‘em the boot.