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When Caring becomes Overbearing

I have deep respect for boundaries. Be it a person’s or a country’s. I have been thinking a lot about healthy boundaries. When we talk about boundary setting, it is easy to presume that somehow we are about to be overrun by busy bodies, or that everyone is trying to take too great an interest in our lives, of course this really isn’t the case.

Boundary setting is normally very different to keeping strangers away. Boundary setting is nearly always the extremely difficult work of disentangling from a pre-existing relationship that has got out of balance. In most cases the recalibration has to take place within a family, friendship or professional relationship; relationships that are deep and valuable. It is because of the complexity, emotions and the meaning of these relationships that the process of change can very difficult.

There is a time and place for everything. If we are going through a stressful or depressing period in our life, we tend to rely upon a family member or a close friend. But what happens when we are back to normal. The “carer” may still continue the protective and over-protective behavior. What does one do then? Of course, refusing to regress, saying ‘no’, and expressing that you are well and no longer need to be looked after, takes courage and confidence. Sometimes it can be easier just to keep the status quo and express deep gratitude, even if you are being completely smothered. If you are being overwhelmed, you will also find that your carer may try and re-label you as vulnerable, weak or fragile. These labels are not helpful for you to accept as they reduce your confidence, assertiveness and self-esteem.

Remember that you can be grateful for someone’s support in the past, without having to accept their support in the present or in the future. Try and think objectively about what sort of help would really enable you to gain confidence and courage, then try and explain what those things are to the person involved. If you feel yourself being swamped, you are not a failure, keep trying to be clear and confident, it may take time but it will be worth it in the end. Re-establishing your boundaries will really help you to recover your balance and increase your self-esteem. Identifying relationships that have become overbearing is an indication that you are growing and recovering.

We all have those people in life who are just a little bit wearing on the spirit. You know who I mean. Their intentions are good, yet they always manage to stir things up. Sometimes it feels like you can’t get anything done when they’re around. They’re criticizing, they’re correcting, they’re meddling. They’re giving you all the reasons why you can’t (when you know that you CAN!).

So how do you accomplish anything when overbearing friends and relatives are all up in your face and playing self-appointed cruise director or drill sergeant? How to maintain some semblance of self-respect and dignity around these people?

One useful way is to erect boundaries. Although at times you feel like booting the overbearing person right out of your life… we all know that this is not always possible. Maybe they’re your coworker, someone in your circle of friends… maybe it’s your mother or your brother! The best thing to do in that case is to keep it on friendly terms but control the situation.

Be choosy about what you share. You’re not obliged to reveal everything about your life to this person. If your gut tells you that something is better left unsaid, then go with that thought.

Try to put the overbearing personality to constructive use. Sometimes people who want to control everything just don’t have enough going on in their own lives. If there’s no getting rid of them, at least make their interference work for you. Give them a task or project to complete and it might just make them happier.

Let them go. When all else fails, you can always say goodbye. Sometimes we’re just better off losing the baggage that comes with one too many overbearing personalities in our lives. This is why people divorce, change friends, move far away from their families and search for new jobs. You may need to do some serious soul-searching before you make a decision. Know that this is a good and healthy process to put yourself through.
Some people just need to hear that they’re right. If you have an overbearing coworker on your hands, sometimes a simple acknowledgment can go a long way. The next time that colleague butts in with a supposedly better way of doing things, don’t brush him or her off. Instead, reply with something along the lines of “Thanks, that’s a good suggestion,” and then move forward as you see fit. Going that route might buy you a temporary reprieve from that person’s intrusions.

There’s nothing worse than an overbearing coworker/family member who’s incompetent and ill-informed. But often, you’ll find that such people act like know-it-alls for a reason — because they’ve actually done their research, put in their time, and believe they have the best solutions or approaches to whatever tasks you’re collectively responsible for. Difficult as it may be to deal with that sort of personality, don’t forget that working with this type of person has its benefits. For one thing, you might learn a thing or two and find ways to improve your own performance as a result. Second, if your know-it-all colleague is convinced he can do things better, he’ll often volunteer to do just that, which means you might just lessen your own load in the process.

It seems unfortunate that strong people are usually so disagreeable and overbearing that no one cares for them. – L. Frank Baum

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