Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Reader Response: Boundaries and Guilt (A Delicious Blend)

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that many more people are tuning into “Beyond Blue” and posting comments on the message boards (yeah!). The bad news is that my filing methods have not yet made the adjustment, so I can’t remember where or from whom I read certain questions that I wanted to respond to. So I’ll write my thoughts on what I think were the questions, and I apologize if I get them all wrong. The Feng Shui folks are scheduled to come to the house next week to give my house (especially my desk) its enema, and free it of its energy so that my piles of papers and towers of books no longer constipate my soul, transforming me into an organizational goddess.


Anyway, one of my readers felt bad about a friend who had abruptly ended their relationship. The reader said she automatically takes responsibility and feels guilty about it.

Boy does that sound familiar!

I’m dealing with similar stuff myself (always am, actually). After a recent argument with a friend, I felt horrible, of course, because I detest confrontation. (It constipates my soul worse than my paper piles.) I was in the middle of typing an apology (e-mail) when Eric asked me why I was apologizing if she was clearly in the wrong.

“Because if I leave it up to her to apologize, we’ll never speak again,” I said.

“Then don’t you think you need to re-evaluate the friendship?” he asked. “Your first response is always to apologize. Did you know that about yourself?”


“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I didn’t know that.”

Actually, I sort of did. I remember that day my junior year in college, when I sold my very large and cumbersome computer to a freshman for $200. I was carrying the heavy thing up the stairs of Holy Cross Hall when my hand slipped, and I fell with the solid piece of technology–the monitor and mother board landing on three of my left toes. It hurt like a female dog.

“I’m sorry!” I automatically yelled out to the student passing me on the stairs.

She looked at me clearly confused. “Why did you just apologize to me?” she asked.

“Because…my father’s an alcoholic?” I thought. (Actually I think I just apologized for apologizing.)


But I’m sorry. Enough about me–back to you. I found this great quote by Melody Beattie, the codependent Wonder Woman who apologizes a lot less than I do and from whom I learn many tools for developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Her book “Codependent No More” is excellent, as is “Beyond Codependency.” The following passage is from “The Language of Letting Go,” a daily devotional that will get you off to healthy start each morning. My mom and I both read it, because together we assume responsibility for everything unpleasant that happens in our family.


(From January 11, Letting Go of Guilt)

“‘There’s a good trick that people in dysfunctional relationships use,’ said one recovering woman. “The other person does something inappropriate or wrong, then stands there until you feel guilty and end up apologizing.’

It’s imperative that we stop feeling so guilty.

Much of the time, the things we feel guilty about are not our issues. Another person behaves inappropriately or in some way violates our boundaries. We challenge the behavior and the person gets angry and defensive. Then WE feel guilty.

Guilt can prevent us from setting the boundaries that would be in our best interests, and in other people’s best interests. Guilt can stop us from taking healthy care of ourselves.


We don’t have to let others count on the fact that we’ll always feel guilty. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be controlled by guilt–earned or unearned! We can break through the barrier of guilt that holds us back from self-care. Push. Push harder. [She’s talking boundaries.] We are not at fault, crazy, or wrong. We have a right to set boundaries and to insist on appropriate treatment. We can separate another’s issues from our issues (by the way, “issues” in legal jargon means children…in case you ever get sued), and let the person experience the consequences of his or her own behavior, including guilt. We can trust ourselves to know when our boundaries are being violated.”

Melody must have been an acolyte (which we had at Saint Mary’s College since we had no boys), because she’s got guilt down pat!

  • http://HASH(0xd15b7e8) TJ Muktoyuk

    hey–i’ve never done a “post” before, but have a concern…so here goes: i’m 36 yrs old, live at home for financial reasons, flunked out at marraige, & am on my 3rd attempt at college…i’m feeling a lot of pressure to get my degree, & get out into the “working world” ASAP…i’ve gone back to school after 4 years… oh yeah–i’m Bipolar on top of all that…such fun it is, eh? i’m trying to have fun in my classes, & it’s hard with all these thoughts/expectations all raging within me… how do i learn to reach out for help, while looking like i know what i’m doing? most of the time i’m scared spitless, but feel the need to look confident & competent at all times! this is very energy-consuming! i feel like if i don’t advocate for myself/ put on a happy face ,etc. that i’m not succeeding in my day’s work…don’t feel much good vibes–support is subtle, communication is difficult with my mom…my dad has dementia & is basically in his own “zone” most of the time…mom’s a SuperAchiever, yet stoic & distant…we’ve clashed for oh–37 years now…brother only comes into our lives at his convenience… anyways…thanks for listening (reading?) to my venting here…i love your column, especially your sense of humor in the life of the Crazies we both live in…i try to keep a sense of humor about my um–“interesting” lot in life…you’re on my homepage, so i have your courage in my daily life nowadays… see you on the web…tjm (tasha)

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