Updated: Jun 15, 2022
Originally posted by Dr. Henry Cloud
Our feelings, whether good or bad, are our property. They fall within our boundaries. Our feelings are our responsibility; others’ feelings are their responsibility. If other people feel sad, it is their sadness. This does not mean that they do not need someone else to be with them in their sadness and to empathize with them. It does mean the person who is feeling sad must take responsibility for that feeling.
Sandy was confused about her boundaries because she felt responsible for her mother’s feelings. She felt like she had to change her mother’s anger to happiness by changing her own behavior. This puts Sandy’s mother’s anger in control of Sandy’s life.
If we feel responsible for other people’s feelings, we can no longer make decisions based on what is right; we will make decisions based on how others feel about our choices. If we are always trying to keep everyone happy, then we cannot make the choices required to live correctly and freely. We can’t determine how successfully we are living our lives by who is unhappy with us. If we feel responsible for other people’s displeasure, we are being controlled by others.
Many people are stuck in the stage of development where they think they can control others by getting angry or sad. This tactic often works with people who have no boundaries, and it reinforces the controlling person’s immaturity. When we take responsibility for our own disappointments, we are setting clear boundaries. When we take responsibility for others’ feelings, we are crossing over their boundaries.
Some of you may think that this approach to boundaries is mean and insensitive. Please hear something loud and clear: We should always be sensitive to others’ feelings about our choices, but we should never take responsibility for how they feel. Taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings is actually the most insensitive thing we can do because we are crossing into another’s territory. Other people need to take responsibility for their own feelings. If they are mature, they will process their own disappointment and own it. If they are not, they will blame us for their disappointment. But dealing with both their disappointment and their blaming is their responsibility. None of us gets everything we want.