Lifeboats, Boundaries and Self Preservation

Recently I made the difficult decision to reduce my sense of responsibility for someone I love. It was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in a long line of challenging life circumstances. It is a problem that so many people face on a day to day basis. Our therapy clients come in with these same heart wrenching circumstances.

  • The adult child who can’t or won’t launch.
  • The minor child who is challenging authority and resisting structure.
  • The spouse/partner who won’t take care of themselves (health, finances, general communication).
  • The friend/family member who is struggling with addiction and/or mental health challenges and won’t seek help.

We all know that we cannot “make” or “force” others to do things that we think are best for them. No matter how correct we might be, people have a right to self determination. The truth is that life is the ultimate teacher. It is teaching me and it is teaching you. Life is teaching that child, adult, loved one, spouse, or partner. Sometimes what we need to do is move out of the way. Often, we need to let go of our sense of responsibility for someone else’s lesson.

Life’s Lessons

We often have plenty of lessons of our own. It may seem like callousness to not continuously come to the aide or rescue of someone you love who is not growing and/or not taking responsibility for themselves. They may in fact have deficits and challenges that make it difficult to determine just how much of what is happening is beyond their capacity. In fact, those for whom we take too much responsibility are often, in part, monsters of our own making. How did we/you stifle this person’s growth when we don’t allow them to fall?


I liken the process of letting go of responsibility for someone I love to getting on a lifeboat. Granted, I have never been in the dire situation of having to literally get on a lifeboat. However, the act of setting this boundary and limit with my loved one has absolutely been an act of self preservation.

The truth is, if I let this loved one get on my lifeboat it would sink. Our culture sends a lot of mixed signals about self preservation. Is it “selfish” or is it “brave?” I think it depends on who is preserving themselves. As a person living with a critical illness, I have given myself permission to actively choose the things that I can make a choice about. I never was okay with being responsible for someone who has abdicated taking responsibility for themselves. How can I share a lifeboat with someone who wittingly or unwittingly would poke holes in it?

The decision to set a hard boundary is a difficult one. I don’t begrudge anyone who is faced with this type of dilemma. Though what I do encourage is that you treat the one life that we aware of as precious. Take responsibility for what is yours and allow others to take responsibility for what is theirs. We do have a responsibility to one another and for me it starts with believing that people are capable, rather than carrying their burdens in addition to my own.

Copyright © 2019 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.

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