Dear Always:

Your story sounds familiar. Many people are quick to offer their assistance—perhaps too quick. While at first glance this sounds like an admirable trait, it can actually be a cover for feelings of low self-worth or insecurity, a need to always be available to others in spite of the detrimental impact it has on you. Consider the possibility that your boundaries are too porous, that you are too quick to help in spite of the negative impact on you and your family.

I am reminded of the parable of the vine and branches. Jesus says that He is the true vine, and the Father, the gardener, cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit, and prunes the branches that bear fruit so they will be more fruitful. (John 15: 1-2) Consider the possibility that you are giving too much of yourself away, and need to "prune" your activities so they will be more fruitful.

Finally, your note sounds like you are of questionable help to your friend and mother. While your motives are right—to be helpful—they don’t sound receptive to your help. They need to learn about balanced relationships, as do you. Consider these steps:

First, let them know how you feel. Being honest is risky business, but speaking the truth in love is our calling. Carefully share your hurt feelings, that you, too, want to talk about your life.

Second, seek balance in your sharing, being mindful to give and receive. If you are an overfunctioner, which sounds likely, you will give, and give, and then resent and resent. This does no one any good. Resentment is often a clue that we are living life out of balance. Ask for what you need—don’t expect anyone to read your mind.

Finally, be careful to determine if your advice-giving, or listening, is helpful or enabling to their problems. There are times when we listen to others problems and actually work harder on the problem than the other person does. If you feel called to listen, then by all means listen. We are called to "Carry each other’s burdens." (Galatians 6: 2) We are not called, however, to carry them for someone who should be carrying them themselves.

Developing healthy boundaries is a most difficult endeavor, especially for Christians who feel called to be helpful. We often go from one extreme—porous or absent boundaries—to the other extreme—rigid, distancing boundaries. It is very difficult to find the balance—caring without caretaking. Listening without carrying the problem for someone.

I talk about these issues at length in my book, When Pleasing Others is Hurting You. Blessings to you as you practice finding healthy boundaries with these two important people in your life.

Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com


David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including   Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage,  Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest book is titled When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.