Boundaries: What Is Your Responsibility?

Have you ever wondered where your responsibility lies in helping another person?  It’s an issue of boundaries. I came across a story that might help.

A rabbi by the name of Edwin Friedman* tells a story of a man crossing a bridge (quoted in The BoundariesEmotionally Healthy Church). The bridge crossed a very deep and treacherous ravine. As the man walked across the bridge he encountered another man coming from the opposite direction. The strange thing was that this man had a very long rope coiled around his body.

The man with the rope stopped and said to the first man, “Excuse me, would you mind holding this end of my rope?” Not thinking, the man agreed. Then the man with the rope said, “Thank you” and jumped off the bridge.

The man left holding the rope was dragged to the edge of the bridge and would have gone over if he hadn’t been able to brace himself at the last minute. In shock, he calls down to the man on the rope, “Why did you do this?” And he replies, “Just hold on. If you let go I’ll die. Remember,my life is in your hands.”

The man on the bridge was desperate. He didn’t think he could hold out much longer. He looked to see if he could tie the rope to the bridge but that wasn’t possible. So he looked to see if anyone else was on the bridge that could help but there wasn’t. He called back down, “What do you want me to do?” And he replied, “ Just hold on. Remember, I’m your responsibility now.”

The man on the bridge was sick. He didn’t want to let the man go but he knew that sitting there for the rest of his life wasn’t the answer either. He finally came up with an idea. He called back down to the man saying, “Climb back up the rope. I’ll hold on and even pull you as much as I can, but you have to climb the rope.” The man on the rope said, “ You can’t be serious. How could you be so selfish? Remember, I’m your responsibility now. You have to take care of me”

So the man on the bridge was forced to make a very hard decision. He had a boundary dilemma.He wasn’t sure what his responsibility was. Should he stop everything and allow this man to control his life? Or should he let go and live for the rest of his life with the nagging guilt that he let someone die? What would you do?

You might be saying –That’s exactly my situation and I have no idea what to do. I’m going to take a closer look at this idea of boundaries over my next few posts. I hope you’ll come back and engage in the discussion on boundaries.


4 thoughts on “Boundaries: What Is Your Responsibility?

  1. sher

    I never heard that story before and it’s so true. I was put in the role of caretaker at age 8. My mother was too busy with her life. I stood on a chair in front of the stove trying to feed my siblings and 52 years later they still try to guilt me even saying I abandoned them. So I live in guilt and depression and they have each other. I go from anger to tears but my one success is not helping them anymore. I already know they will lie and steal. But I have not found my way over this hurdle and suffer breakdowns. Without insurance no real care is on the horizon. When I breakdown I get minimal care and sent home. What can I do to get to another step?

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      I’m sorry to hear this. It would be good if you could talk this through with someone. It’s sounds like you are out of the house but still stuck emotionally and controlled by your family. Do a search on my blog here for posts on forgiveness. My book STUCK would be helpful too to help you find the separation you need.

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