“You can only call me for three reasons…”



  • Victim and Savior: Assigning the roles (1:48)

  • How setting boundaries sets everyone free (3:10)

  • When it comes to caring and kindness, who comes first? (6:00)

  • The death of Should and what to say instead (7:55)

  • So, here’s a question for you… (9:07)

“You can only call me for three reasons…”

I love all the shared learning that comes from my working with clients as they dare to take steps into vulnerability, reflection, learning, and their personal growth. And the call I had today was no exception…

My sweet, smart, and ambitious client is a go-getter. She is hardworking, she’s a deeply nurturing wife, mother, daughter, and sister-in-law – and she’s exhausted. She describes herself with words that are full of self-judgment and self-deprecation, like “I’m not doing well” and “I’m not in control,” and she has physical symptoms like nausea and feeling jittery.

As we poked and probed around to discover what and who she perceives is zapping her energy, I was reminded of a few years ago when my daughter, now 32, was struggling as a young 20-something...

Victim and Savior: Assigning the roles

In her struggle, my daughter grabbed onto me as her lifeline. She appointed herself the victim role, and I appointed myself as the savior. It wasn’t productive for either of us, but it sure felt comfortable. But over time, it zapped my energy. As I tried to be present and empathetic through all of her drama, I sometimes became angry and resentful.

She was at a crisis point, so there were some days when she called me hourly to give me play-by-play descriptions of her struggles and her challenges. On my end, the phone calls began to sound like static you get when your radio is not quite on the station.

I realized then that my attention and focus on her were actually distracting her from the work she needed to do to get herself moving forward in a way that would build her confidence, help her feel capable and confident, and have her living the life she wanted.

How setting boundaries sets everyone free

One afternoon, on a quick break from my grueling work schedule, I was meandering down this peaceful desert trail at the base of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. And, of course, my phone rang.

It was my daughter.

I said, “Hello,” and she launched into this litany of her day’s hurdles, frustrations, roadblocks, and the list of people who had wronged her thus far. As I listened to her Tirade of the Victim, I felt any sense of peace or relaxation I’d harnessed on my brief desert walk just drain out of me and into the sand.

I felt anger and resentment growing inside of me; anger and resentment that I wanted to target towards my daughter, but actually, the anger and resentment were caused by me – I answered the phone.

I don’t know where the inspiration for my next words came from; I can only imagine it was from the sun and the cactus and the jackrabbits on the trail, but I heard myself saying this:

“Honey, I love you. I want the best for you, and I know you can make that happen. So from now on, you can only call me for three reasons: One, to tell me how you solved a problem you are facing, or two, to share something good that happened to you, or three, to ask me, ‘Hey, Mom, how are you doing?’”

She was as shocked as I was. In hindsight, I realize that setting this boundary was cathartic for both of us, and here’s why:

  • I was able to nurture myself by clarifying with her how I wanted to be treated.

  • She realized that I believed in her ability to solve her own problems.

  • Both of us were able to set ourselves free from the self-assigned roles of Victim and Savior.

When it comes to caring and kindness, who comes first?

Exhaustion and fatigue are common themes with many of my clients. I’ve come to realize that, just like me, they haven’t yet given themselves permission to set boundaries. In fact, the tendency is quite the opposite. Somewhere along the way, we all get the message that we are to give away all of our nurturing kindness, time, and energy to others and that it’s selfish to save even the tiniest bit for ourselves.

Well, I’m here to tell you – unconditionally and concretely and clearly – that nurturing, caring for, and being kind to yourself, and taking time for yourself first are the only ways you can extend nurturing, caring, kindness, and time to others. Teaching others how you want and need to be treated by setting clear boundaries creates a framework within which they can learn to care for themselves.

Doing otherwise is actually enabling them – and you – to stay in a state of drama and chaos. And while drama and chaos sometimes feel good and comfortable (because they put up a barrier between us and the things we most need to deal with), those good feelings and comfort are never sustainable.

The death of Should and what to say instead

Giving away everything you’ve got is the fastest way to fatigue, exhaustion, drama, and chaos. Getting energized is best accomplished by creating space where you simply are as you are. In other words, by not doing one single thing that starts with the words “I should” such as–

  • I should go to the gym.

  • I should call my aunt.

  • I should work on my novel.

  • I should be achieving my goals.

The word should shifts the energy to a place where we feel guilt and shame. Instead, shift the energy to curiosity, excitement, and playfulness by beginning with words and phrases such as–

  • I could

  • I choose to…

  • I think I will, or

  • It might feel good to…

So, here’s a question for you

Who in your life needs to hear the same guidelines that my wonderful daughter heard from me many years ago? Is it an employee? A friend? A sister? A parent? A coworker? A partner?

Practice saying it loudly–

“I want the best for you, and I know you can make that happen.
So from now on, you can only call me for three reasons…”

One: To tell me how you solved a problem you are facing,
Two: To share something good that happened to you, or
Three: To ask me, “Hey, how are you doing?”

Did you notice a shift in your energy?

I thought you might :-)

Now, when you help them to know the criteria for communicating with you – not from the victim’s space but from a confident and powerful space – you’ll regain balance, clarity, and peace.

That, my friends, is how we nurture ourselves first.

If finding ways to create clear boundaries, exploring how to care for yourself and manage yourself, and eliminating our roles of victim and villain, helpless and savior are interesting to you (and work you want to do), check out my Navigating Challenging Dialogue Skills workshop at NavigatingChallengingDialogue.com.

This is powerful work and a shift in the way we care for ourselves and interact with others.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you soon,

CommunicationBeth Wonson