Still The Boss After All These Years
STILL THE BOSS AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
By Rev. Renee Pittelli
DON'T YOU REALIZE THAT WHATEVER YOU CHOOSE TO OBEY BECOMES YOUR MASTER?...Romans 6:16 (NLT)
THEN SAITH JESUS UNTO HIM, GET THEE HENCE, SATAN: FOR IT IS WRITTEN, THOU SHALT WORSHIP THE LORD THY GOD, AND HIM ONLY SHALT THOU SERVE...Matthew 4:10 (KJV)
When I think of one adult being the “boss” of another adult (who is not actually his employee), I can’t help but chuckle to myself. I keep getting amusing images in my head of two grown-ups arguing like a pair of kids- one bratty bully and one kid who doesn’t want to be pushed around: “You have to go in the house NOW!” “Why?” (Folds arms in front of chest)- “Because I said so!” “No” (Places hands on hips)-“You better do it now! You have to do what I say!” “No, I don’t” (Raising voice)-“Yes, you do!” “Why do I have to listen to you?” (Yelling)-“Because I’m the BOSS, that’s why!” “No, you’re not!” (Stamping foot and having a conniption)-“YES, I AM!” “You are not the boss of me!”
You can almost imagine the father yelling, “Knock it off, you two!” out a window, or the mother appearing with a wooden spoon and threatening a paddling if the brat doesn’t quit screaming so loud the neighbors on the next block can hear him.
Pretty funny when you imagine two adults in these roles, where at least one of them is behaving with all the immaturity and selfishness of a spoiled six-year old, and the other one just wants to be left alone. But some version of this scenario happens between adults in real life every day, and in reality it’s not the least bit funny, at least not to the victims. It’s amazing that there are actually people who expect, and feel they are entitled to, obedience from other adults, yet many of us put up with rudeness and unreasonable demands from our relatives on an ongoing basis that we wouldn’t dream of tolerating from our REAL bosses, or from anyone else.
Where do these adult brats get off ordering a family member around? Since when do they have any right to tell anybody else what to do? And not even to ask, or to voice their requests politely, but to demand submission instead? And then to become abusive and pitch a fit if their demands are not met? Who wants to listen to a juvenile 60-year old having a temper tantrum worse than any 2-year old? You’d think they’d be mortified to act that way, but they’re not.
Some relatives are “chronological adults”, but not adults emotionally. They’ve gotten away with using the same bossy behavior since THEY were kids, and people, starting with THEIR parents, usually gave them whatever they wanted just to shut them up, instead of giving them a good smack (and no, I’m not endorsing child abuse!) They keep bossing their family members around because IT WORKS. They’ve just never grown up.
Others have a problem getting with the program and accepting that “the times they are a-changin’” and that YOU have grown up. They haven’t figured out that you’re not 7 years old anymore, and the stuff that worked on you then no longer does. These are the parents or siblings (usually older) who hovered over you when you were a kid, telling you to do this and do that. Sometimes they ordered you to do something for them, other times they told you what to do for your own good.
Now they might think you still need their help to function, just like you did at age 7, and it’s their job to tell you how to run your life. Assuming you are a self-supporting adult, which admittedly not all of us are, who no longer relies on them financially, family members have no right to tell you what to do. If you are still taking money from them, living under their roof, relying on them for childcare while you work, or running to them every time you have a crisis, things are a little more complicated. It’s not easy to tell your mother to butt out of your life when her contributions are what’s making it possible for you to have a life. You will need to achieve real self-sufficiency and independence first, before you’ll be able to convince your family that you truly are competent and capable of making your own decisions without their help. (see the article "The Price Of Independence" in the Why They Abuse, Betray, & Abandon You section of our website, and the article “After All I’ve Done For You” in the Abuser’s Reactions To Rebuke section.)
Some relatives just like to be waited on hand and foot, or to constantly impose on others for favors. They may still think it’s okay to TELL you to do something for them rather than ASKING you nicely. They are stuck in the same pattern of relating to you as they’ve used all your life, again because IT WORKS. Or at least it’s always worked up till now. But we’re going to change that, aren’t we?
Here goes: When you become an adult you are EQUAL to all other adults, parents and siblings included. Your relationship ideally becomes one of EQUALITY and MUTUAL caring and respect. Adults do not take orders from other adults. Not unless they’re in the military. THERE ARE NO BOSSES IN YOUR FAMILY. Adults do not OBEY their relatives. We only OBEY GOD. Adults may choose to grant a favor to a family member or do something nice for them out of love and respect, but not because it is DEMANDED or ORDERED.
Ordering another adult around is inappropriate and unacceptable, and needs to NOT BE REWARDED with compliance. The way to get another adult to do what you want is to ASK NICELY. First you say PLEASE, then you ASK, then you say THANK-YOU. And if the other person can’t or won’t comply, you accept it maturely without pitching a fit and getting abusive. After all, we all know we can’t always get what we want.
Did your parents teach you any manners when you were a kid? Did they also teach you that you can’t always win, or get what you want? Maybe not, I don’t know. Maybe they forgot the good manners they taught you, or maybe they didn’t teach you because they never had any manners themselves. Strange as it may feel, when dealing with a Family Boss, you’re going to have to reverse your roles. You’ll have to be the parent-figure, whose job it is to civilize the spoiled-child-figure by teaching her courtesy and good manners, as well as patience, gratitude, appreciation, taking “No” for an answer, and gracefully accepting disappointment, which is inevitable in life. You will be doing her a great favor, because everyone needs to learn these things if they are going to be mature, functioning adults that other people don’t avoid like the plague or snicker at behind their backs.
A demanding relative is used to bossing you around because she’s done it all your life. That’s how she’s always related to you. But that was then and this is now. She needs your help to break a life-long pattern that has been socially detrimental to her, whether she knows it or not. You are doing her a favor and making her life easier in the long run by teaching her that “You can get more flies with honey”, and that being obnoxious doesn’t make other people feel like being nice to her. So as you help her learn the “new rules”, let her know that it’s for her own good, which she should appreciate since she’s no doubt told you the same thing many times in the past, after doing something YOU didn’t like.
Helping a discourteous and demanding relative change means firm boundaries, limit-setting, and consequences (see the section Setting & Enforcing Limits & Boundaries on our website), because adults who act like children need to be treated like children, at least until they mature enough and develop enough judgment and self-control that you can begin treating them like adults.
Some people do have enough social savvy to take a hint, in which case you might be able to get your message across with some good-natured humor and without a direct confrontation. The next time your older brother tells you to do something, try smiling at him and saying “I didn’t hear the magic word”, as if you were patiently addressing a child. Assuming he gets it and says “Please”, and you comply, if then you don’t hear “Thank-you”, smile again and say “Now what do you say?” This method has a good chance of success with someone who is basically well-intentioned but might need a little brush-up on proper etiquette. However, you will probably need to use a much more direct approach on a relative with a hostile, belligerent, overbearing, or controlling attitude.
If the light-hearted approach fails, time for some tough-love. Have a little pow-wow with your bossy relative and lay out exactly what it’s going to take for him to get your cooperation in the future. Explain that from now on, you’re going to need to be “in the mood” to grant any favors, and that the best way to facilitate this is by being pleasant and polite and saying “please” and “thank-you”. Tell him that you will not be responding to any rudeness, demands or orders, only nice requests, and that he needs to ASK instead of TELLING. Enlighten him to the fact that you do not have to do what he says, and in the future, you will take his “suggestions” or “requests” under consideration, taking action on them only if it’s convenient and you want to. Clarify that, should you choose NOT to grant his request, you still expect your decision to be accepted with grace and maturity. State that you expect to be addressed at all times with courtesy, consideration, and good manners.
Once you have stated your conditions for listening to your ex-Boss’s request, consistency will be the key to re-programming him. You need to refuse to directly address any of his wishes that are not presented as polite requests. When he hands you a shopping list and informs you that you are to run errands for him, do not dignify his demand with an answer. Simply hand the list back or place it on the table and state, “I don’t respond to orders. You'll need to re-word your request if you want me to consider it. Then I’ll think about it and let you know.”
Only after he has properly and nicely ASKED should you respond to the actual request itself- with a “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe”, “I’ll think about it”, “I’ll see if I can”, “Sorry, no can do”, etc. Until then, you need to completely IGNORE his demand and not give any indication that you even heard it or paid any attention to it. I like to call this the “Selective Deafness Technique.” When he has politely ASKED, then you can reward him by politely answering- indicating that you heard him and informing him of your reply.
Of course, this method is guaranteed to drive an ex-Boss crazy, so be prepared to leave the room or hang up the phone when his head explodes. But don’t give up. Just like that spoiled brat kid we imagined, your obnoxious, bossy relative will eventually learn from calm but firm limits and consequences.
Like our imaginary brat, he also has to learn that you can’t always get what you want. Life just doesn’t work that way, as all of us who always wanted a nice, normal, loving family can testify, and learning to accept this is a part of growing up. The time will come when, even though he phrased his request politely, you still might not agree to do it. C’est la vie.
When you do decline a request, your ex-Boss will probably react poorly, revert to type, and become angry and rude again. But don’t give in and allow yourself to be bullied. Now is the time to reinforce the concept that Temper Tantrums Do Not Work. Don’t tolerate any nastiness or anyone raising his voice to you. At the first sign of a tantrum, say. “I understand you’re not happy, but I will not be spoken to in that manner. I’m leaving now (or hanging up the phone). You can call me after you’ve calmed down and are ready to address me respectfully.” Then DO IT. With this method, you can’t lose- even if he never changes, you’ll still spend a lot less time being subjected to his tirades.
Your ex-Boss will no doubt be angry, indignant, or resentful about being forced to comply with your new rules. You need to expect this and to be okay with it. My birth-father was famous for “the puss”- a scowl with his lower-lip stuck out that told us he was pouting just like a two-year old. We had learned ages ago that it was a huge mistake to ask him what was wrong and give him the opportunity for a screaming rant. So we became professionals at completely ignoring “the puss”, even whispering humorously among ourselves that if he didn’t stop it, his face was going to freeze like that! He could walk around with the puss on for two weeks and it didn’t matter in the least. Nobody would “notice”, everybody would just go about their business and enjoy themselves, and life would just go on. And spookily enough, by the time he was in his 70’s, his face DID freeze like that, and that is the only expression he became capable of.
So when your ex-Boss lets you know that she resents your new rules, just shrug and say, “Oh well, I can live with that”, but don’t back down. Even a grudging change in her demanding behavior is still an improvement. She doesn’t have to like it, as long as she quits ordering you around and starts treating you respectfully. Like every other habit, with enough practice and God’s grace, eventually the new rules will also become a habit, and offensive behavior will be replaced with politeness and perhaps a touch of humility. Your relative will find that other people are now more inclined to accommodate her requests, and her interactions will be more pleasant for everyone concerned.
BUT PETER AND THE APOSTLES REPLIED, “WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN HUMAN AUTHORITY”.....Acts (NLT)
NO SERVANT CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS: FOR EITHER HE WILL HATE THE ONE, AND LOVE THE OTHER; OR ELSE HE WILL HOLD TO THE ONE , AND DESPISE THE OTHER. YE CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON….Luke (KJV)
AM I NOW TRYING TO WIN THE APPROVAL OF MEN, OR OF GOD? OR AM I TRYING TO PLEASE MEN? IF I WERE STILL TRYING TO PLEASE MEN, I WOULD NOT BE A SERVANT OF CHRIST….Galatians (NIV)
WE ARE NOT TRYING TO PLEASE MEN BUT GOD, WHO TESTS OUR HEARTS….1 Thessalonians 2:4(NIV)
FOR HE WHO WAS A SLAVE WHEN HE WAS CALLED BY THE LORD IS THE LORD’S FREEDMAN; SIMILARLY, HE WHO WAS A FREE MAN WHEN CALLED IS CHRIST’S SLAVE….1 Corinthians (NIV)
…YOU HAVE ONLY ONE MASTER AND YOU ARE ALL BROTHERS. AND DO NOT CALL ANYONE ON EARTH “FATHER,” FOR YOU HAVE ONE FATHER, AND HE IS IN HEAVEN….Matthew 23: 8-9 (NIV)
YOU GLADLY PUT UP WITH FOOLS SINCE YOU ARE SO WISE. IN FACT, YOU EVEN PUT UP WITH ANYONE WHO ENSLAVES YOU OR EXPLOITS YOU OR TAKES ADVANTAGE OF YOU OR PUSHES HIMSELF FORWARD OR SLAPS YOU IN THE FACE. TO MY SHAME I ADMIT THAT WE WERE TOO WEAK FOR THAT!....2 Corinthians -21 (NIV)
FORMERLY, WHEN YOU DID NOT KNOW GOD, YOU WERE SLAVES TO THOSE WHO BY NATURE ARE NOT GODS. BUT NOW THAT YOU KNOW GOD- OR RATHER ARE KNOWN BY GOD- HOW IS IT THAT YOU ARE TURNING BACK TO THOSE WEAK AND MISERABLE PRINCIPLES? DO YOU WISH TO BE ENSLAVED BY THEM ALL OVER AGAIN?.....Galatians 4:8-9 (NIV)
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The Lord specifically called Sister Renee to minister to Adult Children, not their parents, estranged siblings or friends, abusive or abused spouses, or victims of other types of abuse, although what we write here can often be meaningful for those folks as well. Because of this, our ministry and website have a narrow focus which we will not be changing. We simply can't cover everything. In addition, it is not our purpose to help you re-establish contact with someone who felt it was necessary to cut you off for the sake of their own well-being. We do not keep a list of resources for estranged parents or any other type of abuse and suggest if you are sincerely interested in making amends with an estranged relative, you do an internet search for a website or group that will be more relevant to you. If you cannot find a group or site that you can relate to, we suggest you start your own, and bless other people in your position as well as find support for your personal issues.
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