Off-Limits Subjects



By Rev. Renee


          Ever notice how certain subjects always seem to be fair game for our relatives to criticize, dictate, pry into, make demands about, pressure us, use for comparisons, or try to exert control over?  When we feel our stomachs knotting up and our blood pressure rising, it’s often because the discussion just wandered into that aggravating territory, and trust me, it was no accident.  Usually it’s the same subject or subjects every time, or at least most of the time- except for professional control-freaks who have to have something to say about almost everything. 

          Although individual budinskis each have their own style, if we take the time to understand their nature, we can usually predict their “modus operandi”.

          A pushy, nervy relative will simply demand to know personal information, force his unwanted opinions on us, feel perfectly free to voice his disapproval and criticism of any aspect of our existence, and blatantly dictate his instructions for running our lives.

          Others are more subtle, yet with practice we can still see it coming.  Little by little, a perfectly innocent, pleasant conversation will start to take a turn toward a subject we’d rather not discuss.  My birth-mother was an expert at this sneaky segue- working whatever she really wanted to talk about into conversations that started out having absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her target topic.  She could spend an hour getting to her REAL point in the most convoluted way possible.  But eventually, I learned to recognize when this was happening and cut it off at the pass.

          When we find ourselves repeatedly dragged into unwelcome conversations, it’s time to introduce the concept of personal privacy called Off-Limits Subjects. Some people just don’t get the concept of minding their own business, and will need to be told. These topics are not open for discussion simply because they’re nobody’s business, and also because we don’t want to hear it.  Feel free to add to the list anything else you don’t wish to discuss.


          It is inappropriate to remark, pressure, interrogate, dictate, demand, criticize, or question ***mature adults on any of the following topics:


If we’re going to get married

When we’re going to get married

Who we’re marrying or dating (unless he’s an abuser, addict or criminal)

If we’re going to have kids

When we’re going to have kids

How many kids we’re going to have

How we’re raising our kids (unless they’re being abused, neglected, or endangered)

What career we choose

Our religion

Our political views

How much money we make, invest, save, spend, or have in the bank

Where we choose to live

Our sex lives

The clothes we wear

The friends we choose

Comparing us to our siblings or mom’s friend’s daughter

Comparing our kids to somebody else’s kids.

Whether we choose to keep or to end other relationships

The limits we choose to set on other’s behavior

How clean we keep our house

Whether we cook dinner every night or eat fast food

What we eat

The pets we have

Anything at all about our appearance or how we look, unless it’s complimentary

Our weight

Our medical conditions

The hours we keep

How we spend our money

Our taste in anything, including clothes, home decor, men, friends, etc.

Our abilities or intelligence, unless it’s complimentary

How we choose to spend our time

Foolish mistakes we’ve made

Our harmless personality traits, such as shyness

Anything we are sensitive about

Things that make us feel uncomfortable

Anything we find embarrassing, humiliating, or offensive

Any other personal preferences

Any other personal information

Anything else we wish to keep private

Our boundaries and limits


          As we’ve said before, once we become a***mature adult (as opposed to a chronological adult), we are EQUAL to every other adult.  We do not obey other adults, we do not allow them to pry into our business, and we do not allow them to criticize, demean, pressure, or control us.  And most of all, we do not answer to anyone but God about our personal lives.

          Is our relative overstepping her bounds?  A rule of thumb is to ask ourselves if we would be comfortable prying into her business or criticizing her on the same topic, and would she welcome our comments or be offended?  If she thinks it’s inappropriate for us to comment on or question her about a particular subject, then it is also inappropriate for her to comment on or question US about the same subject.  If she feels free to ask us how much money we make, then we should feel just as free to ask her how much money SHE makes.  If she thinks it’s her place to point out that we’ve gained weight, then we are just as entitled to make negative comments about HER appearance.  If she feels free to ask us about our sex lives, then we should feel just as free to ask her about HER sex life.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be EQUALS. 

          Telling a relative that she needs to mind her own business is never easy, but it’s a skill we need to learn.   People who have the nerve to pry, criticize our decisions, interfere in our personal lives or invade our privacy don’t care that they are making us uncomfortable.  They are too dense to get subtle hints that certain questions or remarks are inappropriate.  We will have no choice but to be firm and direct in setting our limits.

          So how to get the message across?  Simply state, “That’s personal and I’m not going to discuss it with you, so let’s change the subject”, and then REFUSE to talk about it.  Repeat if necessary, until she gives up.  For more stubborn cases, you may have no choice but to firmly state, “That’s none of your business.”


          ***For a discussion on what defines a mature adult, see the 2-part article “A Price To Pay For Independence” on our website.


          For more on this topic, see the articles “Setting Limits- The Cure For Getting No Respect” and “Learning To Say No” on our website.