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Being Volunteered: When Codependence Conflicts with Good Boundaries

Blinky-blinky-blinky! My heart fell when we arrived home on Thursday to be met by the unwelcome sight of the flashing red light on our answering machine. Experience has proved a blinky red light means only one thing: someone wants me to do something for them.

Like codependents everywhere, my heart bleeds for others. I’ll run, fetch, carry, cook, clean, help, drive, advise, assist and bear the slings, arrows and insults of the narcissists I’m helping with a fixed smile. But after years and years of this, the smile gets a little faded, the servantheartedness begins to grow weary. Nowadays, there’s only enough bounce in my bungee to care for six individuals: my disabled husband, myself, our two dogs and our six-week-old kittens, Snuggles and Cuddles. That’s it. In the words of Martin Luther: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Like you, I’m tired of giving so much and getting so little in return. Of being used and then abused by the very so-called “friends” who are using me. So you will all forgive me if my initial reaction to the blinky red light was, “Now what!?” and “No. Whatever it is…just no.”

This particular message came from a woman I’d met only once. She’s a cousin of my ex-friend, but she and I aren’t friends, not even acquaintances. Yet somehow, someway, she assumes I’m her personal online shopper. You see, her cult doesn’t allow its members to have anything so modern and wicked as a computer, so in her voicemail she was volunteering me to order an item for her online. I’d already ordered the item twice before and now she wanted a third one. As my old boss used to say, “Do anything three times and you’ll be stuck with that task for life.” (It’s true!)

But it was the way the voicemail was worded that really pissed me off: “If you’d like to order…” she said. Not “Would you be so kind as to…” Not “If it’s no bother…” Not “I’ll be happy to compensate you for your time and trouble….” Nothing like that! Her presumptuous message filled my soul with angst.

Well, I wouldn’t “like.” I joked sarcastically to my husband, “Yeah, I just live to be other people’s personal shoppers.”

Stranger still, she didn’t leave me a way of contacting her to decline. She left no phone number, only her mailing address for shipping the item. Again, it felt like a strong-arm tactic and this trying-hard-not-to-be-codependent-anymore codependent wasn’t having any of it!!!

But there was a wrinkle. The item she wanted me to buy (again!) for her was something she uses for therapy for her disabled toddler. Therein lay the moral conundrum. I didn’t want to let the little boy down. What to do, what to do!?

I’m blessed with wise Facebook friends who have interesting viewpoints. So I threw the question out to cyberspace and the answers that came back were fascinating. Some people said, “Just do it.” Others said, “No, you’re being used.” Some came up with novel middle-of-the-road compromises. But there were two answers that fascinated me.

The first was so simple, I hadn’t thought of it: “What do you want to do?” Huh. That’s not a questions I often ask myself. Duty!!! That’s my guiding light. Duty! Doing what I must (and always much more!) so my narcissists can’t criticize me. So they won’t take away my privileges and bust me back to childhood. (Yes, I know that’s not a normal way to think. Welcome to the Thunderdome people. That’s what being raised by a narcissist will do to you. They once confiscated my nailclippers until “we can trust you with them.” My crime? Cutting my nails too short…in their opinion.)

The second fascinating answer was this: “If this woman chooses to remain in a  cult, then it’s her funeral she can’t get what she needs for her son’s therapy. Maybe CPS should step in. Let her reality happen to her. Don’t rescue.” Huh. That never occurred to me either! Brilliant…but very tough on the poor kid!!

The old clichè “Two heads are better than one” really is true. Make that “Forty-eight heads are better than one.” Forty-eight people took the time to contribute their 2¢ to my Facebook query and with the help of their brilliance, I was able to come up with a non-codependent solution that honors both my boundaries and the needs of a little boy who, through no fault of his own, was born into a cult. A compromise that brings peace to my soul.

On Tuesday, my presumptuous caller will receive this letter in her mailbox:

“Hi [Name],

I got your message. Hope you and your family are doing well. Sorry to hear the [item] is [breaking]. Seems they’re about as reliable as the Titanic! 🙁

[The letter then lists three sources with phone numbers so she can call and order the item herself.]

This way you’re empowered to order a new [item] whenever you need it for yourself without relying on me or anyone else to be your “personal shopper.” Another option is for you to order a new [item] online from, or using the computers at the public library. (It’s free and easy.)

Hope you can find an [item] that suits your needs and lasts longer!

~ Lenora

I like it. I like it a lot. I wasn’t codependent. I wasn’t a pushover. On the other hand, I didn’t abandon a toddler in need. Now, the woman may not like my response. She may not want to take the trouble to place her own order. She’ll probably find some other poor sap to do her bidding (for free, over and over and over). She definitely won’t use the free-computers-at-the-library option (her cult doesn’t allow its member to use the public library…isolation equals control, y’know!) and I know it. She may even gossip and blacken my character to all and sundry, but I have peace…and that’s all that matters.

Life often throws temptations like this in the path of recovering codependents. But with a little ingenuity and a few good ideas, you can conquer your codependence and honor your boundaries simultaneously! Between you, me and the fencepost, it sure feels good!

Thanks for reading! Please visit my website to learn more:

Being Volunteered: When Codependence Conflicts with Good Boundaries

Lenora Thompson

Lenora Thompson is a syndicated Huffington Post freelance writer and food blogger. Her readers call her the "Edward Snowden" and "Wikileaks" of narcissism because of her no-holds-barred-take-no-prisoners approach to writing about narcissism. “Narcissism Meets Normalcy” is the real-life, ongoing story of her healing journey from being held “hostage” by a multi-generational, cult-like narcissistic family. It's gritty and real, bloody and bruised, humorous and sarcastic. Lenora Thompson considers herself a “whistleblower,” shining a spotlight on narcissistic abuse so others can also claim their freedom and experience healing. To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael's heroic battle with Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to read her writings about food, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2018). Being Volunteered: When Codependence Conflicts with Good Boundaries. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Oct 2018
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