Why is it that setting boundries is so hard? Why does it feel so wrong? Why is it that when someone is crossing a boundary, the person crossed often feels like they have to apologize?
How many times have we let pass an inappropriate remark or joke? How often have we allowed ourselves to be in an uncomfortable situation because we were too timid to just say no? How many people do we continue to allow in our lives even when we know they are toxic to us? How often have we found ourselves doing things that we absolutely hate because we didn’t say no? Couldn’t let ourselves say no… How often have we let people close to us take advantage of us and run all over us because we were afraid that if we set a boundary, we would lose them? Why don’t we feel like we are worth sticking up for?
I am watching a friend struggle with this-she has her whole life and will continue to do so until she tackles the problem. She will run and jump for a family memeber at the drop of a hat. At her expense. I have my own ongoing struggle. But, I also know how freeing it can be to finally stick up for yourself. And, there is a psychologically correct way to do it.
In one instance, many years ago I was having a problem with my then brother-in-law. He would constantly make comments about women that made me really uncomfortable. Finally, with the support of my therapist, I confronted him about it. Confronted is too strong a word. What I did was to make a date with him. I chose a place outside where it was private. I kept a pad on my lap-mainly for support. I never attacked him-I just stated that when he said xxx, it made me really uncomfortable. That I felt the comments were demeaning not only to the women who were being commented on, but to me as well. I stressed that I valued our relationship and him but that I did not want to be a party to his thoughts on any woman that passed by when we were together. He had a bit of a hard time understanding and we went back and forth using different examples. But, again, I never attacked him-I just focused on my feelings. And, he stopped. Years later he told me that he really gained a lot of respect for me after that. And I was a nervous wreck leading up to our meeting!
More recently, at the Yoga Retreat that I just returned from, I found myself apologizing for setting some boundries. As I mentioned in a previous blog, not only did I attend the retreat, but I also prepared all the meals. I arrived a couple of days early to begin my prep. I got up a couple of hours before everyone else in order to get breakfast ready before going into a meditation. Anyway, I was there early and basically cooking alone. So, it was my kitchen-my space. I will say that I have worked with chefs who, if someone gets in their workspace, become extremely angry (this is putting it mildly) I’ve seen knives pointed at people for encroaching on someone else’s prep space. And, picking up someone’s knife? Shish! I’m not that bad, but I don’t like people in my space-even at home I am constantly telling my SO to get his stuff off my cutting board-to get out of my work space. And, I don’t particularly like people using my knives. So, back to the retreat. There were about 20 people there and they were all great people-many of them almost floating after a deep meditation. And, they all wanted to contribute by “helping” put stuff away or prepping things-whatever. But, I would be in a rhythm and would have to stop midstream to find something that someone had kindly put away where they thought it should go. Also, constantly offering to help. Which I did want when it was time to clean up-but again, I have a system that while someone else may not understand-like my SO of 14 years– it works very well for me. So one day I just told someone that I appreciated what they were trying to do, but it wasn’t the way that I wanted it done or whatever it was. Then I found myself apologizing for what I had just said! A young woman in the group, who has just received her masters in psychology just looked at me and said,“you don’t have to apologize for that! You’re just setting boundaries and that’s okay!” Almost the same scenario happened again,and I started to apologize again and someone else basically said it’s okay to set boundries.
Where does this come from? This need to apologize for who we are? Of course oftentimes alcohol consumption can make crossed boundries easier to ignore. Or it can go the other direction. But, I think that in many ways, being drunk and having a problem with alcohol-or any substance-is a boundry issue. We are putting up with something that is not comfortable in the core of our Being. In that sense, we are having boundry issues with ourselves. Too afraid to tell ourselves that it is not acceptable. Living day after day after day uncomfortable with Ourselves. And, trying to numb out that discomfort with booze or Xanax or food or exercise-whatever… But that discomfort will never be drowned out. People die trying.
I realize that there are times and things that we have to do that we don’t like. That sometimes, we have to let some of our boundries be crossed. But, if there’s an awareness about that-a thought that goes something like,“Okay, so and so is crossing a line here, but I’m going to let it happen” then it becomes empowering. Because then, you are making a conscious choice.
So, start out small if this is scary to you. Notice how many times a day you back down or back off from setting a boundary. How often you let something slide. How often you feel the need to apologize for saying no. Begin by setting a small boundary. It can be as simple as choosing a different seat then someone has suggested that you take. Notice how uncomfortable you are setting a boundary. Then notice how good it feels when you do. Don’t apologize!
As Dear Abby used to say, “No one can take advantage of you without your permission.”