So why do we struggle to set them so much?
The secret my father had been shielding me from for years finally, violently and explosively came out just as I turned 14 years old. My mother is an abusive alcoholic. When she relapsed as I became a teenager, it was bad.
I saw my father draw a line in the sand with my mother and when she crossed it, to protect his children, he followed through with the consequences. This was really healthy for me to see because it showed me the value in standing up for yourself. It set me on the correct course.
I often joke with my father that he was able to divorce his wife, but I cannot divorce my mother! We would chuckle about it and that would be our way of recognising and consoling all the hurt that she has continued to cause me since we all left, grew up and moved on with our lives. Until now.
This past Christmas she escalated in her behaviour and it finally twigged in my head.
“I have been allowing her to treat me this way all these years. I have given her permission to do this.”
Setting a boundary in a relationship between you and another person is you drawing a line in the sand and attaching a condition to the relationship- with the implicit understanding that if the other person refuses to go with that condition then you will end the relationship.
If a person disrespects your boundaries, it means that they don’t respect that relationship they have with you and more importantly, it means that they don’t respect you.
Ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness and emotional well-being. So if you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship with somebody it is up to you to take action about it. If you don’t take action, you are giving that person permission to continue dragging you down.
“I realised that by tolerating her behaviour, by sitting down and doing nothing about it, I was giving her my consent to continue being abusive. I was allowing her to carry on.”
For years growing up I struggled with reconciling my desire to have a relationship with my mother and the reality of the pain that inevitably came from maintaining such an accord.
After giving her second chance after second chance I eventually had to draw a line. Her alcoholism was making me unhappy and dragging me down. The negative impact she was having on my life was not worth the occasional positive experience that came with having her around.
I set a boundary. I redrew the terms of the relationship. I will only be around her once she’s kicked the booze for good. That’s not happened yet and I honestly don’t know if it ever will.
I’ve put the boundary between my happiness and her vile behaviour. As a result I’ve lost my relationship with her but my happiness has increased ten-fold.
It was really tough, but now I’ve done it I’ve seen a noticeable, positive difference in my life. I’ve asked myself over and over, why I didn’t do this sooner?!
The result of setting that boundary and most importantly sticking to it, has been nothing short of transformative. Seeing it through has reinforced my self-esteem and self respect.
If you don’t respect yourself, how can you expect others around you to?
Some may call me heartless but remember I haven’t just “cut her off”. She knows the condition to having a relationship with me- to be sober- and she chooses to do otherwise.
Why do we struggle to set boundaries?
I need to give you a disclaimer here, I’m not a licensed therapist and I have no claim to fame as a renowned psychologist. What I am is a man who has been there, done that and got the T-Shirt.
I’m writing as someone who’s done it and come through the other side.
Perhaps you’re reading this and my experience is resonating with you?
Perhaps a relationship in your life is springing to mind which is dragging you down, has become unhealthy and needs to change?
In a situation where a person brings both good and bad things into our lives we tend to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I think this is because as people we work on consistency and where there is inconsistency it’s difficult to get a clear view.
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve come to the conclusion that in a relationship where something slides into the territory of “this isn’t really okay” or “alright this getting a bit much now” we evaluate the pro’s and con’s of setting a boundary in terms of the hurt that would be caused to us by the loss of the good things the relationship, if the boundary is not respected by the person on the other side.
This leads to the assessment that the hurt caused by the loss of the good things that comes from the relationship if the boundary is not respected, is too high a price to pay for stopping the bad things from that relationship bringing us down. That to disrupt the relationship that is damaging our happiness and wellbeing is “not worth it”.
That transposes itself into one of three things:
- We allow the relationship to continue unchanged in the hope that each time it brings us down it will be the last time (ie. that the person will “change” or that our intervention can “change” the bad things in that person’s life that is leaking into ours).
- We refuse to set a boundary because the risk of such action leading to the loss of the good part is too much to bare, despite how badly the relationship can bring us down.
- We try to ignore the unhealthy parts of the relationship because we just have too much going on, constantly putting off the wider problem to another day and being rocked at regular intervals by the unhealthy parts of that situation for as long as it takes for us to face it head on and deal with it.
Often, as it was certainly the case in my relationship with my mother, it was a combination of all three. There is a fourth, which I’ve observed in others too and is definitely worth mentioning.
4. That we are afraid of the other person not respecting the boundary, leading to the end of the relationship and becoming alone.
These things can all be summarised in one line:
“Setting boundaries is all about self esteem.”
It takes a lot of personal growth to say “I’m worth more than this” and “I deserve better than this”. Sometimes the idea of going it alone can be scarier than continuing with the unhealthy relationship. That’s not even touching on the difficult situations some people find themselves in where they become reliant on their relationship with person that is bringing them down.
This is where digging deep, finding your inner strength and self-esteem comes in to play.
Because the fact is, you are worth more and you do deserve better.
No person is destined to be miserable, made to feel sad. No person sets out in life to feel unhappy.
Respecting yourself is about finding the strength to say “no”. Setting boundaries is about demanding that people treat you with a certain level of respect and having the strength to follow through if they don’t.
It’s not about “cutting out” everybody around you that you disagree with and it’s not to be taken to an extreme- that is unhealthy in it’s own way. One would hope you don’t find yourself constantly having to set boundaries with people in the first place!
It’s about filtering out those who respect you from those who don’t. Somebody who respects and cares for you will respect your boundaries. Somebody who chooses to disrespect your boundaries does not respect you. It is as simple as that.
Where you draw the line is up to you, but remember that people will treat you in the way you let them treat you. It’s a simple and harsh truth which I learned the hard way with my mother.
And I really hope in sharing this, you can learn this in an easier way than me.
Hopefully by understanding these things we can empower ourselves to love ourselves a bit more and put ourselves first.
Because setting boundaries is by far the quickest and easiest way to protect your happiness and health for years to come.