Last week, I wrote about how our fear of losing a relationship can be the number one reason for not setting healthy boundaries. Click here to check it out.
When we feel overly dependent on one particular person, we have a tendency to increase our threshold slowly over time to allow for more and more painful relationship dynamics to become normalized. We become a like the frog that dies in slowly heating water as we become habituated to a certain kind emotional pain and slowly lose our joy and vitality.
Today, I want to talk about reasons two and three of why setting boundaries can be difficult for us even when we know we “should” have those boundaries.
Reason #2: Fear of Conflict
Start by reflecting on what you learned about how to handle conflict as a child. What did you watch your caregivers doing when conflict came up? How did the dance play out? What was that like for you?
Many people pleasers started out as parent pleasers. We were trained from early on to become hyper-vigilant about others’ reactions and to then mold and shape-shift ourselves in order to avoid criticism, judgment, or anger.
These patterns often continue into many other relationships, even when others might not react badly at all. When we don’t know how to do conflict constructively, we don’t set our boundaries clearly and then inadvertently train people to get upset around us so that they can get their way.
Do not rescue people from their anger: leave it in their lane. You didn’t cause it and its’ not yours to “fix.”
What is needed if your fear of conflict is getting in the way of setting the boundaries you need for self-protection and self-respect? Courage.
You need to develop the courage and capacity to let the three-year olds in grown-up bodies have a tantrum around you while trusting yourself to keep yourself safe.
You need to develop conflict-approach skills and disengagement skills that actually help your relationship over time.
You learn to say things like, “I know you’re upset and we will get through this with some time, but right now I need to take a 30 minute time-out to settle down. When I return, hopefully we’ve both calmed down and can move into a calmer conversation about this.”
Reason #3: Guilt, the Gift That Keeps on Giving
Some of us don’t set boundaries as a way of protecting ourselves from the guilt and self-doubt that we might feel if we do. Guilt is often about being afraid of harming others.
Have you ever heard yourself say or think things like:
”I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”
”What if they get upset with me?”
“I don’t want them to think I’m mean.”
“What if setting this limit harms them or damages them in some way?”
We seriously need to stop “fragilizing” other people.
It is completely okay for someone else to feel hurt, disappointed, upset, or surprised. Stop trying to protect people from their own interpretations and their own feelings. When you do that, you’re out of your lane, taking responsibility for things that are not in your control.
People will not fall apart if you let them down. If you aren’t setting boundaries because you’re feeling guilty about how they might feel, then it may be worth remembering the difference between clean pain and dirty pain.
Clean pain is grounded in truth, even if we don’t like the truth. It’s useful, real-world feedback that enables you to see something clearly, heals naturally over time, and supports your growth, maturity, and development as a human being.
Dirty pain is grounded in avoidance, blame, deception, denial, and disconnection. The situation worsens over time as we respond from our wounds instead from our courage, and it becomes increasing painful until we turn and face the truth of something that we’ve been avoiding or lying about.
By the time we are unable to avoid it, more damage has often been done than if we addressed it right away.
Feeling hurt is not the same as being harmed. Know the difference. We can all handle a little upset.
It’s far more loving to respect people enough to know that they can manage their own feelings than to harm someone by avoiding a difficult conversation, denying your own preferences, needs, and truth, and deceiving someone over time.
And as always, I’d love to hear from you: What other things make it difficult for you to set a boundary?
I’d love to know. Leave a comment below.
WANT TO GO DEEPER IN THIS WORK?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: