Have you heard the song, “You Always Hurt the One You Love”? The truth is that love does not hurt. Love does not abuse. Love does not take advantage. Love is not impatient. Love is not judgmental. Love is not controlling. Love is not critical. Love is not angry. So it was very confusing when people told me, “I love you.’’
Growing up with mistreatment often considered acceptable behavior, I did not know how to set boundaries with the adults in my life. Even if I said no, too often I was ignored; my feelings and wants simply discounted. For much of childhood and young adulthood, I endured mistreatment. It felt safer to blend in, to become invisible. When conflict arose, I did not want to make waves or rock the boat. I wanted to keep peace and be the one who smoothed over unpleasant situations. When I was threatened with physical harm by a babysitter who was molesting me, I did not speak up.
Into adulthood my boundaries were virtually nonexistent. For many years I continued to let the opinions and behavior of others overrule what I knew was suitable and best for me. Every time I did what other people wanted, or behaved in ways that went against my values in order to fit in with the crowd, or endured and ignored abusive treatment, I suffered.
Through counseling, I learned not setting and enforcing healthy boundaries was co-dependent behavior, a lack of self-respect, and was allowing those who would abuse me to do so. It took great courage, and practice, but when I stood up for myself and stopped permitting people to treat me badly or stopped blindly following others, and instead set boundaries, I felt strong and proud of myself.
Setting strong, lasting boundaries requires us to:
1. Define acceptable behavior. We learn how to behave from our parents, family members, friends, peers, and television. But that does not mean the behaviors we were taught or exposed to are acceptable. Many of us are not taught what it means to give or receive love. To show love, we behave in positive ways. To be loved, we receive positive treatment.
Hitting, screaming, inappropriate touching, humiliation, rage, control, dishonesty, irresponsibility, blame, jealousy, lying, cheating, stealing, sexual abuse, physical and psychological abuse, projection, denial, etc., are mistreatment, and not the loving behaviors that create a positive life. Negative behavior hurts. Acceptable behavior is that which aligns with love – patience, kindness, forgiveness, responsibility, etc.
2. Accept that doing nothing is condoning bad treatment. Many years ago I dated a thief. This person thought nothing of stealing. It was like she was owed something and entitled to do as she pleased without thought to the consequences of her actions. I felt powerless because the behavior went against my deep core values of honesty and personal responsibility.
While I thought turning the other cheek was how I loved someone, it wasn’t. I realized not standing up against the illegal and irresponsible behavior was actually helping to keep the situation alive. Part of setting boundaries is accepting that doing nothing is enabling people who behave irresponsibly to continue exposing us to the turbulent wake of their negative behavior.
Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” With the realization that I could change my situation by changing myself, I found tremendous power in learning to establish limits with people who disrespected and mistreated me. People who mistreat themselves and others are not going to change unless they truly want to and often by getting professional help to do so. Only by leaving relationships did my situation change for the better—regardless if theirs did or not.
You do not have the power to help people who consistently mistreat or abuse you. But, you do give them the power to continue abusing when you stay silent, rather than setting that boundary and, if necessary, leaving.
3. Calmly and clearly express your feelings. Through counseling I learned that when setting boundaries, it is vital to communicate without blaming the other person, even if he or she is guilty. Limits are set for your protection and self-respect. That means it is imperative to stay focused on and responsible for yourself, to communicate directly about someone’s behavior, how it makes you feel, and what you want.
I feel sad, blamed, and attacked when you speak to me disrespectfully. Please treat me with patience and respect.
I feel betrayed and abandoned when you charge on the credit cards after we’ve agreed not to. Please honor the agreements we make.
I feel fearful, intimidated, and unsafe when you rage. Please do not threaten me, ever.
If you ever hit me or the children or abuse the pets, I will call the authorities. I will file a complaint and press criminal charges. I will leave the relationship.
When you identify hurtful behavior, the goal is to communicate your feelings and desires peacefully and directly, and be specific. There is no need to defend or debate the limits you establish for yourself. Your limits are not negotiable. If you meet resistance, let the person know the possible consequences of disregarding your request. In the case of violence, contact the authorities.
4. Be comfortable with not being popular. Setting a boundary is one thing, but unless you are willing to enforce it, no matter how small or large, the people (children too) with whom you have set the boundary will not take you seriously. Consistency is a critical part of maintaining your self-respect. Remaining true to your boundaries is especially important because we often become unpopular when we establish limits.
Just because setting a boundary with someone becomes uncomfortable for them, it does not mean we must back down. We do not have to be unkind, but we do have to remain strong. Remember that saying no and setting a boundary with abusive, irresponsible, or controlling people is challenging their behavior or the hold they think they have on you. You are completely in charge of your own power. Do not give your power away by feeling guilty or allowing them to talk you out of the decision you made for your greater good. Remember refusing to go back on a boundary you have set is helping bring a greater level of positive awareness to the negative situation.
Love yourself by setting boundaries with anybody who believes it is okay to “hurt the ones they say they love.” It is necessary and healthy to set boundaries with people. It is called loving yourself.
Define the acceptable behaviors aligned with love. Respect yourself by clearly, peacefully, and simply communicating how you desire to be treated. Do not allow abuse or mistreatment to continue, hoping the other person will change. Learn to calmly and directly express your feelings without blaming the other person.
You know your boundaries have been set in a healthful manner when you clearly state what behavior is hurtful to you, yet you do not have expectations that you can control a particular outcome or get the other person to change. You set the boundary for yourself while realizing the other person is completely responsible for making changes to his or her behavior.
Accept that setting boundaries with other people is not necessarily going to make you popular. Once you set a boundary, stand by it. Remain strong in the truth that by setting boundaries against mistreatment, you are aligning with the positive, loving way of living.
Photo Credit: angermentor.com
About the Author:
Regina Victoria Cates, a spiritual/personal empowerment coach, transformational author, positivity junkie, and cheerleader of soul, inspires tens of thousands of people every day to live lives of limitless possibility. Through her Los Angeles–based company, Romancing Your Soul, she guides people to lead with their hearts. http://www.facebook.com/romancingyoursoul, or contact her at (800) 601-7929.