One of my neighbors, a beautiful woman in her mid-20s, recently told me she was getting together with her ex-boyfriend. In a joking manor she shared that he was “not the nicest” to her.
A little puzzled, I looked at this gorgeous woman who is intelligent, strong and talented. I see this so often in my practice and even have to admit I have allowed people to treat me “not the best” at times in my life. It does not have to be a boyfriend or spouse; it might be a boss, business associate, a child or a friend.
It is amazing how we can justify, minimize or deny how others treat us because of the fear of losing the relationship, people not liking us or having to own some of our own issues.
We end up with some negative behaviors ourselves to manage these people, from lowering our self-esteem to pretending their behavior is okay. Sometimes we allow this type of behavior because it is what we grew up with, so it can feel like what I call “uncomfortably comfortable.”
My belief as a person and as a therapist is that there is no excuse or no need to treat others poorly or to allow us to be treated poorly. It is making a choice to hold our own sense of self, know our boundaries and be willing to hold true to them. It may be difficult, but the results are well worth it. So how do we do this?
It starts with making a commitment that we will hold the best version of ourselves, and if someone challenges that we will let him or her know.
Setting a boundary does not mean pushing back but sharing what we need. As the saying goes, “what you resist, persists,” “what you push against, strengthens.”
So it is not just about setting the boundary, but how you set the boundary. Looking more deeply at this, it means we have to respond – not react – to people, or you will get more of the same behavior.
Another important aspect is to be less concerned about how others will respond and more focused on what is okay for us. Setting boundaries is a way of caring for ourselves. It does not make you mean, selfish or uncaring because we do not agree, it just means that you are important and matter also.
It is easy to get frustrated at how we are treated by people, but part of it is about how we allow others to treat us. What is even more interesting is something that motivational speaker Tony Gaskins said: “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”
When you allow others to treat you poorly, they will continue to do so.
Sharon (name changed for confidentiality), a client of mine, worked for a guy who was verbally abusive to all the staff. She would come in each week in tears. When we discussed boundaries, she would always have an excuse as to why she would not be able to set her boundaries mainly due to the fear of losing her job.
Finally, after a few more weeks of this, Sharon came in ecstatic that she finally did it. She finally told her boss he could not treat her this way. The resulthe started to show her respect. What was even more interesting was that other people in her office started to set better boundaries, which also resulted in their boss treating them better.
Most people will respect our boundaries if you set them appropriately, and if not then we have to consider if this is the job or relationship for us.
When we can set our boundaries, it allows the space for healthier jobs and people in our lives.
I like to call this knowing your edges—knowing where you begin and end. By doing this, it increases our self-esteem and our sense of self, let alone our happiness.