No healthy person enjoys disappointing, hurting, or angering others… particularly those with whom we are close. It feels wrong to intentionally cause displeasure in another. It especially feels wrong if you have a history of people-pleasing. So what gives with the title of this article?! Let me explain.
In order to understand why it’s okay to hurt people, we need to talk about boundaries. Being a healthy and self-respecting individual requires boundaries. There’s no getting around it. Now, while “boundaries” is a buzzword all over the pop-psychology world, there is something here that is misunderstood all too often. Boundaries are not for other people. They are for ourselves.
Boundaries aren’t things we put up to punish others, to retaliate against bad behavior: “You’re not allowed to call me anymore!” Or “You can’t call me names anymore!” This is an important distinction for two reasons: first of all, you probably won’t be able to control what another person will and won’t do anyway. Especially, if you are dealing with toxic or abusive people, trying to impose restrictions on them will likely not work and may even backfire. The second reason it’s important to remember that boundaries aren’t for other people is because this isn’t about them. This is about you. Your life is about how you choose to write your own story, make your own meaning and live your best self. So if you need someone to stop calling you in order to have peace in your life, you block them. Not to make them mad, but for your peace. If you don’t want to be insulted, you remove yourself from the situation or put safety measures in place (e.g. only meeting when there is a 3rd party present etc.) if that’s not possible.
If you are being run ragged helping someone who refuses to take responsibility for their own life, a boundary would be saying No. No, I can’t do childcare for you this week. No, I can’t cover your work shift. No, I can’t loan you $100. No, I can’t volunteer to help this group. No, I won’t stay up until midnight. Etc. Of course, it is good to do favors for others in need, to forgive, and to live selflessly when you are able and to a certain degree. Living to serve others makes for an incredibly fulfilling and meaningful life. Generosity to others in real need is a beautiful, personal quality to have! But there has to be boundaries and self-respect in place in order for this to be properly ordered.
Sensing a pattern of disrespect or irresponsibility in another will give you a clue that it may be time to stop enabling them, out of respect for yourself and out of true love for them! But be prepared that when you say no, or establish boundaries, the other person might be angry, offended, hurt or disappointed. And this is okay. Allow them to feel those uncomfortable feelings. If you rush right in to smooth things over, apologize, and backpedal, not only will you be stuck in the vicious cycle of people-pleasing and resentment, but the opportunity for the other person’s growth is lost. Personal growth happens through stress, discomfort, pain and anger, not through sunshine, easy days and someone serving us pina coladas. If you can model healthy self-respect (respect for your body, your emotions, your money and your time), you will provide the courage others need to take ownership of their own well-being too.
For more on boundaries, check out the following:
Written by: Elizabeth Peck, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling Candidate at the University of the Cumberlands and a support assistant to Pax Family Counseling.