Here’s how to fix it, so you feel more confident standing up for yourself.
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Common Mistakes When Setting Boundaries
When you are an empathic people-pleaser, at some point, the message is driven home that we have to have boundaries. Most often, this point is discovered in a very traumatic way, maybe with the loss of a friendship, divorce, getting fired, or even illness. But, in the beginning, empaths make a lot of mistakes when setting boundaries. This happens in one of two ways.
Either we worry that we will hurt someone else’s feelings, so we set weak boundaries, or, we are so triggered, that we set very rigid boundaries that no one can cross. For example, an empath might decide to not work to make friends again, or never date again, so they don’t get hurt. They become reclusive and don’t let anyone near them, or possibly, they see others, but never get vulnerable with their significant other.
Think of the character Julia Roberts plays in The Runaway Bride. She gets just close enough to commit to marriage, and then runs away. I see this with a lot of clients in the beginning. They push just about everyone away at first.
The opposite is also true. Empaths believe they are setting boundaries, but as soon as anyone complains or acts in a negative manner, they will give in and let the other person have their way. Because of this, it can take them many attempts before they leave an emotionally abusive partner for good.
Another misperception is that we set boundaries on another person’s behavior. “You better not ______________, or I will divorce you!” “If you ever _____________ again, I will report you to HR.” You cannot control another person’s behavior.
Fix These Common Mistakes
As Cloud and Townsend say in their book, Boundaries, instead of a wall around you, your boundaries are more like a fence with a gate. They are not so rigid that no one can get in. You are allowed to soften them when the occasion warrants, like letting your soulmate partner know about your insecurities, for example.
You also don’t want to be too easy, where everyone knows they can push you just a little harder, and you’ll cave in. Terry Cole, in her book, Boundary Boss, calls boundaries either, rigid, porous, or healthy. We want to have healthy boundaries. Cole also says to create boundaries surrounding each of these areas, physical, sexual, material, mental, and emotional.
Try these tips:
- Instead of saying to the other person, “If you _____________, then I will ______________.”, try talking in terms of feelings. “If I feel unsafe, I will need to leave the house.” Or, “If I feel controlled, I will end the conversation.” This way, you are putting all the emphasis on your own feelings and behaviors. The other person will not feel as if you are trying to control them. Your boundaries will not come across as rude, or as punishment for the other person. They can choose to do whatever they want, and you can choose to do what you want. They can choose to keep berating you about money, but you can choose to leave the room.
- Take some time to know how you would like to feel. Do you want to feel more respected? More safe to be yourself? Freedom to enjoy the things you like? Freedom to spend time with the people you like? What behavior can you change to make sure you feel the way you want to feel? For example, your parents keep inviting your ex to family functions, (Apparently this is common, because I’ve heard about it several times, including Jessica Simpson whose family stayed in contact with her ex, John Mayer.) and you don’t want him around because you feel uncomfortable. You say something like, “I don’t want to feel uncomfortable and unable to be myself at my own family gatherings. If he shows up again, I will need to leave.”
Use This to Communicate Your Boundaries
The best way to communicate your boundaries is through action. You can communicate your boundaries once verbally, but unless you take action, no one will believe you. Like with the ex situation, after you’ve let your family know how you feel, let your actions do the talking, and leave every time he shows up, or stop going altogether if this boundary keeps being crossed.
You’re not going to rage and throw a tantrum, because, especially in the case of a narcissist, that doesn’t work. In fact, when you get out of control, a narcissist will be even happier. That means they got a rise out of you, and nothing gives them more pleasure. Then they can say you are the crazy one. You are the one out of control. They were just trying to be kind, helpful, thoughtful, or whatever else they choose to make up as their excuse. The less you say, the better. In fact, just keep your face expressionless, and walk away.
Narcissists won’t get it without actions. Words don’t mean much to them. They can manipulate words to suit their own meaning.
Remember to Focus on This One Thing
Remember to focus on how you want to feel. You have the right to feel, happy, to feel peace, and to be able to be your authentic self. You are worthy of relationships that make you feel that way.