Setting Boundaries: Reclaiming Our Power In Relationships
Taking a stand irrespective of the consequences
“Be a man and take a stand!”
Someone said to me many years back. “If I take a stand everything will be destroyed.” I responded to that person. As I said it, I could feel the cold grip of fear in my heart. Without getting into the details of this story, everything did get destroyed. Including what I thought myself to be. It was a good destruction. It led to my resurrection.
Standing out has been one of my biggest fears. There is comfort in being with others. Standing out means risking isolation, rejection and abandonment. It means exposing myself to ridicule and judgment.
Standing in is not easy either. It means compromising my authenticity for acceptance. Restricting my expression for belonging. Suppressing my feelings for warmth and comfort of another human being, family or community.
Standing out is not easy. Neither is standing in. What is one to do?
Through many emotional battles I have realized, one has to pay a price for every choice one makes. If we follow our heart, the price could be the disapproval of others. If we adapt to others requirements, the price could be the alienation of our true self.
There is simply no free lunch in life.
If we enjoy the benefits of a choice, we also have to pay the price for it.
Then what is the right thing to do — stand in or stand out?
There is no right or wrong choice. Whatever choice we made in the moment was the right choice for us in that moment. Cause that was the best we could do at that time, given our level of awareness and emotional strength.
Having said that, as we mature we realize (at least I did) that it is necessary to take a stand in relationships. Which means it is necessary to risk alienation, rejection, judgment, ridicule, abandonment and being the odd one out for something that feels right for you. When we do that, we evolve. We claim our inner power. And irrespective of our age, we become adults.
As children we are constantly seeking the validation of others. We want to know from others whether what we are doing is approved, right and acceptable. As we grow up our need for external validation diminishes. We do what feels the right thing to do.
Standing up for ourself is not being rebellious or anti-social. It is simply saying “This is who I am. This is what I feel. This is what I think. This is what I want.”
Yes, I can anticipate your thoughts. “So much of “I”, isn’t this being selfish?”
Every human is selfish.* And there is nothing wrong with that. It simply means every person wants to fulfill their needs. Even doing ‘selfless charity’ is a selfish act. The person doing it feels good at the end of it. Because we do not want to be seen as selfish, we end up playing mental games with ourself and others.
“I have nothing to gain, I am doing this for us / family / community / country / …..”
“What kind of son / daughter / wife / husband / mother / father / brother / sister / friend / …. are you? You are only thinking about yourself?”
When we try to hide our selfishness, we end up deluding ourself and manipulating others. At the end of the day whatever we think, say or do is for ourself. Why not be comfortable about it?
In the past I would avoid taking a stand. “What will others think of me? What will happen if I lose this relationship? I have nowhere else to go, what will I do?” were some of the thoughts that would race across my mind.
I would then try to take the easy way out — adapt to the situation, environment, person or institution. I would swallow my thoughts and feelings. Smile when I did not feel like smiling. Bear disrespectful behavior thinking it was not intentional. Try to manage in indirect ways. And express my frustration, not to the concerned person but to others to get their validation.
The one thing I would not do is speak my truth and be seen for who I was.
Because I was scared of the consequences.
Boundary setting is an essential part of relationships. It can be done in a variety of ways. But the foremost thing in setting a boundary is that one must have the courage to set a boundary. A willingness to pay the price for taking a stand.
“I would like to….”
“I will be…”
“Please do not…”
“This is unacceptable…”
Are some examples of how boundary setting sentences start. Often boundary setting is not just verbal expressions but firm actions.
Doing what feels the right thing to do, irrespective of the consequences. Walking out of a relationship that is disrespectful. Or removing yourself from an emotional space, that requires you to be an inauthentic version of yourself.
When we do any of the above, our survival instincts are likely to kick in. We may feel scared, lost, not knowing what to do next. It is normal. It is an integral part of the change process. But the sooner we set boundaries the better it is. The more we delay, an unconscious pattern of relating sets in, which becomes more difficult to break with the passage of time.
Based on my experience (and it’s been one helluva experience! :-)) when I have been pushed into the unknown, some mysterious power unfailingly moved me from the threatening uncertainty of the unknown to the trustful certainty of the unknown. Until I finally gave up my need for certainty and developed a lifelong friendship with the Unknown.
Setting boundaries and standing up for ourself is an essential part of growing up. It is acknowledging our need to be respected for who we truly are. But before we earn that respect from others, we have to earn that respect from ourself.