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How to Set Healthy Boundaries

by Dr. Robert Glover on Sep 21st, 2012.     6 comments

boundaries-stopA recovering Nice Guy wrote:

"As I have experienced and read, defending or explaining yourself makes you look and feel weak. It also takes away the opportunity to have fun with humor.

So where does standing up for yourself and not ever letting anyone treat you badly come in?

How do you set this boundary without making it seem that you're "taking it serious" or that it affected your mood? How do you punish bad behavior? It seems that some indirect smart-ass answer (positive and humorous) would be the best.

Any guidance of how to learn this skill?"


Boundaries are a significant issue for most Nice Guys. I dedicated an entire chapter in No More Mr. Nice Guy to the subject.

Personally, I had never even heard of boundaries until I was in my 30s, on my second marriage, and had a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy.

Here’s the issue. As children, we were small and big people could do whatever they wanted to us, and we couldn’t stop them. Therefore, it felt normal to feel helpless as other people used us, neglected us, or treated us badly.

Unfortunately, the people who often treated us the worst were the very people who were put on this planet with the job of taking care of us. This led to two things.

First, most of us grew up having no clue what personal boundaries were, much less, how to set and maintain them.

Second, we came to associate “love” with being treated badly. As I often say, “It felt normal to put up with shit to get love.”

In general, Nice Guys carry both of these issues into their adult relationships and general interactions.

Here are the two primary rules of boundary setting:

  • Boundaries are not about getting anyone else to be different. They are about getting us to be different.

  • The only power we have to set a boundary is determined by our willingness and ability to remove ourselves.

Most Nice Guys fear setting boundaries because, not only does it feel unnatural, we are sure someone will react negatively when we do.

If we are conscious – in our higher, loving self – we can set boundaries with love and integrity. The more conscious we are, the more elegant and inviting our boundaries will be. The most loving boundaries are the ones that lead others into their own higher consciousness.

Boundaries actually make it possible for people to get closer to each other. That is why it is loving to set boundaries.

When you first learn about boundaries, there is a tendency to come on a little strong, to become “kamikaze boundary setters.” Early attempts at boundaries usually amount to trying to convince someone they should or shouldn’t do something. These attempts at boundary setting usually just end up in a fight or argument and lots of defending self.

If you are not taking anything anyone does personally, and if you have no attachment to outcome, your response will flow from a strong loving place inside of you. It may come out in many different ways.

Self-depreciating, exaggerated humor

"You are right, I am so controlling. I don't know how you put up with me."

“I can be such a klutz!”

Clear, non-judgmental statements

“Please don't do that. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“I'm going to get off the phone now. Call me back when you are in a better mood.”

“If you want to hang out with me, you can't do it that way. You have to do it this way.”

Playful distraction

“Let's wrestle.”

“Come here. I need to tell you a secret.” Neck nibbles follow.

Validation of the person’s point of view

“I know you’d like me to stay home with you, but I’m going to hang out with the guys for a couple hours. I like knowing that you’ll miss me.”

“I know there is still work to do on the project, but I’m going home now. When I get back to work tomorrow, you will have my undivided attention for eight hours.”

Vulnerability that invites them into higher consciousness

“Ouch, that hurt. Did you mean it to?”

“When you do that, it does damage to our relationship. Is that what you want?”

As I often say, “Never, ever defend yourself. It makes you feel and appear week.” You don’t have to convince someone not to treat you badly or that it is okay for you to do something that feels right to you. That is one of the benefits of being an adult.

Decide what feels right to you, and then hold onto yourself without defensiveness or justification.

Everybody has a bad day every now and then and might treat you less than ideal. It is your job to hold onto yourself and set healthy boundaries. If it seems to be a person’s nature to treat you badly, get the hell away from them, no matter how much you love them.

Here is a one of my primary life principles, “Surround yourself with people who like you and treat you well. Don’t hang out with people who treat you badly.”

If you hold onto yourself, you can set the tone with loving boundaries and lead people into higher consciousness. But they can’t follow where you don’t lead.


Robert

Topics: Boundaries Consciousness Relationships

6 Comments

Strength says ...

Robert,

What a fitting topic for where I am at in my career right now. My colleague and I are both consultants and the client appears to be blaming us and taking away our power for some errors that occurred by others. I do not feel good about this and frankly it makes me just want to quit. It seems like not being defensive is key. How else would you go about handling a situation of being blamed for things outside of your control?
Jim says ...
Great points in your blog. All very relevant and useful!
Vaiga says ...
Thank you, it's really good, useful and easy to read!
Tamim says ...
It seems that we build the case for other people to abuse usr gradually by accepting small offinsive jokes and smiling when wr should have taken more strong stands
Steve Horsmon says ...
"As I often say, “Never, ever defend yourself. It makes you feel and appear week.” You don’t have to convince someone not to treat you badly or that it is okay for you to do something that feels right to you. That is one of the benefits of being an adult."

LOVE this...all of it actually. Great article, Doc. I forwarded it immediately to my guys. Thanks.
Meowbie says ...
“Never, ever defend yourself. It makes you feel and appear week.” You don’t have to convince someone not to treat you badly or that it is okay for you to do something that feels right to you. That is one of the benefits of being an adult.

"Boundaries are not about getting anyone else to be different. They are about getting us to be different."

Even after several years of post-NG development and boundary work, this advice still hit me where it counts. Poor boundaries are one of the central features of the Nice Guy Syndrome, if not *the* central feature. Thanks Doc Glover for one of the best articles I have read on this blog.

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