How To Set Boundaries With Difficult People

March 27, 2017

Hey there, Besties!  I hope you had an amazing weekend…I know I did!  If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know I was in Washington, D.C. for a psychotherapist symposium.  And you also know that the keynote speaker was the one, the only…Brene Brown!  My sis was with me (she’s also a therapist) […]

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how to set boundaries
Hey there, Besties!  I hope you had an amazing weekend…I know I did!  If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know I was in Washington, D.C. for a psychotherapist symposium.  And you also know that the keynote speaker was the one, the only…Brene Brown!  My sis was with me (she’s also a therapist) so she made sure I didn’t embarrass myself because of how excited I was.  And let me tell you…I learned SO much!  Both my sis and I were saying how much we can’t wait to apply what she discussed in our practice.
I’m also feeling freshly inspired with things I want to write about here, starting today!  The first order of business?  How to set boundaries with difficult people.  Brene Brown was quite honestly one of the first people I read who gave me permission to set boundaries. Friends, this was last year.  How in the world did I live so much of my life thinking I existed merely to please other people and keep them happy and liking me 100% of the time?
But you know the crazy thing?  I think many people live the majority of their lives that way.  It saddens me to think of it, but it’s true.  Somewhere along the line, we have been fed the lie that we must give to others, no matter what the cost to us.  We are taught (most often through experience) that it is better not to disappoint anyone, than to be honest with them.  And the worst part?  These are lies we believe.  We live them out.  We perpetuate them.  And the thing that has frightened me the most of late is that my kids might believe the same darn thing if I don’t teach them otherwise.
So consider this your Intro to Boundaries course.  Here are 3 basic boundary principles that, when applied will bring you greater peace and healthier relationships.

You get to decide what you are ok with

This principle was life changing for me, and I think it is for most people.  You are in charge of how people treat you.  That is not to say you can control others’ behavior toward you; it simply means you and you alone get to decide what behavior you are willing to put up with and what behavior you are not.
Brene actually used this example over the weekend:  If you host a holiday party every year and for the past two years, a family friend has come and gotten drunk, causing a scene, you can decide whether or not that behavior is ok with you.  If it’s not, you can call them prior to the holiday party and say, “We’d love for you to come to the party this year, but if you do come, we are asking that you do not drink at the party.”  They can choose to agree to that condition, or not.  If they give pushback, you could then say, “Ok.  We understand that’s asking too much of you, and so we are asking you not to come to the party.  Our kids are there and we don’t feel comfortable with you drinking because of what has happened the past few years.  Thank you for understanding.”
Is that easy?  No.  Brene says that’s called being brave.  She calls it showing up, being seen, and standing firm on your sacred ground.  And that is reason # 349382 why I’m a fan.  It may feel scary to ask for what you need, but it is not mean.  It does not make you a bad person.  It makes you a healthy one.

We must learn how to say “no” firmly but nicely

When someone asks you to do something and you’re not sure if you have time or would want to, you can use this bit of advice from Jen Hatmaker.  Actually, it’s what her agent tells her to get her to only sign on for things she is super pumped about:  “If it’s not a HELL YES, then it’s a no.”  Right?!  How perfect is that?  So often, we make it so much harder than that, trying to determine what people will think of us if we don’t, how we might be able to do what they want and maybe still keep our wits about us, etc.  Jen goes on to say: “So that medium yes, that I – feel – like – I – should – yes, that guilty yes, that coerced yes, that I – actually – hate – this – yes, that I – guess – so – yes, that who – else – will – do – it – yes, that careless yes, that default yes, that resentful yes, that I – probably – shouldn’t – but – I – struggle – with – boundaries yes?  NO.  Nope.  No thank you.  I am unable to commit to that this year.  Thank you so much for asking, but any new yes I give right now means a no to my family and sanity.  I am so flattered you asked and count on my prayers, but I am at my maximum bandwidth right now.  I appreciate your work so much, but I’ve already committed my time and energy this year.  I’ve loved being a part of this, but I am no longer able to continue.  We are aggressively focused on x, y, z this year, so as a family we’ve agreed on no new commitments.  This is what I can give but won’t be able to do more right now.”
I feel like there’s nothing I can add to that because it is so, so perfect.  So maybe just go back and read that a few more times. You have permission to say no.  All the time, and in any situation.

Let natural consequences play out

 When you start setting boundaries and saying no, especially if you are new to the game, you will get pushback from people.  They will be used to your passive self, the self who is a people pleaser or maybe a perfectionist, and they will want that person back in the worst way. Why?  Because that person was their “yes-man,” their go-to, and hello, that person made their life so. much. easier.  Part of setting a boundary is that there is a natural consequence that will play out if the person in question chooses not to respect your wishes.  In the earlier example about the holiday party, you are stating it clearly…if you cannot accept our invitation under these terms, you are not welcome to come to the party.  Another example is you wouldn’t call a friend or family member to hang out if they treat you poorly every time you are together.  Again, you get to decide what is ok and not ok.  And if something is not ok, think about the natural consequence you will impose should the person in question decide to test your boundary.
These things are not easy, but they are doable.  And with practice, they do become easier.  I used to always say “yes” to things because I felt pressure to answer right away.  I realized that is a weak point for me with boundaries, and so I have practiced saying “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.”  It’s been a major game-changer.  You, too, will realize what areas and with which people boundaries are a struggle for you.  But I promise you, as you practice these things, it will get easier.  As people realize you aren’t going to cave, they will respect your boundaries more and more.  And if they don’t, you can still feel in control of the situation because you know a natural consequence will keep their behavior in check.
Do you know how to set boundaries with difficult people?  Please share any wisdom or insights you’ve had in the comments!  We’re all in this together, my friends!

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I'm also a psychotherapist in private practice who wants to teach my fellow foster mamas the skills that ACTUALLY work to overcome stress, anxiety and overwhelm...'cause ain't nobody got time for that!

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