For some people, setting boundaries means not accepting reality.
Someone or something simply must change – or else. But the truth is that we don’t have the power to make others change. The only behavior that we come close to controlling is our own. That’s why acceptance is the first real step in setting healthy boundaries.
We often wish things were different than they are, particularly in our relationships. That’s the nature of being human. But sometimes we simply demand that things change and keep acting as if they will. When asked about it, we say things like this:
“She needs to learn that the rest of us have feelings, too!”
“He needs to take responsibility for himself and stop expecting me to bail him out.”
“They can’t keep treating people like that.”
But none of these statements are useful, relevant or even true. She’s doing just fine without taking your feelings into account. He’s quite happy for you to bail him out again. And they can, and will, treat people any way they like – as long as they believe that the benefits outweigh any consequences. Statements like these place the responsibility – and therefore the power – with others. This leaves the speaker in the position of the angry and helpless victim.
A more useful set of statements might be:
“I don’t like it when she speaks to me that way. I need to do something about it.”
“I’m not happy to keep bailing him out all the time. I’ve let him know that I won’t do it again.”
“I won’t buy products from a company that treats people that way. I’ll see about organizing a boycott.”
The first statements are nothing more than a demand that someone else change – simply because I want them to. The last statements are about me and how I choose to respond to others’ choices. Accepting others’ choices leads us to consider our own. Expecting others to change because “it’s the right thing to do” is unrealistic. Clearly the others in question do not share our values, or they’d already be doing “the right thing.”
What if someone does not share our values?
When others don’t share our values, and their choices affect us physically or emotionally, then it’s up to us to choose a response. Asking nicely may be enough, especially with people who genuinely care for us. When that doesn’t work, we must decide what – if anything – to do next. Our choices reflect our values, just as others’ choices reflect theirs.
If a situation is “unacceptable” to you, consider accepting that it is happening – and will continue to happen until the consequences become unacceptable to those involved. Find out whether you can create such consequences – and whether it’s worth the trouble. If it isn’t, then the situation isn’t really so “unacceptable” after all. Or perhaps something else is more important to you. What are you afraid will happen if you change things? What might you lose? Part of the reality that you need to accept (and deal with) may be your own inner conflict. Accepting yourself is sometimes more important than accepting “reality.”
It can be difficult when others make choices that affect us negatively. But simply expecting them to change – just because we really want them to – is a recipe for victim-hood. When you finally stop demanding change on the outside, you’re ready to look at what needs to change on the inside. Once you understand yourself, your choices become clear. Sometimes this understanding requires a great deal of contemplation. It doesn’t always come easily. But the effort is worthwhile, because once you know yourself, you’ll know what to do. You may not be happy about it, but you’ll know. And that knowing will give you the strength to do what’s right for you.
That’s how you take your power back.