When Brene Brown studied people, she found something strange.
The nice people who accommodate everybody else were not nice at all. They were seething with resentment.
They seem nice. No matter what you ask, they’ll do it. Any change to agreed plans, they’ll accept it. Any extra mile you ask them to go, and they’ll go there.
Aren’t they nice!
Well no actually. They’re furious. Because they lack boundaries.
As as a result, they do lots of things that they had wanted to say no to.
Their minds are filled with the conversations they wish they had instead. All the while doing the things they wanted to say no to in the first place.
They are angry at the people who they’ve trained to keep using them. They are angry at themselves for allowing it.
What room is there for peace and love amongst all that?
It’s why the people who do say no turn out to be the nice ones. They lack resentment. They see what is not okay for them, and they enforce it in the moment.
The rest of us see what is not ok with us, and have it happen anyhow.
Then we wade through the misery of our own self loathing and unimportance.
Most of us know what isn’t okay with us. Our bodies tell us. We feel discomfort. An internal alarm bell goes off.
So why don’t we act upon it?
Often, we carry shame around our boundaries.
I know what isn’t okay for me. My body tells me. But is it okay for me to be the kind of person who thinks that isn’t okay?
Surely I’m not allowed to draw a boundary around THAT?
“Can I borrow your favourite shirt?”
Errrrrrmmm. No. No you bloody can’t. I don’t want you to.
Oh, but is it okay to be the kind of person who won’t even lend out a shirt for heaven’s sake!?
Shame sets in. “Erm, yes of course. Here it is!”
I used a trivial example on purpose. I want you to know that boundaries are okay on the trivial stuff too.
That way, you’re more likely to know that boundaries are needed when the stakes get higher.
It happens in relationships in particular.
The body spots what is not okay for us. But we don’t allow ourself to be the person who isn’t okay with that.
Shame says that the person who isn’t ok with that is [insert negative label].
So we force a smile and say “sure that’s fine.”
After all, we don’t want to be THAT guy. Right?
But it’s not fine. And we know it’s not fine. But we grin and bear it, which takes up a ton of our energy.
Next thing you know, you’re in a relationship where you’ve lost yourself. Where even your sense of reality is up for grabs.
Because that’s what happens when you give up your boundaries. You lose you.
When we are brave enough to share our story with others who care, it’s suprising to find them assert our boundaries with a ferocity we didn’t dare have.
“Nonsense. They are taking the piss. Get away from that person!”
Boundaries are essential. Take notice of your body. It’s wiser than you realise. It will alert you to what is not okay for you.
Listen up, and put those boundaries in place.
If something is happening that is not okay with you, it matters. Speak up and speak out. Draw your lines in the sand, even if you think you’re not allowed to. You are.
Be vulnerable enough to risk losing the people in your life who don’t want to respect your boundaries.
At worst, you’ll lose people who don’t care about what is ok for you – and who the hell wants those people?
At best, you’ll retrain others that you matter.
Isn’t it time that you walk through the world like you do.Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice