Share on Google+

How To Stand Up For Yourself

written by: Kosjenka Muk

Protecting one's own personal boundaries and finding balance with other people, whether family or strangers, and often in subtle ways, are everyday parts of a human life. Testing and pushing on others' boundaries is normal in a relationship of a child to a parent, and is still very much present among adults, too. Some people feel their disrespect of others' needs and decisions as so normal they won't even notice when they do it - while others might not notice when it's done to them. Most people learn to disrespect their own or other people's needs in a very early age, depending of how their parents set their own boundaries, how they react to the child expressing his/her will, but also of how they treat each other.

In adulthood, the most important boundaries are those one sets with a partner and children. Since a partner is usually acquired before children, if you set boundaries with him/her first, later it's easier to do it with children, too. A problem is that, usually, an adult person has much stronger and better solidified ideas about what is normal and acceptable - ideas which are not necessarily overly healthy.

A bigger problem is that many people - especially those who are naturally (or were raised to be) more considerate, insecure and/or responsible - feel a need to please their partners, which often turns into ignoring one's own boundaries to accommodate the partner. Some people in time get used to denying more and more of their own desires, needs and values, which can end up in an abusive relationship, or at least in a relationship full of frustration and disappointment.

Let's say Mike and Tiffany agreed on a date, but Tiffany is late. She's 15 minutes late, 20 minutes, half hour... and she doesn't call or respond to calls. Mike feels frustrated, but doesn't want to risk a potential romance before it even started, and decides to say nothing "this time". He hopes this is an isolated case and not a habit of Tiffany's. Perhaps Tiffany finally shows up with some weak excuse, or she only sends an apologetic message the following day. Mike is not happy with her behavior, but only grits his teeth and asks when they could meet again, because he likes Tiffany too much to "rock the boat" so soon.

Or, say, Anthony introduces Danielle to his friends, and proceeds to share private details from Danielle's life with the group, or makes disparaging comments in her direction, probably presented as jokes. Danielle later complains about his behavior. Anthony will almost certainly say, "You are too sensitive, I was just joking!" Danielle thinks, "Maybe I'm truly overreacting? Maybe it's my problem if such things hurt me? When we are alone, he's not at all bad! Best not to risk the relationship over such a small thing!", and allows her needs to be silenced under the treat of being labeled as too sensitive.

Regardless of whether Tiffany and Anthony were acting out of disrespect or they were simply raised to accept inconsiderate behavior as normal, once they experience there will be no consequences, next time it's even easier to repeat such behavior. They might even be more and more convinced that such behavior is acceptable, and might be surprised or offended if their partners object to it. On the other hand, Danielle and Mike might find it easier to ignore their own needs after they've already done it before. Thus an unpleasant surprise becomes a habit.

Humans are adaptable creatures, so we can unconsciously, even against our own will, get used to unpleasant circumstances if we stay around long enough. After a while, we could be surprised when we look back and realize how many things we've learned to tolerate which we thought "we never would".

If you think about all the variety of inconsiderate and irresponsible behavior you've gotten used in your own environment, perhaps you'd be surprised to realize how much of it is considered "normal", not only in personal, but also business relationships: manipulation, dishonesty, various power struggles, exploitation... People who do these things usually find mental justifications and excuses for them, usually because they've seen it justified or at least tolerated within their families and cultures.

Finding balance

To set boundaries, you don't need some measurable, external confirmation you are "right". It's not so important, or sometimes even possible, to know who is wrong and who is right. What is important are compatibility and mutual consideration. To be able to set good boundaries, you need:

1) not to be afraid to risk a relationship /job/ whatever else

2) develop a sense of balance.

Developing a sense of balance is not so difficult in theory, especially as this is partly an innate human instinct. It might be trickier if your family trained you to believe you don't have the right to express your needs and you'd be punished if you are angry or have demands. (Also you might have a problem with balance if your family taught you to believe that you are "special" and your needs are more important than others'.) Still, even then most people retain some instinct for balancing their own needs with those of other people. Take some time to consider a situation from more than one perspective and decide what makes the most sense.

If you are generally responsible and lean toward self-questioning, it's more likely that you'd disturb the balance at your own expense than at somebody else's. Keeping that in mind, it's important to pay attention and give weight to your own needs as well as other people's. This might require facing and resolving your old childhood guilt, or fear of punishment or abandonment. We can help you with this.

If you are used to emphasizing your own needs and dismissing others', and you want to change this (congratulations, you are a rarebreed!), you might need to confront your fear of losing power, losing control, and perhaps losing a sense of specialness compared to other people. Don't give up; such power, control and importance are only an illusion anyway, or at least are very fragile. Self-esteem, happiness and relaxation you can achieve in healthy, balanced relationships are much more real and lasting. You will also need to exercise seeing other people's perspectives and a conscious attitude of appreciation for other people's needs.

Part 2: Fear of punishment & determining consequences

Online coaching

All articles

Subscription: through contact form below

© Kosjenka Muk. All rights reserved.