Last week on the blog I talked about the 2 questions we need to ask before setting boundaries. Without these 2 questions being clarified, we don’t have boundaries, we only have walls that we call “boundaries”. Walls only create further conflict and disconnection, where as boundaries keep the opportunity for connection open as a possibility. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can check it out here.
This week we get to the hard stuff. What if you’ve asked yourself,
What’s not mine?
You’ve set healthy boundaries… and there are still problems. You been committed to working on your own regulation (as we talked about as the first step in this blog here), You’ve communicated as clear and kind as you can to bring resolution (as we talked about as the second step here), but still nothing.
What if your partner is still abusive?
What if your coworker continues to step over the line?
What if your child is still raging and yelling at you?
What if your family member keeps relapsing into addiction?
This week I sat as a brand new CoHost for the radio show, Re-envisioning The Family and listened as our guest, Tyler, shared how he recovered from addiction. The turning point for him was when his wife told him she couldn’t be with him any longer until he got sober and stopped manipulating and lying. He hit rock bottom when he lost his home and his wife. It was the catalyst that stopped enabling him to live in addiction. He and his wife are now reunited and happy.
I instantly thought of how brave this was of his wife. She had no guarantee her husband would decide to get sober and change. She drew the line in the sand, and for all she knew, she could have been saying goodbye forever when he walked out the door. That, my friends, is BRAVE. It’s also the best thing she could do for herself and him. By sending him away, she was actually creating an opportunity to bring him closer. What he did with that, was up to him.
YOU teach people how to treat you. I have received numerous questions around my message of “Bring Them Closer”, unsure of what that looks like in tough situations. When you have owned your part and put healthy boundaries in place and there is still toxicity, abuse, or stepping over the line of constructive conversation, the best way you can bring people closer is to:
Become more clear on how you want to be treated
Bringing them closer means we are clear on how we are to be treated. In a past blog I talked about how many of us lean towards either being clear in conversation or kind. We need both. We need to communicate what our boundary is with clarity and kindness. If there is only clarity, our boundary can seem more like a wall, taking out the human and connective response that kindness lends. However, if there is only kindness, we often get walked all over because we haven’t been clear and strong enough about the boundary.
Just the other day I took a poll on one of my instagram stories and asked, “How do you create boundaries?” I was once again reminded at how little we have been taught about boundaries. Here are two replies that sum up the general idea of what everyone said, “When I show up with courage and authenticity.” “When I allow others to be themselves.” Showing up courageous and allowing others to be themselves are not boundaries. Just because you show up courageous and give people freedom to be themselves doesn’t mean all will go well, and when it doesn’t, we’re left feeling like a victim and ripped off when we aren’t treated the same way in return.
When my kids were younger and would act up, not listening to a word I said even if I was yelling my head off, I used to say to them, “What do I have other than my words to communicate with you? If my words aren’t enough, then what??” That’s a good question to ask yourself when your words aren’t enough in your relationship. If your clear and kind expectations aren’t being heard, then we need to move onto our only other option.
Bringing them closer sometimes means distancing yourself from the other person whether that means physically, mentally, or emotionally distancing yourself, or cutting ties for the time being or longer in order to create space and time for protection of your emotions or physical self, as well as to create space for behaviour to change. It seems cruel and counter productive. It seems like pushing away is giving up on a person, but sometimes it is the only option left. Cutting people off from connection is a last hope for change. There are no guarantees with this. You may never get this relationship back. They may never change.
There is often much grief wrestling with the uncertainty that goes with distancing yourself. It will be tempting to try to fix or control, but avoid temptation to do that. Control is not love. Love knows how to let go of another person. Embrace the grief and the emotion that brings. Be assured that you are not cold hearted. You will probably be accused of it, but don’t listen. Stand strong, be brave, and remember that when you’ve done all you can, this really is all that’s left.
Continue to make connection the goal
Bringing them closer means we fight for connection, not with the person. When you set a boundary or distance yourself the motive must be for connection to continue to be open as an option, not out of hate or spite. Those emotions may very well be something we wrestle with, especially if we have experienced trauma from the other person. Continue to listen to your large emotions and ask yourself, “What is this emotion trying to protect?” Making sense of your emotions helps you gain perspective on relationship conflicts that are challenging.
It is important when we have been mistreated to continue to do whatever it takes to receive healing so we can release forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for you. It will take time. It doesn’t happen right away. It’s a process that is unique to you. I tell my children often, “Not forgiving others is like a poison that stays inside you, affecting every relationship that comes after it.” Give yourself the time you need to grieve the injustice some relationships bring to our lives. When the time is right, release forgiveness so you can either connect again or with new relationships that come into your life without bringing the leftover emotions from the past relationship into the new.
Connection is messy. If only relationships were a strait line, but they aren’t. They are full of turns, curves, ups, and downs. Keep being brave and authentic. Remember, no one wakes up wanting to be a jerk. Life happens. People happen. There is so much back story to the lives of those who we have contact with. The more secure you are in your own emotional regulation and ability to set healthy boundaries, the more mentally healthy and resilient you will feel.
Just to recap the blog posts around boundaries the last couple of weeks: Instead of just cutting people out of our lives, here are the steps to healthy boundaries and connection:
- Work on your own emotional regulation first.
- Learn to communicate by stopping to observe the situation, strategize your clear but kind response to what’s really going on.
- Set any boundary needed AFTER you have evaluated where you played a part or where your perception has been distorted by any heart wounds, and then throwing off any accusations or blame that is not yours to own.
- If nothing changes, making the adjustments necessary to “bring them closer”, which sometimes mean making hard choices in the relationship. Keeping opportunity for reconnection is key.
Watch the YouTube version of this blog here.
When it comes to tough relationships, I want to help. As a connection coach, I would love to help individuals, families and workplaces work through interpersonal struggles. For more information email me at firstname.lastname@example.org