“It’s simple. Just tell them NO!”
“Why do you keep allowing them to treat you that way?”
If you’ve heard these or something similar, don’t be too hard on yourself for not having better answers…because there are very good reasons why it’s not “easy” like they contend.
And they don’t understand that. Because in a healthy relationship, people kindly say no like “pass the butter, please” and it isn’t horrible, and it isn’t scary. Because in healthy relationships, folks are reading from the same dictionary that reads: Boundaries and loving and kind. They provide freedom and respect…and we both agree this is the way to roll…have a listen to the podcast for more on this.
You’re afraid for very good reasons. Experience with this person, and especially in your formative years with family, that you will experience several negative consequences the moment that NO leaves your mouth. Or the moment they realize you’re not kidding around, and you set a firm limit with your behavior. I don’t think enough people understand the dark reality for those who feel they cannot set boundaries. My years as a counselor working with clients in unhealthy relationships that ranged from being married to an irresponsible adult all the way to severe abuse taught me this is a very real thing. Here are some of the most typical ones.
Their reaction can span from simple frustration to rage. Those who do not appreciate healthy boundaries will become angry when you set them. Most struggle to embrace the reality because they don’t let themselves grieve. Those who rage are manipulating you – teaching you Never to do that again. Some will resort to violence – either directed at directly at you – or by breaking things to scare you. We know that the moment a person sets a big boundary with the abusive partner or family member, such as a restraining order etc, they are often in the most danger.
Emotional Manipulation. This is when you set a boundary and you are shamed, guilted and blamed for saying no. “I though you loved me.” And many other awful phrases will fill the air. All the “bad” things about you will come up too, to distract you from their struggle to hear your no. This is probably the worst outside of physical violence because it makes is so emotionally unsafe. You question your own sanity – ultimately having to lose yourself to be what they need.
Silent treatment. Sigh. This a really just another form of manipulation. They cut you off from communication for days, weeks, sometimes even years. The “choice” is an awful one – either you take back your boundaries or they won’t speak to you. Now for the more benign folks – they don’t know how to communicate their feelings or even negotiate with you. But the ones who are nasty about it and will go a long time – they are punishing you for being assertive.
This is just a sampling of the different reactions you can get when you set limits with folks who don’t do limits, and why it can feel hard to impossible to say no to them. If you find yourself in one of these situations, please first seek support – both professionally and then your tribe…because it often takes an army to surround you, help you feel safe and strong – for you to go in and really take care of yourself in this relationship. I do believe though that violent relationships and those involving severe manipulation are often too dangerous to stay in, because change rarely happens until the idea of you leaving and staying gone is larger and more important than their resistance to change. They need to hit bottom – and sit there a bit to really transform. And you are asserting yourself with your feet ?