Setting Boundaries: How To Stop Being A Pushover

How To Stop Being Taken Advantage Of

There are few amongst us who give with pure intentions, without expecting anything in return; a gift can, and will, at any time be used against the receiver and turned into a debt. The readiness of empathetic people to give themselves to another is actually an expression of their own selfish desires; for in giving their heart’s warmth, and attending to the requests and wishes of others without limit, they are quietly expecting, in their inmost of feelings, that one day the favour will be returned; that there will be an exchange of fellow feeling, and all involved will leave satisfied. They are motivated by the foolish impression that they might be able to save themselves if they first save everyone else; their generosity is an effect of their compulsion and inner emptiness.

However, the continual effort to raise oneself to the needs of others, whilst overlooking one’s own needs, will eventually give rise to feelings of resentment, which, if ignored, will rouse into anger. It is the failure of sensitive people that they struggle to negotiate for their own good, and to set standards for the behaviour of others, because they are convinced that it is selfish and immoral to nourish themselves, to satisfy their own needs. Yet their habit of escaping from unpleasant facts is itself selfish, because they are so concerned with their perception that they are prepared to harm themselves in private for the fear of someone thinking wrongly of them. This ‘niceness’ — and one should remember that ‘nice’ once meant stupid or foolish — is a roundabout way of avoiding those disagreeable responses which follow when one is honest and true with his words.

It is easier to accept and nod in agreement, knowing that you have at least not made a show of yourself. Of course, one could have refused if one had chosen; and equally of course, refusal would have meant conflict. However, for the agreeable man, even the thought of conflict makes him flinch; the jeers, the constant pestering, and in excited moments, threats of violence, which are almost never carried out. How easy it is to just approve and accede to someone else, and then bear one’s resentment alone. But if this man is introspective in nature, and honest, then he will, at the very least, not lay the blame for his feebleness and resentment with other people; for after all it was he who, against his conscience, tolerated injustice and invited the intrusion of others. If this is any consolation, it is far better to be aware of one’s own wrongdoing than unaware.

Resentment is a confession of something which we are refusing to acknowledge within ourselves. Any kind of bitterness is symbolic of that which we ought to have done, and that which we are capable of doing. If we have been made to feel disrespected then we are humbled, and asked to become introverted, to observe our posture and mood, and then question as to why we might have attracted our dishonour. So often do we discover that it was our naivety, lack of conviction, blind faith, and credulity, which was grasped upon by those opportunists and rogues, and which subdued us into mere subordinates; if this is the case, we have ourselves the task of hardening our personality, of practising assertiveness in our thought and actions.

If I am resentful for having been silenced by someone during conversation then the fact of my resentment proves that I have within me a capacity to stand firm and speak as I think. Rarely are we resentful towards those who humiliate us; for in fact we resent ourselves for not having the strength of heart to retaliate. As I stifle words which are honest and worthy of telling, I thwart my latent convictions, and now I must suffer with the discomfort of knowing that what I had spoken was deceitful; and each time I silence myself, I betray my potential, and then the strength of my poise grows weaker. Thus it is right that I regret the incident which exposed my feebleness — that I loathe the consciousness of myself as an innocent and speechless sideliner — because I know, in my heart, that I am capable of a great deal more.

The objection to conformity is that it wastes our time and blurs the distinction of our character. That I will speak as I think, and not tolerate the unfair interruptions of others, is a boundary that I might impose upon myself for the sake of honouring the power which resides in me. And as I protect my speech, I have also the right to protect my time and energy. People waste their time and expect us to accompany them whilst they do so. In crisis, of course, we make ourselves available. But If we have our purpose, and take pride in our efforts, and if we have our priorities, and our family, then we have few spare moments to offer ourselves for the indulgent wishes of others. And so, in spite of the taints and pressures, sometimes an invitation has to be refused, or rescheduled, which is a difficult task for those who take pride in their innocence, and who believe that they could never knowingly disappoint another person. This refusal needs no justification, no timid apology; stay upright and say what you intended.

Other boundaries might include: inappropriate topics of conversation, not allowing others to haul their emotions onto us, not being tolerant of lateness without explanation, and limiting the amount of free labour we are willing to do. Of course, this should be considered within the reasonable limits of kindness and duty for the community. The general rule is that one ought to be careful about doing something for someone which they are able to do for themselves; because by meekly accepting the favours of others, you take away their right for independence, and after a while, if you continue the favour, they learn to depend on you. This might seem obvious for those who are assertive and disagreeable. But for those of a delicate nature, the thought of setting boundaries is quite alarming, not least because it means that one might have to refuse people forthrightly and without apology, which does not come across well for their sensitive hearts.

The lives of others are a flux of moods, and we do not know how we might be perceived from one day to the next. One should remember that the end which most people have in view of us — and which we have in view of others — is not pure friendship, whereby there is a mutual admiration of character, but rather it is for the sake of utility or pleasure; there will be few who will love us for our character alone. In all our interactions there are expectations which are imposed upon us, and which equip us with the burdens of the party to which we adhere to. These expectations do not belong to us, nor do they bring us any advantage; they are the invention of the perceiver, who has considered his judgement of our character and decided upon our worth. But if we were to withdraw from this unspoken contract — for instance, perhaps we refuse an invitation, or criticise their idle gossip — then it is likely that we will be received with muffled rage and a sour face. This rage proves only their timidity, as they have made themselves vulnerable to our absence, and does not indicate any wrongdoing on our part.

It is natural that a man should anticipate the grievances of others when he begins to honour himself. But the magnetism of self-trust will attract new friendships of virtue, who inspire our hearts with their words and art. There is divinity within each man, which can only be communicated if one recognises his own authority. The boundaries which protect us show that we have wealth, and then we flourish beyond the necessities, beyond survival; and we are our own man, not a warhorse for battles which are not ours. This deep power, which is accessible to us, is the success of knowing the value which we offer in our presence and stature.

Thank you, Harry J. Stead

harry stead