When Setting Boundaries Makes Others Angry
Why This Happens & What to Do.
When Saying “No” Makes Others Upset
Setting boundaries is undoubtedly the key to developing and maintaining a respectful, healthy relationship. Typically, we have some basic boundaries that are understood upon entering a relationship that will be extremely clear-cut. Saying “no” and having a right to be respected should be a given, and you are the ultimate judge of continued interaction with someone when they violate clear boundaries or blatantly disrespect you. However, many times boundaries are set as needed, being established and enforced when situations arise that cause discomfort, prompting us to make changes. While these enforcements are necessary, they are often not easy and present their own unique set of challenges.
Relationships are obviously complex, existing not only in black and white. They usually involve several factors, including benefits and disadvantages, that play into our considerations of what is healthy or not. Most all of us will be reasonable in our attempts to rid any tension associated with boundaries being set, and part of this process includes understanding why the tension exists in the first place. From there, we can make an informed decision regarding how to best continue in our efforts. Here are a few possible reasons you’re being met with resistance:
1. Expectations have already been previously set. You’ve have a relationship with this person for an extensive period of time.
This could be the case with your parents or a spouse of several years. It is true that first impressions make an impact on how we see others throughout a relationship, and it also sets the atmosphere of engagement with them. This is also true in close relationships, where learned behaviors and previous habits are often the standard to which we hold our expectations.
Whether changing for worse or for better, people tend to resist change in general, especially when expectations are violated; anything that requires a serious amount of energy or work is usually not something people want to do unless there is a significant benefit in doing so. Old habits and ways of doing things in a routine are simply hard to break.
When others around us change, it can make us uncomfortable if we don’t understand it or know how to respond. The extent to which boundaries are being violated, and the cooperating ability of the parties, will determine the possibility of reestablishing the relationship as a healthy one moving forward.
2. One or both of you have underwent drastic change, which may or may not have been obvious or disclosed. There may have been gaps in the passage of time and events.
This could include going through trauma, chronic illness or injury, or experiencing major alterations to lifestyle. Because of the sheer discrepancies that would then be present, there could be clashes and disagreements about how things should or should not be handled. It can often be hard for another person to empathize with someone who has had experiences that significantly contrast with their own. The best thing we can do is tell our story in hopes of offering understanding, perspective, and insight that could help the other person see how it has influenced the current nature of the connection.
The already high probability of misunderstandings from this can increase when awareness is also missing. If the underlying issue has not been revealed or addressed to all people involved, it becomes an additional hurdle when paired with inability to empathize with the feelings of the other person. While keeping secrets or hiding significant aspects of your life can seem like they protect others in the short term, they will likely cause more damage by the time they are revealed in the long term.
3. There is a lack of knowledge, education, or training present in either party. This could also simply be a lack of initiative for learning or growth.
It is true that differences in opinion are an identifiable source of the majority of arguments. Given the lack of involvement in other barriers, a highly educated and introspective person will often be capable of agreeing to disagree. Being able to debate or discuss controversial topics is a skill that takes effort and practice, and some people can undeniably do this with more ease than others.
However, behind this skill is the desire to learn, grow, and improve, which generally needs to be present for a person to become more equipped to handle and maintain healthy relationships. A key part of being respectful means taking as much initiative as possible to make sure the other person’s needs are being met while not sacrificing so much of the self that it becomes damaging. Love is based on respect and trust, and when those are not present, a personal relationship simply cannot thrive.
4. There are essential gaps or barriers in communication and understanding. It seems to be a challenge to have a meeting of the minds.
This could be a very broad way to describe anything that is blocking healthy communication. This could include differences in culture, social constructs, or generational gaps. While it is certainly not always the case, sometimes this includes illnesses where communication may be limited, impaired, or affected as a result. While things of this nature are not the fault of that person, nor are they inherently negative, they can present difficult at times when met with an inflexible or maladaptive environment. This environment would include being met with those with a non-exclusive or non-accepting perspective.
It should go without saying that in today’s world, not everyone is a decent person, and it seems that some folks are just looking for an excuse to mistreat others. We are all human, and we are all met with frustrations when overwhelmed or placed in situations we feel we cannot handle. Even as we age, certain things we once found easy or enjoyable can become an obstacle or troublesome undertaking.
While some people may be patient, open-minded, and capable of adapting to certain conditions, others may not be as well-suited in that flexibility and acceptance. If you have tried and tried to get someone to understand how you expect to be treated according to your definition of respect and they still just don’t “get it,” it is unlikely that they will be able to respect you or come to terms with your way of life.
Eventually, we learn that we have to stop explaining ourselves to those who can not understand or empathize with us. Their refusal, rooted in fear and ignorance, is a choice made by them. That choice has deemed them undeserving of your time, effort, and attention. Don’t beg people to respect you. Don’t beg people to love you. Love yourself enough to walk away from those who refuse to treat you right.
5. The relationship has evolved and transformed into a different type of relationship altogether. The nature of the connection has significantly changed, sometimes as if it were a completely new one.
This is more than just expectations that have already been set. This situation happens when one type of relationship almost becomes another type of relationship enitrely. This could include going from a professional atmosphere to a casual one, or vice versa. This could include a parent’s relationship with a child after they’ve become an adult. It could be an ex-lover who’s now just a friend, or it could be your friend who is now also your coworker. It could be going from an authority figure to a being more like a personal friend. It could be going from being a passionate lover to total strangers. Regardless, there is likely a great deal of resentment or feelings that have been suppressed resulting from this transformation. The longer people continue to interact with other another, unaddressed issues can snowball into bigger issues from resentment.
6. The other person is truly violent, abusive, and is unwilling or unable to communicate, compromise, or change.
This is likely what many people fear most. Despite our best efforts to avoid judging, jumping to conclusions, or making assumptions, we may still find out the hard way that things were exactly as we thought. When you’ve been intertwined in self-doubt for so long, it is sometimes easy to remain trapped with that voice in your head constantly telling you that you’re wrong.
We have to start recognizing that if it looks like an apple, it smells like an apple, it tastes like an apple, and it feels like an apple, then it is most likely an apple.
If it is making you uncomfortable, causing you pain or harm, and leaves you feeling confused in doubt, then how good could this something possibly be? While it is not entirely impossible for someone who is abusive in nature to heal and become more capable of handling relationships, most likely irrevocable damage has already been done.
If your loved one or someone you know is struggling with addiction or mental health issues, please do seek professional help and outside resources for them whenever possible. Understand that you should not and cannot self-sacrifice to the point it where it is destroying you. Regardless of causation, no one deserves or should have to endure abuse. Period. While it may be hard to cut off a toxic family member, especially when you know they are sick, this is often the only safe and healthy decision that can be made when abuse becomes evident in the relationship.
What to Do Now: How to Approach Finding a Solution
1. Change your presentation. Try asking reflection questions instead of making bold statements. Try a different approach to a repeated problem. Is there a way to alter the tone of your voice, body language, or how you are presenting yourself that could result in a better conveyance of your message?
2. Take a minute to assess their needs by asking them. Be sure to give the other person time and space to talk about their needs and feelings without interrupting. Try to actually listen to them, then provide feedback on how this affects you. Monitor yourself as much as possible to make sure you seem assertive without attacking the other person.
3. Don’t mirror the other person. Don’t fuel the fire by responding to anger with more anger. While sometimes reactive anger is unavoidable, a capacity to mitigate damage is imperative. If the relationship is to the point where this is uncontrollable and happening way too often, it may be past repairs.
4. Don’t stonewall during conflict, unless leaving and blocking continued engagement will prevent significant danger or harm. Avoidance does not solve deeply rooted issues that continuously cause problems, it will instead make it worse long term.
5. Hold your ground. Whatever you do, do not back away from your boundaries if they truly mean that much to you. If you are inconsistent in communicating your needs, it is likely that others will not take you seriously. They may question the significance of your boundaries, or they may lower the level of respect they have for you if it seems you are easily swayed or do not know what you want. This does not mean that compromises cannot be made, but it also does not mean giving into the will and needs of others easily or quickly sacrificing your needs for that of others.
6. Be self-aware and own your mistakes. Set a pattern and expectation by being a role model of good behavior. Be willing to admit fault or apologize when you’ve truly made a mistake. Be genuine, and acknowledge and understand the other person’s feelings. Show others how you want to be treated. Be self-aware and openly admit any barriers you might have that are affecting the relationship. If the other person is ready, willing, and able to pursue a healthy relationship, they should reciprocate your openness.
Important Disclaimer —
Owning your faults and flaws should never mean taking the blame for something that truly was not your fault. This dynamic of manipulative control is often present when abuse is occurring, for example if someone says,
“I’m sorry that I hit you. I only hit you because you made me angry. You should not have made me angry, so you are also to blame and should apologize.”
In this scenario, you could be inclined to resolve the conflict and avoid any further altercation, so you might apologize. Don’t do this, as you would be enabling that person to continue their bad behavior on the premise that you will also be at fault. It is never okay to hurt someone else like this. You are not the reason that someone cannot control themselves, and it is not your fault. Resorting to retaliatory or explosive physical violence is never okay. This is much different than acting in self defense, where there would be a direct, eminent threat present to cause bodily harm or death. Please realize that if you are in this type of relationship, it is imperative to seek remedy beyond conflict management. You cannot try and continue to fix the relationship at the point where abuse has been happening. Professional help will be needed, and the only safe solution is to remove yourself from this environment and this person.
Each relationship is unique, with variances in dynamic, style, and personality. Whether you are having difficulties with a romantic partner, coworker, friend, parent, or other family member, the fact is that interpersonal relationships are tough. They require high levels of energy from all involved, and are especially hard to navigate through the unexpected roadblocks and speed bumps of life. While nothing or no one is perfect, not all relationships or families are dysfunctional. Many times people will remain in suffering because they feel they have no way out of a toxic situation, usually due to cultural norms, stigmas, or other constraining factors likely rooted in some form of dependence.
Intention is everything. Intentions matter, but even this will only take you so far. At some point, behavior in action must reflect communicated intentions. Otherwise, no practical results can exist, and the relationship will continue to be unhealthy.
It is ultimately up to you to decide as an individual what is best for you and how to handle your relationship with the other person. Listening to your gut instinct will often reveal truth already present in the subconscious mind, and it will allow you to make an overall better decision for your wellbeing. Sometimes, walking away from an unhealthy relationship when all other options have been exhausted is the most mature decision that can be made.