Help! I Want To Stand Up For Myself But I’m Afraid Of Causing Pain
How can setting and having boundaries be loving? I know you have said I can just say no but when I try to do what I know is best for me, my friend seems to be really hurt and I feel bad that I have hurt him. And then I think that I am not being loving because I hurt someone. Ugh! Can you help?
Dear Boundary Lover,
You are mixing up two things that do not belong together:
Your intention; and your friend’s reaction.
Another way to say this is that you are conflating the underlying content of love with the form it takes. And the result is that you feel unnecessary guilt.
No matter how loving you are to someone else, you cannot guarantee they will react in a way you want. For a variety of psychological reasons, there simply are no magic bullets in communication (think about the most enlightened people in history—think of how many people hate them, and you will see this principle). And no matter how hard you try to keep someone from pain, you cannot control how they feel.
What is important, then, is to act as best you can from the intention of universal love without attachment to the outcome. A universal love which includes yourself and others equally. Be as kind as you can about what you do, whether setting a boundary or baking bread, but know that the kindness is valuable for the sake of itself and not for the reaction it elicits. And when you find yourself feeling guilty for something outside of your control, forgive yourself for what you did not do.
As for the boundary itself, try thinking of it like any other preference. We all have preferences—for example I like superhero movies more than chick-flicks. If someone reacts to my preference for superhero movies with pain, I will likely not invite them to The Avengers 2, but I will not feel guilty for it. And, if they really question my preference for superhero movies, I am willing to look deeper into my tastes without assuming that either one of us is “right.”
Simply put, you can acknowledge your boundaries (we all have them) without making a big deal out of them.
Finally, I encourage you to consider deeply what you constitute as “loving.” Many times we bypass our own emotions with spiritual ideals of “love” that are anything but loving. And many times we are making judgements without knowing the full effect our boundary will have.
Healthy boundaries, like kids knowing when to cross the street, can save lives in the long term even though the short term lesson might seem painful.