Shola’s Note: Hey Solutionists! In my effort to introduce you to some amazing people who are working hard to make this world a more positive place, I have a treat for you! On this month’s Solutionist Spotlight, I have the honor of presenting the founder of the blog Nursing My Appetite. and my dear friend, Whitney Hoover. Besides being one of the nicest people in the universe, she’s also smarter than the average bear when it comes to understanding this journey we call life (as you will soon read.) So, without further ado, here’s Whitney!
If there was a people-pleaser club, I’d be a shoe-in for President of the local chapter.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve fostered a natural desire and instinct to do anything that I can to bring joy, ease, relief and comfort to those around me. It’s a quality that I’m proud of and deeply value, but it’s also one half of a double-edged sword.
Being a people-pleaser means that I’m also not all that great at setting boundaries or saying no–usually out of the (admittedly ridiculous) fear of disappointing friends and strangers alike. I routinely ignore both gut and reason, freely and eagerly offering precious time, money, energy and ultimately mental health for the sake of accommodating others.
Thankfully, now I know the life-saving power of setting boundaries.
The Line in the Sand
When I first started setting boundaries, it was usually reactive to behaviors that I found hurtful or unhealthy. In actuality, boundaries are more easily introduced in the beginning stages of a relationship than they are later on.
If we have allowed for toxic behavior patterns in the past, we have already set the tone for how we are willing to be treated in the context of that relationship.
In order to cultivate loving relationships and actively practice compassion for ourselves and also for others, setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior is paramount.
Setting boundaries is like drawing a proverbial line in the sand to clearly show others what is acceptable to us, and what is not. And to be clear, it’s not just about what we allow for ourselves. Setting boundaries not only delivers the message, “I won’t let you treat me this way,” it can also say, “I won’t let you treat yourself or others this way.”
Communicating boundaries at any stage of a relationship can be challenging and uncomfortable, but for folks like me, it’s ten times more difficult to enforce them once they have been crossed.
This is especially true when the person in question is someone that we either love or engage with on a regular basis, such as a colleague or neighbor.
Think of it this way: when a stranger does something that we find offensive, hurtful or disrespectful, we have the freedom to walk away from the situation with the knowledge we likely won’t have to deal with them ever again. However, when someone that we love and trust engages in similar behaviors, it becomes instantly personal. We are left feeling betrayed, angry, and even resentful.
When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.” -Brené Brown
When we find ourselves in a place of pain and betrayal, it’s next to impossible to see things clearly.
Emotions cloud judgment, and we find ourselves readily on the defensive. As opposed to handling the situation from a place of love, understanding and self-worth, we instinctively lash out–engaging in the emotionally destructive dance of “tit-for-tat.”
In these situations, the problem with succumbing to our anger is two-fold: we not only fail to address the behavior in question, but allow and even encourage for it to continue. At a certain point, it becomes necessary to make a very difficult decision:
We can either cut our losses and walk away, or we can fight (with love) for the relationship.
Tough Love (aka: Loving Tough)
Tough love is often an effective tool when we care about somebody who is not respecting our boundaries.
Being on the receiving end of tough love is definitely painful, but I’d argue that having to give tough love is also excruciating.
It’s in our instinctive nature to protect our loved ones, keeping them free of pain and discomfort. Therefore, setting hard boundaries and executing tough love which inevitably causes pain and discomfort (while potentially risking the relationship) is not only agonizingly painful for all parties involved, but it also goes against our core primitive instincts.
There is no uniformly clear answer in regards to when it’s appropriate to exercise tough love, as it is dependent on the dynamics and unique circumstances of each relationship. However, there are some guidelines to consider:
- We introduce tough love when we realize that treating somebody sternly and even harshly is necessary to helping them in the long run.
- We enforce tough love when we feel that our backs are against the wall, and we have no other option outside of walking away.
- We practice tough love when we put someone’s needs first, and their wants last.
There’s a reason it’s not called “uncomfortable love.”
It’s messy and painful and hard. It’s also often essential.
Choosing tough love means having the willingness to embrace our vulnerability and weather the storm, even though there are no guarantees. It’s calling on our deepest strengths, and staying on course regardless of what obstacles we may cross along the way.
Ultimately, it’s having the courage to make the life’s toughest choices, all in the name of love.
Whitney Hoover is a San Francisco based authenticity and positivity enthusiast. She cultivates a passion for sustainability, healthcare, cooking and
all most things outdoors. In her free time, she loves traveling, finding creative ways to make people smile, and contributing to her blog, Nursing My Appetite.
Have you ever had to express tough love in your life? Is it easy for you to set boundaries in your life, or do you find it to be difficult? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!