Question: I’m nervous that setting boundaries with other people will make me seem like a b**ch. What do I do? (Samantha W.)
I hear this question often and it reveals a double standard that women face when it comes to setting boundaries.
For example, when a man says, “No, thanks. I’m not interested.” His “no” is typically met with respect. We tend to think of men who say “no” as decisive, confident, or good leaders.
On the other hand, when a woman says “No, thanks. I’m not interested.” The response is often quite different. You can almost hear people murmuring behind her back:
“She’s not a team player.”
“Does she think she’s better than me?”
“What a b**ch!”
This double standard can make setting boundaries more difficult for women. Many women feel they have only two options when a boundary line has been crossed:
a. Lash out and be perceived as mean or selfish
b. Ignore the boundary foul and avoid any potential conflict
Fortunately, it’s possible to stand up for yourself with strength and kindness when you use the following three steps to set boundaries. You’ll know you’re not being a b**ch and that’s what matters most.
3 Steps to Set Boundaries Without Being a B**ch
1. Notice your anger
First, it’s okay to feel angry. That emotion is a signal that usually highlights you’ve been hurt. Pay attention to that important signal. In the moment, you might feel the urge to respond with a snarky, sarcastic reply, such as:
“I’d give you a nasty look, but you’ve already got one.”
“I don’t know what your problem is, but I’m guessing it’s hard to pronounce.”
“Everyone’s entitled to act stupid once in awhile, but you really abuse the privilege.”
Yet, this type of response isn’t good for your anyone, including you. Fortunately, you can take a different approach, stand up for yourself, and walk away with your dignity.
When you feel insulted or hurt, stop and pay attention to the anger that you feel inside. It’s understandable to get upset. But, don’t immediately lash out. Instead, give yourself a minute to process the situation. When you express compassion towards your own anger, the rage will tend to soften.
2. Notice your guilt
Once your anger subsides, you might feel some guilt about the vengeful thoughts that popped up earlier in your head, such as “I can’t say those nasty things—that would be horrible!” Often, this guilt might keep you from saying anything at all. But, avoiding the conflict won’t help. You still need to SET A BOUNDARY.
The problem is that many women get stuck between these two emotions. They feel angry. Then, they feel guilty for feeling angry. This dilemma can cause you to vent out of anger or avoid responding and risk being a doormat.
Neither approach works. This is why a third step must be taken.
3. Negotiate the middle ground
When you feel angry inside, it’s usually a signal that a boundary was crossed. Any resulting guilt might be a warning to proceed with caution. Both are helpful, but neither emotion tells the full story. Dishing out hurtful comments or letting someone run over you won’t lead to a happy ending. Instead, you must find some middle ground. Here’s how you get to it:
a. Ask yourself: What are the facts?
Set aside your emotions for a moment and identify what happened as if you were a reporter who arrived on the scene. If you need help, consider writing things down or asking a friend to review the situation. For example, you might identify the facts as:
- She gave me unwanted advice.
- He insulted me.
- She asked me to do something that made me feel uncomfortable.
- He said something mean or untrue.
- Her response was self-centered and all about her.
Once you recognize the facts, then you should assess how the situation affected you.
b. Ask yourself: What was the impact?
This question requires you to pay attention to what happened inside of YOU. What was the impact of the boundary foul? For instance, did you feel uncomfortable, criticized, misunderstood, judged, or betrayed? Or, was someone else whom you love hurt or put in harm’s way?
Narrow down the impact to one or two words that describe your overall situation, such as “belittled,” “manipulated,” or “intimidated.”
c. Ask yourself: What action would you like to take as a result?
Now that you know the facts and the impact it had upon you, it’s time to decide on an action as an appropriate response. For example, you might choose to cut the immediate conversation short and walk away. Or, maybe you’d like to tell the other person that their comments have made certain topics off-limits in the future. In some circumstances, it may be best to tell the other person that you’re ending the relationship altogether.
If someone labels you a b**ch when you identify the emotions you feel, take stock of the situation, and act in a manner that protects your dignity and value—that’s on them! You can’t control what other people think or say. But, you can control how you handle the situation with maturity. There is nothing selfish or mean about saying to someone else:
- “I didn’t ask for your opinion. If I want your input, I’ll let you know in the future.”
- “This conversation feels inappropriate. I think it’s best if we hang up the phone now.”
- “It’s hurtful and insensitive when you ask me to do XYZ. Please don’t do it again.”
- “I’m not comfortable talking with you right now. Please leave me alone.”
Is there anything that sounds mean about these statements? Are you being cruel? Of course not. Stating the facts as you see them does not make you a b**ch.
Last of all, if you’re still unsure about how to set boundaries in a difficult situation, ask yourself…
How would I want my daughter to stand up for herself in this situation?
Setting healthy boundaries means you’re a wise woman. You are actively engaged in the divine work of becoming a whole person. You honor God when you counter toxic behavior from other people with dignity and purpose.
Boundaries don’t make you a b**ch. Instead, boundaries are what God designed. They are good for you— and good for others.
If other people don’t like the fact that you’re willing to set boundaries with them, then feel free to say…
“A woman like me is an acquired taste. If you don’t like me, acquire some taste.” ?
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below:
How do you feel when faced with setting a new boundary? Do you ever worry that you’ll be viewed as mean or selfish? Have you learned to overcome that concern?
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