People need people. We are hard-wired for relationship. We suffer when we don’t have friends and family. We need romantic relationships. Most of the time, our relationships are positive, but sometimes not.
Often, my counseling focuses on helping my client deal with a difficult relationship. The individual may be suffering because of a relationship, which is hurtful or neglectful. The pain has reached the point where they need assistance.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in a relationship with a person who says or does hurtful things to us. They may be critical or demeaning. Their negative messages can come from their words, facial expressions or body language. Either way, we get the point. We feel inadequate and conclude that we can’t please them.
The hurtful relationship could come in the form of a cold, distance. They become disengaged. They seem to have no interest in spending time with us. They may flirt with others, or even have affairs. We feel alone, even when there is someone else in the house. We conclude that we must be boring or unlovable.
The intensity of negative treatment can reach the point of abuse. The abuse can be emotional, physical or sexual. An abusive relationship severely wounds the self-esteem and creates fear.
All relationships begin positively. We would never voluntarily enter into an abusive, hurtful relationship. At first, the other person treats us well. We enjoy spending time with them, and they seem to enjoy spending time with us. We have all kinds of positive expectations for our future together.
The negative treatment begins subtly, with a slight criticism or a decrease in attention. We shrug it off as the result of a bad day. We assume we deserved it. We don’t notice the slow increase in negativity or distance.
At some point, we are faced with the hurtful nature of the relationship, but still tend to blame ourselves. We wonder what we did wrong to deserve being treated so badly.
When do we say, “enough?” When do we let the other person know that we don’t deserve to be treated badly? Where should we set our boundaries?
You can determine your boundaries by putting a loved one in your shoes. Identify a person that you like very much or love. It could be a same-gender friend or one of your children. Imagine that they were in a relationship with a person, who treated them in exactly the same way you are being treated. Imagine that they had made the same efforts you have made to resolve the situation, but the partner continued to treat them badly. Imagine that their partner said the same negative statements, neglected them to the same degree, or was equally abusive to them.
How would you feel if your loved one was being treated this way? What would you want them to do? There’s your boundary. Never allow someone to treat you in a way that you would not want someone you love to be treated. It’s a pretty simple guideline, but it works!