“The only people who get angry when you set a boundary are those who benefitted from you not having one.”
It’s one of the classic Girl Boss Mindset Mantras.
These things do the rounds on instagram squares and we nod along. If we’ve recently needed to set a boundary with someone and they’ve behaved badly towards us, we feel reassured and validated. If we need to set a boundary soon, it might give us a little confidence boost. I understand why we like it.
What I object to is the likely outcome of this hot take in terms of the ways in which we see one another and behave towards each other.
Let me say: OF COURSE it’s one thing to experience anger, and another to express it in unacceptable ways. I’m not asking anyone to tolerate abusive behaviour, and sometimes anger can be presented to us in such ways. I am writing all of this as someone who has been on the receiving end of some pretty wild behaviour in a scenario like this. I think we overuse the term gaslighting, but there was some of that, some major manipulation, lots of lashing out and a fantastical rewriting of history, etc. It was an utterly dread-full experience, and I certainly don’t want to leave anyone thinking they must absorb this kind of stuff based on what I’ll go on to say.
AND YET. I do believe that mantras like the one we are examining separate us from one another in ways that are often unhelpful and dehumanising. And babes, the last thing we need as a society is increased disconnection and dehumanisation of one another.
So, let’s break it down. Some things I’d like to invite you to consider.
Literally why would anyone else get angry about you setting a boundary APART FROM the people who benefitted from you not having it? In a way, the obviousness of it makes it increasingly meaningless the more you think about it.
Laying a boundary often means something like “I was meeting that need for you” (purposefully or otherwise) “and I’m not prepared to do that any more”. OBVIOUSLY the response to this is likely to be most heightened in those who have fewest options for alternative sources of support. This is likely to include those without the financial means to pay for support.
When you lay a boundary with someone, what emotions do you expect them to feel? What range of emotions do you/ we consider to be acceptable? I believe there’s some gendered stuff to consider here too. Women are particularly demonised for being angry (hysterical) whereas it’s much more accepted from men (passionate). Please excuse the binary to make this reference point re social norms.
What happens when we tell someone- your anger makes you unlovable/ unacceptable/ unsuitable for being my friend, I am withdrawing my support and affection for you. (I know the mantra doesn’t instruct this, but I’ve been round the block enough times to know how these conversations and scenarios are likely to pan out). Because they set the scene with…
A lack of compassion or empathy. Being on the receiving end of a new boundary can be really hard. Can you think of a time when this has happened to you? What was your emotional experience of the situation? What was your meaning making? “I’m being rejected” perhaps. “They don’t love me/ value me as much as I thought they did”. Something that often comes up for me then is embarrassment- “I was such a fool to believe they didn’t mind doing xyz for me”. This is a lot to process. Of course, we can support the person we are laying the boundary with by being very clear about what’s actually going on- the more ambiguity, the more space for catastrophic meaning making and then anger. BUT…
Many of us do not have the skills (or sometimes the courage) to do this. In part, I think this is also gendered- we have witness women who hold a line around what they will and won’t accept being judged and shamed, whilst being a ‘selfless’ woman (ESPECIALLY A SELFLESS MOTHER- but that’s too big to get into) is the pinnacle of celebrated femininity. So we know that we are at risk when we lay a boundary, and so maybe we wait until we ourselves are powered by anger, or too exhausted to continue. Either way, the healthy, loving parts of us are poorly resourced. Perhaps we end up feigning confidence and being aggressive, or avoiding the confrontation and being vague, or using humour and being passive aggressive- ambiguity is rife here.
Babes- it makes sense if you find it hard and don’t do a great job laying the boundary. And it also makes sense if someone finds it hard to receive it, and doesn’t do a great job responding.
Being a human in a racist, capitalist, patriarchal society is really hard. Navigating it with genuine empathy for others is radical. And we don’t always have the capacity for it, because guess how we build that capacity… being cared for ourselves. We are largely stuck in a downward spiral. But every time you reject one of these Girl Boss Mindset Mantras and consider the whole situation in a more grey, human way, you drag us all back up a bit.
EVEN IF you are not met with the healthy responses you deserve, you have no idea how your compassionate role modelling might ripple.
If you wanna tell me what you think about any of this, you can DM me on instagram babes, Keri x