Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA), such as myself, often deny their own boundaries to keep the peace and avoid arguments. While reading the book Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend it has come to my attention that by doing this we are trying to control the other person by being nice.
This is an eye opener for me. I’m aware of negative forms of control, but control by being nice is a new concept. However for me it is definitely true. I’m often nice so the other person will continue to be nice to me. There is no guarantee of course, but I am now seeing this as form of control.
If I were to reword Al-Anon’s Step 1 it might sound something like this, “I cannot control other people or my resentments stemming from unhealthy boundaries will become unmanageable.”
One Friday night, my significant other calls me on my way home from work to say we are going out to dinner with his friends. I had a challenging week and I did not feel like going out. I failed to set a healthy boundary and agreed to go. But I resented the fact that I was told we are going instead of asked if I would like to go.
In an effort to improve my boundaries I mentioned that next time I would prefer he ask before he commit us to going. Turns out, he didn’t want to go that particular night either. But he failed to set a healthy boundary with his friends. He didn’t want to be the one to say no, so he said yes.
I said yes to make him happy and he said yes to make them happy and now we were both somewhat unhappy. In the end, we both had a really good time that night and enjoyed the dinner and the company. But my point is we each need to take responsibility for our own actions and learn to set healthy boundaries.
To see another person’s thinking, feelings, actions and possible reactions as a problem gives that person control over me. I am the only one with the power to solve my own problems, set boundaries and say no.
There is no guarantee that by being nice to others, to avoid hurt, anger, disappointment, arguments, etc. we have control over the outcome.
Let’s pretend we said yes but another couple said no. All night the host complains that the second couple said no. Then not only are we unhappy we are there, when we don’t want to be, we have to listen about the couple that was able to set a healthy boundary and say no.
Prior to Al-Anon I thought of boundaries as a permanent, high and great defensive wall. Al-Anon taught me boundaries do not have to be permanent. It could be a line drawn in the sand. For example, if you are drinking I am going to leave. Not if you are drinking I never want to see you again ever. Or in this example, I’m sorry we can’t make dinner tonight. Can we do next week instead? But I am a very visual person and I struggled with the line in the sand when trying to set boundaries. I just kept seeing the waves washing away my line. The sea still had control over my boundaries and not me.
The book offered me the visual of boundaries as a fence with a gate. I can close the gate to keep the bad out or I can open the gate to let good in. Since I own the gate I have control over the boundaries I set at any particular moment.
The other thought this book teaches is that I must learn to accept other people’s boundaries. If someone tells me no, I need to accept that it is not a wall but a fence with a gate. My initial request could not be granted, but that does not mean the person is trying to hurt me.
I have a long way to go on setting healthy boundaries, but I appreciate this new angle from which to view them. I bought this book looking for the secret on how to sugar coat the word ‘no’ so that I could continue to be the nice person and avoid conflict, only to learn I am not responsible for the other person’s reaction, nor can I control the outcome. I only have the power to change and control myself. And more importantly, communicating healthy boundaries is good for both me and the other person.