Boundaries, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Striving Styles, Victim mentality, Who are you meant to be?

We're better with boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brene’ Brown

I struggle with boundaries in certain areas of my life. And I’m quite certain that I’m not alone. I believe that a lack of boundaries is at the center of so many of the issues and relationship struggles I discuss with clients, co-workers, friends and family. Both personally and professionally, having healthy boundaries are essential to our happiness and well-being, and can help transform our lives.

Establishing healthy boundaries can be very difficult. It can feel extremely uncomfortable upsetting or disappointing others. Putting their needs before our own and ensuring their happiness seems like, on the surface anyway, the best way to keep the peace. But taking responsibility for everyone’s happiness while ignoring our own needs doesn’t actually make others happy. Nor does it make us happy. In fact, you’ll actually become very unhappy. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene’ Brown describes that before she established healthy boundaries she was “sweeter on the outside” but “judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside”. I can relate. Can you? Because really, can you truly be happy if you’re always trying to please others? I mean, I’m sure you don’t believe that people are responsible for your happiness, so why would you believe that you are responsible for their happiness? At the end of the day, no matter what we do or don’t do, I know we can’t really control the happiness of others.

“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 behaviour or a choice.” ~ Brene’ Brown

The way we treat ourselves sets the standard for others around us. If we don’t put the effort into clearly establishing what we want and don’t want, then how can we expect others to know what we want. They can’t read our minds so if we don’t define them, then someone else will. Having healthy boundaries in place will help you realize your self worth, and demonstrate that your needs and feelings are valid and important. You’re worthy of being seen and heard and of putting your needs first. You deserve to have a voice and an opinion. Of course, for some, it may be a bit more difficult to find your inner power and firmly define your boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. There’s no doubt that it’s hard but anyone can do it with time and practice. At first you’ll feel uncertain and a bit scared, and your boundaries will feel a bit shaky, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will feel. In the beginning you’ll likely feel bad or guilty if others aren’t happy, but you can’t please everyone.

Just like other people can’t read our minds, we can’t read theirs. It’s not our business to try and keep them happy or avoid disappointing them. In fact, in doing this, we also kind of take away their power from them by trying to avoid upsetting or disappointing them. We don’t need to filter ourselves for the sake of others. We’re allowed to feel what we feel and it’s not our place to manage other peoples emotions, even if it comes from a caring place. We may think we know what’s best for everyone but sometimes we need to take a step back and allow other people to decide how to feel for themselves. All we can really do is have our own boundaries in place, honor them, and express what we need and how we feel.

Having healthy boundaries can help change our lives. They can help you express your needs and desires without feeling pushy, rude or guilty, and they help you strengthen your relationship with yourself. When you get clearer about what you want, what you are here for, you’ll no longer feel the need to hide or filter yourself. The more self-aware you are (see previous post), and the better you understand your Striving Styles predominant need, fears and triggers, you be able to identify who you’re meant to be and know that you’re worthy of feeling good and honoring yourself. Your well-being doesn’t have to come last.

Signs you lack healthy boundaries

A lack of strong and clear boundaries can result in feeling worthless, weak, or not good enough. Here are some signs that you are lacking healthy boundaries in your life:

  1. you find it diffcult speaking up when you feel mistreated.
  2. you find it difficult making your own goals a priority.
  3. you do things when you don’t want to. You have a hard time saying no.
  4. you go out of your way to please others and seek their approval.
  5. you overcommit and give away too much of your time, making too many sacrifies at your own expense.
  6. you get guilted into doing things for others.
  7. you agree when you actually disagree.
  8. you feel guilty taking care of yourself, and taking time for yourself.
  9. you feel guilty when someone else feels bad, like you are responsible for other peoples thoughts, feelings, and actions. You feel guilty when others aren’t happy.
  10. you feel taken for granted by others.
  11. you give your time away for free.
  12. you do or give away things that you can’t afford.
  13. you feel like you have failed someone or guilty if you say no to them.
  14. you feel resentful and complain even though you agreed to the request or the expectation.
  15. you are what others want or need you to be, and not what YOU need to be.
  16. you are almost always comply with those in superior positions (boss, parent, etc.)
  17. you have toxic relationships or stay in unsatisfying relationships or situation.
  18. you let others describe your reality.
  19. you minimise your own feelings and needs.
  20. you do things out of obligation.
  21. you are consumed with what others think of you.
  22. you over-share details about your life.
  23. you often feel like a victim (refer to previous post)
  24. you attract people who try to control or dominate you.

If you identify with any of these then stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I’ll be discussing strategies and tools you can use to define, develop and honor healthy boundaries in every area of your life. While initially it won’t be easy, having healthy boundaries can really help you navigate life situations without feeling guilty or bad every single time. By leaning on the understanding that ultimately everything you do is for the sake of yours and others well-being and that you are always doing your best, you will soon realize that you’re worthy of taking care of yourself and that there is nothing wrong or bad about it, and eventually you’ll feel less and less guilty.

Healthy boundaries* include:

  1. saying no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have the resources to do.
  2. leaving situations that are harmful to you.
  3. telling others how you want to be treated.
  4. being aware of your own feelings and allowing yourself to feel differently than others.
  5. not trying to change, fix, or rescue others from difficult situations or feelings.
  6. allowing others to make their own decisions.
  7. prioritizing self-care.
  8. sharing personal information gradually based on how well you know and trust someone.
  9. recognizing which problems are yours to solve and which problems belong to others.
  10. communicating your thoughts, feelings, and needs.
  11. having personal space and privacy.
  12. pursuing your own goals and interests.

in the following video clip, Brene’ Brown explains, in her typical humorous style, how to let go of the person we think we’re supposed to be and embrace who we are. And when we have the courage to set boundaries, we engage with our worthiness.

THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION: LIVING WITH COURAGE, COMPASSION AND CONNECTION | Excerpt | PBS
•14 Feb 2011 PBS

Book recommendation:

Now, it’s your turn.

What you would really want to do if you knew that it wouldn’t disappoint others? Which area(s) of your life are boundaries the most difficult to maintain? Which of the unhealthy sign(s) did you identify with? I recommend journaling or mediating on them. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (view of Stanley Park from Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC)

*Sharon Martin, LCSW

Emotional Intelligence, Limiting Beliefs, Negative Habits of Mind, Self-Awareness, Victim mentality

Which one are you – the victim or the heroine/hero?

“Above all, be the heroine of your life. Not the victim.” ~ Nora Ephron

We all play the victim from time to time, however some people do this more often than others. We tend do this because when things aren’t going well in our life, it’s much easier to blame others rather than taking responsibility. By taking responsibility we might actually have to do something to change it, and that can be a giant pain! It’s way easier to rationalize all the reasons why it’s not our fault.

Having a victim mentality keeps you stuck in the problem and less capable of finding a solution. The more you can prove that you’re not at fault, the less responsibility you’ll have to fix it. Whenever I notice myself falling into that victim mentality, I try to shift my perspective and look at my situation from a different point of view. Or, I’ll seek the opinion of a trusted friend for an objective viewpoint. But sometimes this can take a lot of effort. Many people may not even be aware that they have a victim mentality. Seeing a situation from another perspective can be especially difficult if you’re living with a deeply embedded victim mindset.

Early on in our development we learn how power and control over others affects relationships, as well as how surrendering power and control affects relationships. Generally a victim mentality comes from a lack of confidence, low self-esteem, or not having the strength to make big life decisions. Some might be afraid of losing control so they allow others to take control. This way if something goes wrong, they can place blame on others and ensure a safe position for themselves. Blaming someone justifies feeling miserable but getting caught in a loop of re-living a negative experience over and over ultimately builds resentment.

Relinquishing power and control by placing our self in someone else’s hand usually results in feeling anger, resentment, and frustration. Most people aren’t even aware that they’re playing the victim, therefore unaware of where these negative emotions are coming from. Being in a state of victim hood can reside deep within our subconscious and is often difficult to see or recognize unless someone tells us. Sadly, some people stay in this victim mentality their whole life.

“When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

How to recognize if you have a victim mindset & how to break out of it.

Set backs, disappointments and hurts are all part of life.  It’s how you respond to them that will determine your happiness in life.  While you can’t control some circumstances, you can control your responses to them (refer to my post Be mindful respond rather than react).

5 Ways to Recognize if you have a Victim Mindset

  1. Everything is negative. Most things have a negative tone to them. Nothing seems to work out for you, no ones on your side, or you’ve been dealt a bad hand (refer to my previous post on negativity bias.
  2. You ask yourself “why” a lot.  Such as …why does everything in my life have to be hard.  Why can’t people leave me alone? why don’t people understand me?
  3. You ruminate over things a lot. The same negative script can go over and over in your head for hours and nothing seems to work out for you.  I never seem to get  ….  Why bother because  …
  4. You’re your own worst critic. You don’t think very highly of yourself, feel like damaged goods and that you don’t deserve good things.
  5. You’re often angry and resentful of other peoples gains. For example, you resent the fact that your good friend got a great new job and a big pay increase. She already has nice things, why is she always the one who gets these things. These things never seem to happen to me. 

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Sometimes you can slip into the victim mindset only in certain areas of your life. It can be subtle but persuasive enough to hold you back or even lower your self esteem.

5 Ways to Break out a Victim Mentality

“Take full responsibility for your actions, your choices, and your life. You made it this way. If you’re happy, keep going. If not, choose to do something about it.” ~Kyle Francis

  1. Build confidence by creating small but achievable goals. If you’re convinced that good things never happen to you, you need to retrain your mind to see that you can win at something even if it’s small. Then give yourself time to reflect think or ruminate on these small accomplishments before you move onto even bigger accomplishments.
  2. Give to others. Turn your attention to giving to others. Victimization breeds neediness, and the more needy you are the more you’ll be disappointed when your needs aren’t met. Meeting someone else needs allows you to rise above the victim mode and be someone else’s hero. The satisfaction you get from loving or showing love to others gives you a reason to love yourself which guards you from future hurts.
  3. Practice gratitude. When you’re in victim mode, you focus more on what you don’t have and lose sight on what you have. You can change your perspective by spending more on what you do have. If you write them down you can re-read them and remind yourself of them later when you slip back into feeling sorry for yourself.
  4. Get closure on past hurts. This might involve forgiving someone, or forgiving yourself. If you blame yourself for continuing to make the same mistakes over and over, or for trusting the same wrong person, you’ll need understand what draws you to these bad decisions in the first place. This will take some work and you may need the help of a counselor, therapist, or even a good friend who knows you well. Once you get a handle on your patterns you can move on to better decisions in the future.
  5. Take ownership of your decisions. Remember, no one can make you feel a certain way unless you allow it. If you are around people who make you feel bad, are critical of you, etc. then you need to limit your contact with them. Sometimes we don’t have the option of not seeing them, especially if they’re a family member or a parent, so if that’s the case then you’ll need to set up boundaries and create some emotional distance to protect yourself from always being hurt by that person.  Don’t let past hurts define you.

It’s important to identify if you are wallowing in victim mode so you can put it behind you. It’s also important to reflect on your own behaviour (see previous post on emotional intelligence). You have the power to rid yourself of the victim persona but it’ll take ongoing, daily work. It’s been scientifically proven that thinking positive enhances your life and that feeling in control of your life improves your overall sense of well-being. I’d say these make it a worthwhile endeavour.

In the following Ted Talk, Lori Gottlieb shares how you can edit your life story and live more fully by letting go of that one version of your story that you’ve been telling yourself. She explains that in order to be a good editor, we need to offer compassionate truths so we don’t perpetuate the victim mentality, not just to our friends, but to ourselves. This helps us see what we’ve left out of our story so we can come up with an alternative version where we are the heroine or hero of our life story, and not the victim.

How changing your story can change your life | Lori Gottlieb

Now, it’s your turn.

Do you struggle with a victim mentality? How do you shift your mindset? Or perhaps you know someone who often plays the victim. How does this affect your relationship with them? Share in the comments below.

Photo source: Susan Wheeler (winter daytime moon, Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC)