The conflict between kindness and boundaries
One of the qualities I love about so many of my clients is how kind so many of them are. They genuinely care about their partners and their kids and their employees or clients. It is not just important to them to care, but so often one of their core values is kindness. But that is so often the root of so many of their conflicts. How do they be kind and stop feeling so overwhelmed and angry? How do they be kind and nice to their partner and not assume the blame for everything? And that is not an easy question or solution. Because every person is different, you can’t just practice one skill over and over again, especially when it brings up feelings of guilt and shame and like you are being difficult. The hardest part is accepting that there is no “perfect” phrase or word that you could have picked to avoid the conflict or to avoid pain. The very nature of relationships and love is to navigate the distance and the space between you which means looking at differences with honesty. And sometimes those differences will bring pain and conflict.
A great place to start is by changing your perspective. In therapy we take two approaches simultaneously. The first is what you typically think of, where did this confusion come from? What are some of these core beliefs and thoughts that are shaping our actions? Basically asking the questions of why do we associate kindness with accepting all responsibility and not pushing back on someone else’s narrative or perspective?
For example, many people receive and teach the message to their kids that it is important “to be nice” or “the golden rule, treat people the way you want to be treated”. And on the surface, these are great messages. But they start to create problems when we look at navigating our relationships. One of the biggest lessons we have to learn as adults is that our impact is often more important than our intention while at the same time trying to extend to others the benefit of the doubt on their intentions. And just because we want our partner to show us love by having sex with us, they might be showing love by respecting that you are tired and needed someone to take the kids in the morning. And without a way to be honest and see what each of you really want and need, this grows into a constant feeling of not being enough or wanted. Nobody deserves to feel this way.
If therapy is not right for you, journaling and a best friend are great places to turn to for this type of introspection. Look at some of your earliest memories and what your parents told you about kindness. If that feels impossible for any reason, take it slow and reach out.
The second part of therapy is about giving you practical tools to take back to your life to start making changes and have a new experience. One of the tools I use the most often is the idea that we don’t have to choose between kindness and boundaries, that we can enforce boundaries WITH kindness. It requires changing our mindset and rethinking about what is in our control and what is not but that boundaries are kindness, not it’s antithesis. Part of the way we do this is to ask ourselves, how do I ask for what I need AND be kind. I am going to tell my partner what I can do AND be kind to their feelings and perspective. I am going to have a conversation with my clients about my limits AND be receptive and respectful to what they tell me they want and need. It’s not perfect and it is incredible hard but that change in thought creates room to start having new experiences. Using the previous example, telling your partner “I need to be your number one focus physically sometimes AND I appreciate and love when you give me alone time. Can we talk about this?”
I’ll say it again because it is so important, give yourself some grace and don’t judge yourself for feeling overwhelmed and confused.
If this speaks to you an you’re looking for help in California, please schedule a consult.