When studying to become a teacher, I specifically remember listening to a radio show one morning where the host was interviewing a Danish Family Therapist called Jesper Juul. The subject was ‘the importance of ‘no” when raising children. Jesper Juul claimed that parents today have such limited time with their children that they tend to say ‘yes’ and allow pretty much everything – mainly out of guilt. He claimed that parents are afraid of saying ‘no’, as they fear the child might feel unloved otherwise.
The interview was rather long so I’ll go straight to his point which was that a ‘no’ can be a huge declaration of love – quite often even more so than a ‘yes’. Children need their parents to set limits. A world with no limits is big and scary. Children need structure and they need specific guidelines as this gives them a sense of security. So really, saying ‘no’ can be the best you ever did for them.
As Jesper Juul is a family therapist, his theories and thoughts will obviously mainly deal with family issues. However, I find the point from above rather transferable to all relationships in life.
Speaking to friends and family I’ve noticed how the fear of saying ‘no’ has become a common tendency. Even more so is the fear of hurting others, which I guess is a very positive thing – not a pretty picture if we all wandered around hoping to hurt one another. What is striking though is, that the fear of rejecting – the fear of saying ‘no’ – is present even when wanting to protect one self and set own limits. But why do we fear this so much? There are so many ways to say no, to set limits and define oneself. Why has setting boundaries become the equivalent to hurting or even violating others?
I recently wrote about meeting Lis (if you missed it, you can catch up here) and how she has showed me a new way of perceiving the world. The fear of hurting others was a subject we spent a rather large amount of time on – not because I’ve ever been that scared of conflict, but because I simply didn’t want to push particularly one person away even though he was driving me insane!
I had this person on the phone almost daily during a long period of time as he was panicking about his relationship in which he seemed to be constantly running his head against the wall. He blamed his parents, his partner, his job, the weather – you name it – for the pain he was going through. It was never his own responsibility and every time I came up with ideas as to how he could confront his partner in order to move forward (i.e. take action), he would somehow avoid doing anything by coming up with a negativity of some sort. I often felt like shaking him! I desperately wanted him to wake up and smell the coffee. He was being run over by his partner to such a degree that it was scary, and not because his partner was a bad person, but because he was so incredibly afraid of defining his own limits. He knew exactly what to do – he even said it out loud – but he was scared of the outcome, so he never did a thing.
With time, I found myself becoming rather honest with him. Frustration got the best of me and once in a while the truth became slightly brutal, resulting in him excusing himself and hanging up. I actually hoped he would tell me to back off, but he never did. He never said ‘enough is enough’ – not to me and not to his partner. He just succumbed to these ‘strong women’ – regardless of what they did to him.
It came to a point where I no longer felt like picking up the phone when he called me. My heart bled for him, I just couldn’t stand being the witness to how he slowly resigned from life. No matter what advice I gave him, he didn’t listen. He just let life be the way it had always been and as a result I backed off.
Looking back, I can now see why the whole thing bothered me so much. For one, I truly wanted him to be happy and seeing him in this state was awful. But what’s even more striking is that he reminded me of my ex boyfriend. Oh yes – the painful truth. My ex and I were so out of balance that I became more and more nasty trying to push him away and he became clingier as a result – it was horrible! Claustrophobia, right there. So why didn’t I just leave? I was scared to. I was afraid of being alone. I was afraid letting go of him would mean turning into the strange cat-lady type (let’s be honest – we all fear that scenario). But, as it goes, the lesson kept repeating itself and eventually I was forced to let go. Thankfully.
I spoke to Lis about my struggling friend and how I should cope with it all. Lis asked me what I believed would happen to him if I straight up told him how I perceived the situation. Easy question! (I had pretty much done this already, although he got the ‘light’ version) I knew he would get hurt. The particularly painful part though was that he wouldn’t fight back – he would just let me do it and maybe not call for a few days till he desperately needed someone to talk to again. Then Lis asked me what actually happened to him when I hurt him. This was more of a difficult one. Erhm… He would get sad? Lis smiled. Calmly she said ‘By confronting him you might hurt him. True. But hurting someone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You start this person’s self-development as you force him / her to look within and deal with the issues at hand. In the end, not only are you claiming your own limits – which is the most important for you – you are also forcing him to set his own limits. You are doing him a favour. He just can’t see it yet.‘
As she said those words I had an epiphany. My older sister who didn’t always have a lot of patience when we were growing up, would sometimes be quite honest with me. As in, brutally honest. And I would hate her for it from time to time, but the truth is she has sparked quite a few of my most rewarding self developing adventures this way. Tough love, some would call it. Well, today I’m grateful – because it worked. So maybe Lis had a point?
I’m not saying we should all walk around criticising each other on a daily basis. I’m saying that if someone does something that, in one way or the other, somehow crosses your boundaries or asks you for advice and giving it ends up as a frustrating experience, there is absolutely NO reason not to do something about it. Just make sure you deliver the message in the nicest way possible. Constructive criticism, some would call it. It’s a win-win really. You set your own limits (which basically means you feel you are in control of your own life) and you might end up doing this person a favour – potentially a life altering one.
Is someone doing something that frustrates you? Something that crosses your boundaries? What’s holding you back from being honest? How do you feel about the word ‘no’? Do you fear rejection? Do you fear conflict? Why?
Or has someone been slightly more honest than you would have preferred recently? Did it hurt you? How and why? Is there some truth to it? Remember, that no matter how painful it gets, it triggers your self-development when used wisely. You can choose to hate anyone who confronts you or you can listen to what this person says, take it in and do something about it. Might the situation help you in the long run? Maybe one day you will end up being grateful to this certain someone..