Something I’ve seen many people do, and to be fair, I used to do it myself, is explain disrespectful and even abusive behaviour to the perpetrator.

Here’s the craic though: What makes us think that someone doesn’t know that what they’re doing is wrong? Do we think they just fell out of the sky yesterday?

We feel the need to walk people through their behaviour and attempt to explain their impact on us because, on some level, we’re blaming ourselves. We also think they don’t know. It’s like we think that they ‘just’ need to have it broken down for them. Here, let me knock up a PowerPoint presentation for you and point out the error of your ways.

It’s a pattern of thinking and behaviour for us. If we even do a minor poke around in our backstory, when other adults did crappy and unpleasant things or didn’t meet our needs we rationalised it. We likely compensated for it with people pleasing, perfectionism, overgiving, over-responsibility and overthinking. As a result, there’s this sense that we just need to sit people down and give them a talking-to. We think that if they can see how affected we are, they’ll stop.

Many humans have also internalised messages that how people behave is a matter of provocation. It’s as if we think we can ‘earn’ someone changing into who we’d prefer them to be. We believe that if we suffer enough, we’ll be the exception to their rule of behaviour.

In our Good Girl/Good Guy ways, we’re trying to show them how to behave.

But surely if we think that a fully-fledged adult doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, that’s a code red alert?

It means we can’t have a mutually fulfilling relationship with love, care, trust and respect with this person.

If we have to school someone on the basics and make a case for why taking advantage or abusing is problematic, aren’t we parenting them? Aside from these being bad boundaries, it’s, quite frankly, demoralising. Explaining people’s disrespectful and shady behaviour from a place of believing that they don’t know is a form of self-gaslighting.

Healthy boundaries mean that we have a healthy sense of responsibility.

Explaining other people’s disrespectful behaviour to them is over-responsibility.

Acknowledging code amber and red alerts allows us to create the required boundaries. We need to acknowledge the behaviour/issue and what it means about the person and the relationship/situation. Our subsequent boundaries and any conversations, then, are about conveying our respect for ourselves. We reflect the type of relationship we want. In turn, we nip disrespect in the bud and ascertain common ground, or we opt out.

For more help with learning to say no when you need, should, or want to, order my new book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (HarperCollins/Harper Horizon), out now and available at all booksellers.

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