One of the chief arguments for avoiding boundaries is the fear of hurting other people’s feelings and the potential to invite conflict and criticism. As a result, when we embark on anything that might cause us to evolve and basically be different to what people expect, we fear causing offence. 

Of course, the fact that we believe making changes that will ultimately benefit our well-being as well as our relationships are offensive and threatening to others is codependent thinking. It’s the perennial worry of people pleasers, perfectionists and overthinkers who overgive and are over-responsible

So, here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as behaviour that doesn’t offend others.

In reality, some of the reasons why we’ve avoided honesty, change and boundaries would offend our loved ones.

If they knew we pitied them so much that we made ourselves feel small to pump up their egos, some would be offended. They might wonder why we thought they couldn’t manage or succeed without us compromising ourselves.

If folks knew that we acted as we did with them, not because we wanted to, but because we decided that they couldn’t handle our authentic self and that they might hurt or leave us, they’d probably take great offence. And yes, that includes the people for whom there was a great deal of truth in our concern!

Our ‘niceness’ offends some people. They get suspicious or feel patronised by our seeming lack of agenda. What, you want to do something just because? Get the frick outta here! What’s the catch?

Hell, some people get offended by stuff that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with them. Some get offended by their own twisted beliefs and then make other people’s lives miserable in response.

We could decide to do something today, such as change our diet, exercise, change careers, or mind our own business. Maybe we decide to finally grow up or move away from being with unhealthy romantic partners. And even though these are, for all intents and purposes, good things for us and even our relationships, it’s distinctly possible that someone, somewhere, will be offended. 

People are going to say what they’re going to say, think what’s they’re going to think, feel what they’re going to feel and do what they’re going to do, so we have to get on with the business of being us. 

If we think our boundaries or growth will offend others, we need to identify our expected role in our interpersonal relationships.

Boundaries and growth don’t hurt feelings; dynamics do.

Fear of offending others because of our boundaries and basically growing and changing is code for playing roles. Our self-esteem and the dynamic of our relationships have become contingent on the codependency of fitting around others. In turn, we fear that not playing the role will hurt someone or put them out of a ‘job’. i.e. their role. We might feel disloyal or as if we’re saying something about others. To be clear, we’re not.

Everyone needs to be able to learn how to handle conflict. It’s not that we need to create conflict for conflict’s sake, but we need to that we can. We need to know that in those situations where we need to step up, speak up and show up, we will. Fear that our growth or boundaries will offend is one of those very situations. How someone might feel should never dictate how honest and authentic we are or will be. Otherwise, we quite simply never will be. We won’t get to truly exist and occupy our life.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites