counseling, familysystems, psychology, relationshipadvice, self-help

Enforcing Boundaries, No Contact, and Dysfunctional Relationships: Actions Speak Louder than Words

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Boundaries are a very important part of good mental health and maintaining a strong self-esteem.

Often in counseling sessions, I find clients gripe that other people in their lives DO NOT take them seriously. Clients share how they feel disrespected or mistreated. That what they say AND feel does not seem to matter to the folks in their lives.

I often explore with clients if they voice how they feel to the important people in their lives. Often people hold expectations for their relationships and other people without ever voicing their thoughts and feelings. I gently remind clients that other people in our lives are not mind readers. We discuss how other people may in fact have NO IDEA what our thoughts, feelings, and expectations are if we do not have an explicable discussion with them. These clients have a certain set of challenges to face, which requries them to start speaking up in their lives, if they want to catalyze change in their relationships.

Then on the other side of the spectrum, some people will share that YES that have in fact shared MANY times with their spouse, family member, friend, etc. how they FEEL to no avail. These folks have a whole different set of challenges to face and work through in our counseling sessions.

My next question for these clients, who share they have voiced their feelings many times to no avail, in their respective relationships: Did you follow your words up with actions?

Many times, the answer is an astounding, NO. Yet as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

This is where as a counselor, I bring up the topic of personal accountability. The truth is if someone is all talk and no action, is it really the OTHER person’s fault if they do not take said person seriously? We all know people who are all bark and no bite as opposed to people who say how the feel and follow it through with actions that match their words.

This is where the topic of boundaries comes into play. Boundaries are important and in counseling I get to see firsthand how comfortable one is with enforcing theirs.

Boundaries are basically your limits and act as your “invisible fence” alerting you to the fact that you’re uncomfortable or even in danger whether that danger is emotional or physical in nature. They also communicate to others not only how they can treat you and what to expect from you, but also what they’re likely to get away with or not get away with.

Boundaries are not complicated—the tough part is ENFORCING one’s boundaries, something I see many clients struggle with. If someone does not respect your boundaries, they do not respect you. If someone loves you, it will MATTER to them how you feel. Anyone who truly cares about you will express regard when you bring up concerns about your relationship with them–whether that relationship is familial, romantic, or a friendship. Yet this is not the case in dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships.

It often comes down to empathy. If you have any sort of relationship with someone who LACKS EMPATHY, it will be very damaging to you and your well-being.

This is where the idea of no contact comes up. If someone has tried time and time again to fix relationship problems with no success, they are left with two choices: accept the bad behavior as is or leave the relationship. If you ask someone in your life to stop a behavior that is harming you and they don’t, there will not be any other choice to make but to limit or eliminate contact. Unless you are willing to continue to be mistreated. The choice is yours. Following up one’s words with actions is how boundaries are enforced.

Going no contact with someone in your life is a last resort when a person is not respecting you, your boundaries, or your relationship. Many therapists are hesitant with discussing cut offs because of how it impacts the individual–it is certainly NOT ideal especially with family relationships.

One caveat to note is the difference between no contact and the silent treatment. The difference is the silent treatment is used to punish, invoke, fear, guilt, remorse. The silent treatment is about power and control.  This is NOT what no contact is. The silent treatment is abusive in nature. On the other hand, no contact is done to protect yourself. No contact is about moving on from a relationship that is not healthy. The silent treatment is temporary and done with the hope of a certain outcome. No contact is a way of exercising your own autonomy and enforcing your boundaries. You have no hope of ANY outcome other than removing yourself from being mistreated and disrespected. You recognize that you have the right to cease communication with someone who mistreats you and lacks empathy for you.

People make their choices and it gets them to a certain point in their life and in their relationships. YOU are NOT responsible for the actions and choices of other people. But you are responsible for protecting your own well-being from people who mistreat you. This is why following your words up with actions is a must.

I believe everyone’s feelings are important. We all deserve to be treated with basic human decency.  A person with good self-worth does not continue on in relationships where respect is not being served. For instance, when someone is disrespectful to me for no reason, I like to ask myself some questions. Who is this person? Are they even important in the scheme of my life? Will calmly telling this person that I’m hurt or offended be met with further aggression? And how much energy do I have in this moment to engage with this person? Is the juice worth the squeeze????

This is why enforcing boundaries is the cornerstone to maintaing healthy relationships in one’s life. If you find you have tried time and time again to get your needs met in a relationship and are wondering when no contact is appropriate, I feel there are three overarching factors to consider it:

1)Does this person show remorse when you tell them they hurt you? If someone has no remorse, if someone doesn’t care, then I think that is a real problem. I do think a basic standard for one’s life is to keep people in your life who have some regard for you at a very basic human level. If someone tells you with their words and actions, they do not care about you, why would you stay in contact with them if you have any sense of self-respect?

2)Has this person in your life outright told you they do not respect you?They shame you, criticize you, minimize you, make you feel degraded. Are you okay with this type of treatment?

3)Does this person refuse to let you live life on your terms and respect your boundaries? In life, we don not have to agree with how other people in our lives choose to live. But if we want to be in their lives, we must learn to be respectful and tolerant of our differences.

These are just a few broad factors to pay mind to when considering going no contact. Remember, no contact and the topic of boundaries are very complex and nuanced. As a counselor, I beieve if things are so bad that you need to go no contact, you have probably been feeling hurt and mistreated for a long time. This is not something that happens over night. Getting into counseling during a time like this is pivotal.

No contact is a protective measure but not a decision to be made lightly. Personally, I also believe you should keep an open mind to having people come back into your life. I believe people CAN change.  However, it depends on if authentic change has occurred. But if you see someone has grown, become wiser, is humble, is remorseful, and is mature, then you might want to stick your toe in the water and see how it might go with restoring the relationship. But if you are not seeing that type of evidence, I would be very cautious about letting someone back into your life who has mistreated you. Maybe you then want to put your energy into the people in your life who respect you and treat you well.

If you are struggling with an important relationship in you life and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com