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The Upside of Anger: Setting Appropriate Boundaries

Lynne Namka, Ed. D. - © 2007  


There are people who can’t say no and people who can’t take no for an answer. Sometimes these people hook up with each other. Within these two simple statements of how the world works is the set up for poor boundaries and thus misery in relationships. Much resentment and anger is generated when relationships are characterized by poor boundaries.

A boundary is that invisible line that separates you from the rest of the world. Within your boundary is that personal space where you feel safe and secure. In healthy relationships where neither person needs to control the other, both partners have an understanding of fairness and the others person’s needs. They grant each other the right to have psychological space and look out for small ways to create happiness for the other person.

Boundaries are needed when one partner tries to control the other. When someone invades your space physically or emotionally by discounting your needs or through manipulation, bullying or abuse, your personal boundaries are violated. The use of power and force to get one’s way and to cause another person to submit are the hallmarks of boundary transgressions. When you give yourself away by taking care of others without looking out for yourself in a relationship, resentment and anger can build up, resulting in your feeling like a martyr and victim.

People who can’t say no usually have a big dose of irrational guilt held over from childhood, and an even bigger dose of poor self-esteem that prevents them from speaking out for their needs. If they continually give in submissively, their partner may develop more expectations that their needs will always be met. They can become even more demanding and the balance of power gets even more out of whack. Relationships need check and balances just like our government. Healthy relationships allow healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are Confusing!
People who are confused about boundaries often had controlling parents who specialized in boundary violations. As children, they did not get to practice making their own decisions and then learning from the consequences. They did not get good practice in asking for what they wanted or in saying “no” and having the “no” be heard. They grew up learning to be little “yes” people who kept still to keep the peace. If you have never had the opportunity to set boundaries or you were punished for speaking out as a child, boundaries can be very confusing indeed.

So what if you can’t figure out what boundaries to set? The clearest way is to develop your Inner Wisdom and when confused go to that place of inner calm to figure out what is best for you. Finding the authentic self is a life-time endeavor so I always encourage people to start right now! Reading spiritual books and learning to meditate are two of the best ways to develop your sense of identity as a loving, fair person who uses boundaries for the best of both parties in the relationship.

As you learn more about boundary setting, an internal, automatic alarm gets set up that announces “Boundary Violation!” The alarm goes off so your sense of self does not become eroded. Sometimes anger is needed to set off the alarm. Internal anger can build up until you can’t stand the situation anymore, and then it explodes outward because of the pressure of holding it in.

If you find yourself getting angry a lot ask yourself, “Am I angry because I haven’t been able to set boundaries (if this is the case, study assertiveness), or am I angry because I usually get things my way and now I’m not getting what I want (if this is the case, study selfishness and entitlement)?”

Anger Can an Appropriate Response to Set a Bad Situation Straight
Anger can be an appropriate response when you need to set a boundary and express your valid rights, for example when you have tried to negotiate an important limit for yourself and the other person will not hear you and compromise.

And sometimes anger comes in to replace depression that has hung around because your life is a lie. Getting angry instead of staying depressed and using your anger to make a difference can be a sign you’re climbing out from an emotional rut!

At times anger can be a stage you move through as you prepare to make a big change in your life because it can give you energy and momentum to go on to something better. People may use anger to try to change a relationship that just isn’t working by setting strong limits. People use the energy of anger to leave unsatisfying jobs and relationships. Anger is a momentum of energy that helps people move off dead center and do something different. One research study showed that abused wives often got angry and started fighting back before they finally decided that they had had enough and left.

Anger can accumulate in unbalanced relationships where one person holds all the power until the other person finds their self-esteem and says, “I’m not going to take this anymore!” Make “MAD” stand for “Make a difference!” Here are some appropriate boundary statements that can be said with considerable assertion when someone repeatedly refuses to listen to your point of view:

That just doesn’t work for me.
No, I said no and that’s final.
I’m setting a boundary here. Listen to my point of view
You are not hearing what I’m saying.
What you are repeatedly asking for is only for you and not for the good of our relationship.
This is my boundary. Hear it. I cannot do what you ask
What part of “no” don’t you understand?
You believe one thing. I believe another. How can we compromise on this issue?
I’m not going to talk about this anymore.
You are pushing my patience with your continual demands.
I won’t let you call me names. Name-calling is not part of good relationships.
That’s it. No more!
We’re family and as family members we should not curse at each other.
We can treat each other with respect even though we are angry.
Let’s go cool off and come back to discuss this later when we are in a more calm state of mind.


Assertiveness is always about finding the balance between aggression and submission. Elizabeth Kaspar gives a good explanation of how assertive behavior benefits a relationship: “Assertive behavior should be considered as the ‘golden mean’ between aggressiveness at one extreme and passivity or submissiveness at the other. Assertive behavior is intended to communicate directly and firmly but politely. It should not be confused even with mild aggressiveness. Assertive behavior allows a person to stand up for her/his legitimate rights without violating the rights of others.”

In every relationship there are assumptions. There are rational assumptions such as “We will be faithful to each other,” “We will be kind and respectful to each other,” and “We will share our resources.” Other assumptions are self-centered. They become selfish expectations and then demands that strain the relationship. They are errors in thinking that keep persons from having close friendships and relationships. These errors can be challenged and changed into healthier ways of how to live a life.

Irrational Beliefs and Poor Boundaries which Create Unhappiness in Relationships:

You will make me happy at all costs even at the cost of your own self.
You are responsible for my feeling anxious or unhappy.
You will shield me from any emotional pain by giving in.
You must keep on answering my jealous questioning because I feel anxious inside.
I will continue to badger you and talk about an issue until I am satisfied.
You are responsible for giving me closure on any problem so that I don’t have to be anxious.
You are responsible for giving me my self-esteem by never upsetting me.
You shall not be critical of me or disapprove of anything I do.
I have the right to criticize you over every small thing that bothers me.
You are responsible for reading my mind and giving me what I want.
You must spend all your time with me and forgo friends and family.


You have certain rights to be emotionally and physically safe within any relationship. Boundary violations happen when one partner does not accept responsibility for inappropriate actions and blames the other person for his/her own problem. Blaming the other person when things go wrong is a defense mechanism called projection. It is a reversal of taking responsibility for one’s self.

Lynne Namka, Ed. D. is a happy psychologist, mom, grandmother, author of anger release books and founder of Talk, Trust & Feel Therapeutics. Her is mission is to promote peace in the world by teaching people positive communication skills. Helpful information and techniques can be found at www.AngriesOut.com and www.TimeToLoveYourself.com. Copyright © 2007 Lynne Namka, Ed.D. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your website without altercation if you include this entire copyright statement and leave the hyperlinks live and in place.  

 
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