When you establish a new boundary with someone else, the most common form of resistance one gets is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves.
When they hear the word “no,” they have the same reaction a two-year-old has when deprived of something: “Bad Mommy!” They feel as though the one who deprives them of their wishes is “bad,” and they become angry. They are not righteously angry at a real offense. Nothing has been done “to them” at all. Someone will not do something “for them.” Their wish is being frustrated, and they get angry because they have not learned to delay gratification or to respect others’ freedom.
The angry person has a character problem. If you reinforce this character problem, it will return tomorrow and the next day in other situations. It is not the situation that’s making the person angry, but the feeling that they are entitled to things from others. They want to control others and, as a result, they have no control over themselves. So, when they lose their wished-for control over someone, they “lose it.” They get angry. Here are six steps to consider when someone responds with anger:
1. Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem. If you do not realize this, you may think you have a problem. Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn what their families of origin did not teach them: to respect other people.
2. View anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot jump across the room and hurt you. It cannot “get inside” you unless you allow it. Staying separate from another’s anger is vitally important. Let the anger be in the other person. He will have to feel his anger to get better. If you either rescue him from it, or take it on yourself, the angry person will not get better and you will be in bondage.
3. Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves. There is great power in inactivity. Do not let an out-of-control person be the cue for you to change your course. Just allow him to be angry and decide for yourself what you need to do.
4. Make sure you have your support system in place. If you are going to set some limits with a person who has controlled you with anger, talk to the people in your support system first and make a plan. Know what you will say. Anticipate what the angry person will say, and plan your reaction. You may even want to role-play the situation with your group. Then, make sure your support group will be available to you right after the confrontation. Perhaps some members of your support group can go with you. But certainly you will need them afterward to keep you from crumbling under the pressure.
5. Do not allow the angry person to get you angry. Keep a loving stance while “speaking the truth in love.” When we get caught up in the “eye for eye” mentality of the law, or the “returning evil for evil” mentality of the world, we will be in bondage. If we have boundaries, we will be separate enough to love.
6. Be prepared to use physical distance and other limits that enforce consequences. One woman’s life was changed when she realized that she could say, “I will not allow myself to be yelled at. I will go into the other room until you decide you can talk about this without attacking me. When you can do that, I will talk to you.”
These serious steps do not need to be taken with anger. You can empathize lovingly and stay in the conversation, without giving in or being controlled. “I understand that you are upset that I will not do that for you. I am sorry you feel that way. How can I help?” Just remember that when you empathize, changing your no will not help. Offer other options.
If you keep your boundaries, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time, instead of “other control,” which has been destructive to them anyway. When they no longer have control over you, they will find a different way to relate. But, as long as they can control you with their anger, they will not change.
Sometimes, the hard truth is that they will not talk to you anymore, or they will leave the relationship if they can no longer control you. This is a true risk. God takes this risk every day. He says that he will only do things the right way and that he will not participate in evil. And when people choose their own ways, he lets them go. Sometimes we have to do the same.
Learn more about setting healthy boundaries that last in the New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries.