Because there’s being an accepting person, and then there’s being a pushover.
In a world where same sex marriage is legalized, trans issues are openly discussed and making racist jokes gets organizations thrown off of college campuses, there is more social pressure than there used to be surrounding the idea of being accepting.
This is a good thing – in more social circles men will call out other men who make rape jokes and we could all stand for there to be a lot fewer of those out there.
But whether it’s from a sense of social obligation or simply because we don’t want to look like the Debbie Downer of the group, some of us have a hard time drawing a line between being accepting and being a doormat. When is it okay to tell your friends or family members what to do and what not to do? Do you have to accept everything everyone does to be a good person?
In a lot of states right now a key issue is pot. For the record, I’m pro legalization. I think it’s just plain silly that cigarettes and alcohol are legal when pot is essentially those two things combined with fewer health hazards.
But man, I can’t stand pot. I hate the way it smells, but I also hate the way I feel when I walk through a room that’s filled with it. Unlike alcohol, pot doesn’t just impact the body of the person enjoying it. It affects everyone in the room. You are absolutely allowed to dictate what goes into your body, even if it means telling someone they aren’t allowed to do something to theirs in your presence. As the saying goes, ‘Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.’ You can and should tell people when what they’re doing around you impacts your body and health, and to stop doing those things. If they refuse to respect your request, they’re probably pretty crappy friends on the whole.
But trying to figure out where to draw those lines in the sand isn’t always as clear cut.
When I was in my early twenties I had a friend I’d known for nearly a decade. We moved in together, more because I lacked the decision-making skills necessary to determine whether I thought it was a good idea than anything else, and things went downhill relatively quickly.
At first her requests seemed pretty reasonable – she got stuck at the bus stop at 2AM and missed the last bus home, could I come and pick her up? Of course. She wasn’t feeling well and didn’t have a car, could I swing by and grab her some cold medicine? Absolutely! But then she’d come into my room at one in the morning and demand to be taken to the grocery store, or have me pick up her friends that would come over and blast music until the early morning hours on weekdays, or even refuse to do simple chores like dishes. I could let our kitchen get disgusting, or do her dishes for her, so I often just did them.
I was seeing a therapist at the time, and she’d encouraged me to start setting boundaries that made me a priority. Part of my problem was definitely self-worth. If my friends didn’t have a specific use for me, I feared, they wouldn’t want me around anymore.
It was a daunting task, having to set limits when it came to long-time friends. I did it in baby steps. I talked to my friend about what I was doing and why, and at first she seemed completely accepting. I think that’s how most people react to being told that you’re making changes that will make your life better. They’re completely supportive, until they’re the ones that have to adjust their behavior around you.
As soon as I stopped taking her to the grocery at any time she wanted, as soon as I stopped doing her dishes for her, as soon as I figured out that I was allowed to set these boundaries for myself, I felt a rush of something I hadn’t felt in a long time: confidence. I was allowed to set my own rules for myself, I was allowed to tell people “no” without diminishing my own value.
Sadly my friend didn’t see it that way. After a massive falling out she moved out and back in with her mother, which was probably for the best in the end.
I regret the death of our friendship, but I can’t ever regret finally learning to stand up for myself. Being open and accepting doesn’t mean you have to accept absolutely everything your friends and family ask of you. Drawing boundaries is hard, but it’s a crucial part of building confidence.
Comment: Do you have trouble setting boundaries in your relationships?