Saying How You Feel & Boundary Backlash

14 years ago, I began to heal my childhood wounds and reconnect to my true feelings. Through healing, I was no longer numb, my defenses and protections dropped, and I was able to feel things in my body. I was in touch with my true feelings when interacting with my family and friends. I began saying how I felt and asking for what I needed, and doing what I wanted to do for my career.

Elicia Miller

When my family continued to not support me with starting my business, I had to limit speaking with them. Though I asked them not to, they kept doing the same things - disagreeing with me, telling me I didn’t know what I was doing, and telling me to get a job. What I noticed in some of my friends is that they actually benefited from me not having boundaries, so when I started setting the boundaries I needed, they called me selfish (projection) and stopped speaking to me.

I noticed that most of my social support was actually not supporting me at all. It kind of makes sense. I grew up with, and then surrounded myself with people from whom I did not expect to receive support, and when I changed and wanted support, they pushed back.

When you start asking for what you need and set boundaries, it feels intense and will almost always get messy. As with all significant growth, some relationships will fall away. This is the natural process of developing healthy boundaries and truly healing from your past wounds and patterns.

Speaking up for yourself and your feelings can be hard to do, especially if you have learned to care more about how other people feel.

This codependent pattern (being overly concerned with others and sacrificing yourself) started when your parents didn’t let you know that your feelings and needs, your experiences, were important. They may have also cared more about how they felt instead of caring about how you felt. This is actually a role reversal and is something most of us have to heal from.

Even today, some parents believe that “children should be seen and not heard”. Though this expression is not used like it once was, this pattern is passed on in other verbal and nonverbal ways we interact with our children. By dismissing them, their feelings, and their words, parents pass on that not only what children have to say is unimportant, but that children are not important. And so, our needs and feelings are not important. Many religions and moral systems also teach us that it is noble to self-sacrifice. These family and cultural patterns get passed down one generation after another.

These patterns of not valuing ourselves are even “protected” by various other norms. For example, a big taboo is being, or even appearing, disloyal or ungrateful to one’s parents. So, saying how you really feel and setting good boundaries can be seen as betraying one’s parents, particularly when doing so directly to them.

All of this emotional shutdown creates inner turmoil, chronic symptoms, addictions, low self-esteem and low self-worth, unhealthy relationships, and codependency. As a result of your emotional shutdown, you become shut off from your true needs, wants, voice, inner wisdom, gifts, guidance system, and personal power. You become cut off from, and even unaware of, some of the best parts of you!

Elicia Miller

The people who struggle with speaking up remain quiet and hold it in out of fear of hurting the other person, fear abandonment, of losing love and “support”. But, ignoring your feelings causes psychological, relationship and body symptoms, cravings, triggers, and other struggles in life.

Once you reconnect with your inner child and your childhood feelings, take care of them and express them, it becomes a lot easier to speak up for yourself in the present.

You also learn to set healthy boundaries by reclaiming your voice, reconnecting to your feelings, and responding to others based on how you feel instead. You stand up for what is right for you, in a calm, clear, and powerful way, and don’t allow people to continue to hurt you.

You don’t just have healthy boundaries and you are “done”. You will continue to find and set boundaries for the rest of your life, as each situation and how you are feeling changes. It becomes more of a choice and less of an automatic compromise of yourself. As you continue to heal and grow, you get clearer and clearer, so your responses become more authentic in the moment.

No matter what, boundaries aren’t always clear. Healthy boundaries are neither permeable and weak or hard and rigid, they are fluid and flexible.

Here are some examples:

Unhealthy Situation

You may be trying to help someone for awhile and notice nothing is changing and you start to feel drained or resentful. That’s when you know you are crossing your own boundaries. It’s not about not giving to people, it’s recognizing when that giving is at the expense of your wellbeing. 

How to set a Healthy Boundary

Stop giving to this individual. You will know you need to stop when they don’t appreciate it, don’t receive it or apply it, or when it feels bad to you. Tell them that you have given all you can and why you can’t give any more. For example, because they always expect you to be there for them and they aren’t there for you, or they don’t listen to you, or don’t appreciate all that you do, or are always in need, etc.

Unhealthy Situation

Your family expects you to always be there for them, to answer their calls, to come over to help them, even when it’s an inconvenience or difficult for you. 

How to set a Healthy Boundary

Let them know that you can’t, or won’t, meet their request. If they persist, you would insist that they need to consider your needs and wants.

Unhealthy Situation

A family member or friend calls you to complain about the same thing that they’ve been complaining about for a long time. It feels like they are repeatedly dumping their problems on you and not taking care of themselves. 

How to set a Healthy Boundary

Ask them to stop calling you to complain about the same issue. You can let them know you are still there for them to talk about other things, but that you can no longer carry the emotional weight of hearing about this same issue. 

Unhealthy Situation

Your parent continues to disapprove of what you are doing, puts you down, or is repeatedly negative when you share an experience that was difficult for you. 

How to set a Healthy Boundary

Ask them to support you even if they don’t agree, and ask them to have empathy for what you went through instead of shaming you. You point out how it hurts you and that you are becoming more reluctant to share your life with them because of it. If it continues, then you reduce your sharing.

Unhealthy Situation

Your partner* asks you to not talk about your personal or relationship issues with any of your friends. But the support you get from your friends helps you.

How to set a Healthy Boundary

Tell your partner what they are asking is cutting you off from the support you need and that you will continue to reach out to your close friends whenever you need support.

*How you respond could depend on who you are going to for support. If you are friends with your ex and you go to your ex-lover or ex-spouse with your relationship problems, that would likely be a boundary violation for your partner. This highlights how when you are in a close relationship, there can be interactions between your respective boundaries. Discussing these can be a great opportunity for you and your partner to practice good boundaries, and loving responses, with one another. 

Unhealthy Situation

A client keeps texting at all hours in need. 

How to set a Healthy Boundary

Let them know that you are not available by text, and to book a session using your scheduling system. If they have any questions about your schedule, they can send you an email. They continue to demand last minute sessions and sessions outside of your work hours, ignoring your request and system. You tell them if they continue to do that you can’t work with them anymore.

After speaking up for what you need and how you feel, you may receive what is called “Boundary Backlash”.

It’s important to embrace and expect the backlash as a part of your healing and growth. It actually means you are doing it right and are changing the dynamics in the family/friendship/client system. 

First, you may feel anxious when you talk to them or send them an email/text. Asking for what you need may trigger feeling guilty and anxious, especially with those who aren’t willing or able to self-reflect and take ownership of how they are neglecting or taking advantage of you. 

Boundary Backlash

The weaker or more protective they are (needing to be right or are attached to an image of themselves that goes against what you are sharing), the worse you may feel because you are able to sense that they aren’t able to receive what you are sharing with them. You may worry that you will hurt them by holding this mirror to them. This anxiousness comes up because you may have been punished, risked disapproval, or experienced emotional abandonment as a child when you expressed yourself. 

Another common response is to fear their reaction. When people have done enough emotional healing and are taking care of themselves, you can say anything to them because they are able to look at themselves and how they affect others, and you probably won’t feel anxious when saying how you feel with them. You still need to say how you feel, some won’t be able to hear it and some will. Remember why you feel anxious, you are picking up their capacity (or lack thereof) to handle it and are afraid of how they will react - but remember, you didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s important to take care of your feelings during this time, comfort your inner child who feels scared, and let them know they didn’t do anything wrong and that you are taking care of them - your inner child is having vulnerable feelings and your adult self is taking care of them by setting the boundaries in a clear and confident manner, despite any fear or concerns.

Elicia Hugging Stuffed Animal

The message here, and to your inner child is “You matter, and your feelings matter. You are valuable, and you don’t need to do anything for anyone to prove your value, worth, or to be loved.” Saying these or similar words can help. Another message to your inner child from your clear and strong adult is, “I am going to take care of you and make sure you get what you need and want.”

Use any tools you want to calm your anxiety such as going for a walk in nature, journaling, meditation, yoga, calming breathing, chanting, essential oils, talking to a friend, exercise, etc.

All of those messages to the inner child are important, as is your clarity about what you want because backlash will likely come from the person you are communicating with. They may not hear you, they may get upset, blame you, and not want to speak to you. Though this may trigger you, don’t give into the temptation to argue with them. Be clear, direct, and firm with your boundary. Their reaction and even possible loss in your life will hurt at first, and then you will feel better since you stop hurting yourself in that dynamic.

Some people think this reinforces your fear of abandonment since speaking up for yourself may result in them leaving you or you ending the relationship. In reality, you stopped abandoning yourself and started protected yourself from people who don’t value you and who hurt you. Staying with and not avoiding these feelings is also part of the healing work. By feeling and moving through them, you build up “immunity” to such feelings in future interactions.

As a bonus, the people who you set boundaries with can learn something very valuable because you are no longer enabling them. They have a new
experience of not engaging in their habitually problematic patterns. Instead of taking their negative behavior, your boundary setting puts it back on them, which gives them an opportunity to heal and grow. Once they do, then both of your needs can be met in the relationship.

The gift of speaking up for yourself is that you are taking care of yourself and healing your wounded inner child since you are now listening to how you feel, valuing your feelings, and responding from your feelings. This will restore your self-esteem and self-worth, your voice, and enhance your connection to your guidance system. By following your inner guidance, relationships and life will continue to feel easier, more supportive, and fulfilling for you.

Taking care of your feelings, speaking your truth, and asking for what you need is a gift that keeps giving.

Written by Elicia Miller with contributions by Doug Miller PhD

Learn the process to reconnect to your childhood feelings, how to take care of your emotional needs, and set healthy boundaries in the Core Emotional Healing Self Study.

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