Breaking Out of the Box (of Politeness)

Every once in a while, I say something kind of funny or something pretty deep. It’s not often, but it happens. During a conversation the other day when I turned to one of my favorite CMP’s (Communications Major People) for some advice concerning a co-worker’s wife, I said this gem:

I’m trapped in a box of politeness and am afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Wow. If the way I approached people was summed up in a single sentence, this would be it. I have a strong desire to be “liked.” It kills my vibe when someone is upset with me, and I constantly think about what I could have done to make them not mad. This goes for dealing with people in public too, like Pesky Salesperson at Mid-Range Store.

Story Time

I told Pesky Salesperson three times in varying politeness that I just wanted to try on some jeans. My size 10’s were feeling loose, and I wanted to see if I could squeeze into a size 8. It was a NSV (non-scale victory) that I was hoping to accomplish on a bleak Wednesday. She pulled me to all the different styles of jeans on the shelves and loaded me up with three styles in the size 8 I requested. I begrudgingly okayed this.

I am happy to report that I can most definitely squeeze into a size 8, and thus I skipped out of the changing room… and ran right into the salesperson… who asked for the millionth time if she could order me those jeans in a “short.” I declined and handed back all the jeans, trying to make my way out of the store. She tried to stand in front of me and said it would be so easy! It would be so fast! They’d be here in two days! I felt my face get hot, and I blurted out I didn’t have my card or cash on me.

It was true. I had left them out in the car. That didn’t stop her from offering to sign me up for the store credit card though. I declined as politely as I could because now my face and neck were more red than a St. Louis Cardinal’s jersey, and I was sweating. I practically ran out of Mid-Range Store and back to my car.

Breaking Out

First of all, I want you, dear reader, to know that it’s okay to have a box — personal boundaries. Pesky Salesperson definitely crossed my personal boundaries in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. Not everyone’s boundaries are like mine, and that’s okay too. What is not okay (for me) is to feel that in normal social interactions that I’m being trapped into being polite or just too nice.

Second, this isn’t a “how to” post. Your mileage may vary. I am very fortunate to be equipped with a wonderful therapist and a supportive husband. I’ve had the opportunity to grow and learn from the many times I’ve been trapped in my box of politeness. I’m still working on it, but I’m no longer a doormat.

Third, asserting your boundaries makes you feel like crap in any given situation when you’re not used to doing it. We know it shouldn’t feel bad because boundaries are healthy, so how can something good for you make you feel like the worst person in the world? It’s because you’ve been conditioned to let people ignore your boundaries.

What I mean is that your family, loved ones, friends, SO, or whoever has slowly conditioned you to let them cross your boundaries. Or maybe they haven’t and you just have a hard time saying no. Either way, you come out of this situation looking like a doormat with boundary issues. So how can you stop feeling so crappy about our boundaries?

  • Remember that these are your boundaries and you have a right to have them. Say it with me. These are your boundaries and you have a right to have them. Don’t let anyone make you feel like the bad guy for having a boundary. If they don’t like your boundary, they can move along.
  • Stick to your boundaries. Your nearest and dearest probably know all the right buttons to press to get their way, and they will have no problem doing it. Strangers can be even worse, trying to bully you into letting them have what they want. Stay strong and don’t give in, not even an inch.
  • The more you assert (and keep) your boundaries, the less sucky it feels. The first time I did it, I felt like I was somehow the worst person to ever walk the earth. I’m not the worst person to ever walk the earth. Neither are you. The more you practice keeping your boundaries, the better you’ll feel when you assert them later in less than ideal situations.
  • It’s not your fault. If someone crawls to you on their hands and knees begging you to let them do this thing that you don’t want, and you say no, you are not at fault for their feelings or behavior afterwards. They may try to blame you for whatever emotion they’re experiencing, and that’s okay. It’s still not your fault.
  • You can only control how you feel. You can’t control how the other person will react to you asserting a boundary. Don’t let their future reaction make you let them cross your boundary to pacify them. If you assert a boundary and they throw a tantrum or throw some shade, let it roll off your shoulder. You can remain the adult in the situation.

It’s time to break out of the box of politeness. It really doesn’t matter how you start asserting or creating boundaries. We’re all on a different journey. Whether it’s telling your coworker that no you will not be doing their work that is due tomorrow, or telling your friend that no, they can’t borrow money from you, it’s time to pull that band-aid off and assert those precious and healthy boundaries.

What are some ways that you break out of your box of politeness? Let me know in the comments!

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This post was first seen on Normal Happenings.

19 thoughts on “Breaking Out of the Box (of Politeness)

  1. Wow, it’s like you’re spying on my life. Great post. I’m improved so much but I still have a lot of work to do. I had an incident recently. Oh it made me feel so much the worst and I wanted to grovel and do lots of stupid things, but I stuck to my guns, and you know what? It turned out pretty well. Yay! The world didn’t end anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a powerful post. I hated looking like the bad guy when my boundaries were crossed, so I was silenced more often than not. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been more open in telling people straight up about what not to do around me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is the truth! I have my own politeness box I try to expand but I also have a lifetime of being taught that politeness is number one.

    There are different kinds of politeness. One is a subservient politeness that comes from fear of reprisal. I had that one beaten into me as a kid.

    Another is a politeness that stems from respecting other people and not wanting to cause them unecessary stress – EMPATHY. You’re polite because you really don’t want other people hurt and because you’d like them to be polite in return.

    OTOH, “you can’t do this because it upsets me” allows other people to constrain your freedom even if what you are doing has no direct effect on them. Being easily upset can turn into a power play. You start to self-censor. Not wanting to cause upset can evolve into subservience. And we’re back at the first kind of “politeness”.

    People can project their own personal boundaries out far enough that you don’t even need your own politeness box to feel constrained.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post rang so true to me!
    I recently had to end a 10 year friendship because I noticed how I was the only one giving in that relationship. That didn’t work for me. After finding out I wasnt even worth fifteen minutes of their time I was pushed out of my box. I am not just a tool to be used for advise when feeling blue. I am not her free psychologist. I should be a friend and those should be worth at least 15 minutes of your time.

    We sometimes get so obsessed by the greater good of always being nice and polite that we hide ourselved and our desire and it made me feel miserable, like I did not matter.. that person no one remembers or cares for but is just there being inoffencive. Yet we are worth more than that. We do matter so we should respect our own feeling at least as much as that of others.

    I had difficulty with this at first but I made it easier to me by telling myself that if I am hiding behinf politeness I am not showing the real me. My friends and nearest would love a person that is not real and only a social charade..thus they woulf not love me. The only way to be truely loved is to be myself and not hide behind that mask of correctness and false niceties. I want to be a real person so i have to step out my box.

    The fear of losing myself was greater than my need to be inoffencive so now I can make myself pretty happy. I still have issues with very dominating pressences though so storekeepers like that toroughly ruffle my feathers

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great Post!!!! Personal as well as other boundaries are something that can be very hard to apply in a way that works for us and the people around us. But without them, interacting with other people can be something that hurts us or the people we interact with.

    I think the one thing that helped me was to define my personal boundaries. Look at past experiences where I felt my personal boundaries where crossed and figure out why. We may not know on the surface what our personal boundaries are, but on some level we do and we react to them being crossed. But if we know what are personal boundaries are on the surface then we can control our reactions to them being crossed in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. That is better than a knee-jerk or no reaction to them being crossed.

    If there are people we trust in our life, then we can ask them what they would do in our situation of having the personal boundary being crossed. Like that pesky salesperson, I would have been polite the first time but beyond that I would have said “Can I see your supervisor?”. Turn the situation from one where the salesperson might get a sale from me to one where they will get into trouble if they keep bugging me. Amazing how sales people leave me alone now unless I ask for them.

    Protecting our personal boundaries is like exercising our body. At first it is really hard and like you said sucks, but as we exercise more it becomes easier even might become something we enjoy. Enjoy because we are respecting ourselves and have people in our life that respect those personal boundaries by knowing what they are.

    I think also a thing to keep in mind is that there is not one size fits all with personal boundaries. Our personal boundaries should be flexible with the people and the situation involved. With a stranger my personal boundaries might be high because I don’t know them or their intent with me. While someone I trust very much the personal boundaries might be a lot lower.

    Well as happens whenever I presented with a box to put my comments, I just start typing and never stop. But I thought I would throw out what came to mind with personal boundaries. I think this something we can learn a lot from each other and in the process help each other. Thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your experiences and thoughts on it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Omg! Shame on that salesperson. How extremely pushy! I think I would’ve reacted the same way.
    I have a hard time with being walked on as a customer. And I’m terrible at setting up boundaries with friends and family. I don’t even think I’ve set up what they are for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post! I’d like to think I have pretty clear boundaries, though sometimes I will “feel bad” about it. It’s taken years of practice to realize that I have a right to my own personal space, even if I feel kind of bitchy doing it! I had an extremely annoying saleswoman follow my husband and I around a furniture store once, and I finally turned around and said “Look, I said no… we are just looking. If I need something, I will come find you.” It’s all about being direct, firm and very blunt! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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