For years I showed up with the attitude of being nice, only to be met with selfishness, belittling, manipulation and abuse. While it was no doubt confusing, the worst part was that it killed my confidence, my ability to use my voice, to know who I was and what I wanted.
The idea of needing boundaries cropped up but boundaries around what? I didn't have something I felt compelled to protect. I just wanted people to treat me well. To show up without so much conflict, like I did.
Through the years of not relenting, not becoming purposefully mean, manipulative, calculating, defensive, I started to figure it out. I started to understand that my niceness wasn't what it seemed. It wasn't truly nice. It was a protection mechanism.
For me, I feared mean people. People who lost their temper. People who lashed out. People who were rude, cruel, selfish, without kindness. And I anticipated this behavior mainly from men. As a way to protect myself I would be especially nice first. It was one part, "let me show you how you should interact with me" and one part "don't want to poke the bear."
It was my own form of manipulation. I wanted to control my environment, how people interacted with me so I went on the offensive, subconsciously.
When that didn't work, my defensive strategy was to placate, please, pretend, and bubble wrap the other person to protect myself. Extra giving, extra caving, extra nice. The trouble was, the cost of hopefully securing my comfort, was myself.
As the end of a romantic relationship with a consistently selfish person who was an expert at justifying why his needs came first and mutuality was invalid, I decided to try an experiment. This person had a habit of blowing up whenever if there was even a hint that there was a problem or he did something "wrong." For months I avoided the blowups by anticipating them and placating him with extra niceness.
The experiment was this: no bubble wrap. I thought to myself, let's grab a bowl of popcorn, put my feet up, and with clear and simple language, say exactly what I thought. I wondered, how big would the explosion be? Bigger than I feared? Less? I was in a mindset of detached curiosity. As if I was going watch an amazing fireworks display.
It went as I expected. He exhibited the worst of himself. He used every intimate, private, vulnerable thing I shared in confidence against me. He did not hold back. Funny enough, it's a moment I cherish because I let go of trying to control others. I decided to meet him where he was at - no matter how ugly it is. I decided to not hide my eyes from the uncomfortable, but to see it clearly. Not as I fear it might be, but as it is.
The fear of ugliness - the avoidance of the uncomfortable - these things robbed me of who I was. Being nice was a cover-up. A pretty way to protect myself. Now, I don't to "be nice." I can just be. Niceness is a part of who I am. I don't have to work at it. And when boundaries come into question, it's much easier to say what I value, because I value myself. How I'm treated. What I'll tolerate. Because I've faced ugliness, I don't have to run from it like I did and alas what is mine is more evident.
Many of the women I coach face similar issues. In a desire to be good, we some how end up being small. The reality is the world has ugliness in it and that's ok. We did nothing wrong if we happen to meet ugliness in our journey through life, and even if we happen to meet it a lot. By understanding ugliness has nothing to do with you, and that you indeed have the courage to witness it as it is, you can let go of the need to protect yourself with naive, or sheltered ideas about the world. Insisting on the fairytale goes away.
It's the child in us that craves the happy bubble, but the adult in us can step up, face hard things and find a way through them if we let her. And when she does, she owns herself.