How to Practice Acceptance While Maintaining Boundaries

I recently had a client ask me “how do I practice acceptance (of a loved one with drastically opposing views) while maintaining my boundaries?” My first reaction to the question was “these things aren’t mutually exclusive,” but as I kept thinking about it, I realized that the confusion comes in because there are these FALSE IDEAS that to accept someone means agreement or complicity – and to be assertive means to be aggressive. So now I realize that the real question is, “how do I disagree with someone without creating conflict?”

We must first recognize that those paradigms within themselves create conflict.

A simplistic example of acceptance without complicity is being vegan in a family of hunters and ranchers. We are so different, we love anyway. As for assertiveness being an act of aggression, that limiting belief is typically significant with women. MOST men feel completely comfortable being assertive and most people feel completely comfortable accepting assertive tones and behaviors from men.

So I say, F*@k it! If a man can be assertive, so can you boo! And if someone tries to challenge you on it, hold your ground and don’t take the bait. You would be amazed at how powerful a silent stare can be in those scenarios.

Second – which is a hard truth – the point of everyone else’s existence is not to make you happy.

I know I just pulled the E-brake when we were full throttle but stick with me. 

brad keselowski win GIF by NASCAR

When thinking big picture, we love to think of ourselves as being accepting & non-judgemental, but when it comes to those in our orbit – including ourselves, we judge like hell and refuse to accept anything outside of the carefully constructed idea of who we are.

We are offended or feel betrayed when someone has a difference of opinion or annoying personality trait as if the right thing for them to do is adjust who they are to make us happy. It isn’t your job to make anyone else happy, AND it isn’t their job to make you happy. But we can respectfully communicate our boundaries and accept one another.

Let’s first start with acceptance.

  1. Get honest with yourself about your judgment. Seriously, take note of how much you judge even in an hour! When you go out in public are you judging who is or isn’t wearing a mask? Are you scrolling through social media judging every single political/religious post or cringy selfie and comparing it to what you would or wouldn’t do? Remember, however harshly you are judging others you are judging yourself so much worse. These little moment-to-moment judgments add up to the belief that you simply CAN’T accept other’s who believe/act differently, it would be hypocrisy…and what would that mean about you?
  2. Assume the best intentions of others. This framework has changed my life. We love to jump to the conclusion that the “offender” is a double-crossing turdball before we even consider the alternative. Even your brother who has opposing views as you has the best intentions, he most likely believes he is helping to enlighten you because he loves you. 
  3. Learn to hold multiple truths. It can be true that I deserved a normal childhood without trauma. It can also be true that my mom did the best she could and loved me deeply, her best just happened to include drugs and some irrational decisions. So I’m going to love my mama as the woman who did the best she could AND do inner-child work because that’s what I need to do for me. 
  4. Reverse the situation. A friend of mine says that when she catches herself judging someone she immediately tells herself, “I am the same as that person.” Again, our ideal, big picture self says “I’m not better than anyone else,” but our judgy-ass self says we are. When I am really frustrated with someone in my life, I write out everything that is making me crazy about them. I mean, I let it rip on paper and get it all out! When I’m done, I go back and cross out their name/pronouns and put mine. Then I read it to myself, I’m almost always shocked to see that there is so much fear of being judged for the very things that are driving me crazy about the other person.

On to boundaries! My favorite subject!

Join Me Schitts Creek GIF by CBC

The best advice I can give to someone who is uncomfortable with boundary setting is to master the “give it & pivot” technique. This means to set your boundary and then change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. Examples include:

  • You know, I’d really rather not talk about this. How’s it going with your new job?
  • It’s totally understandable that you feel that way but I feel differently so out of respect for each other let’s change the subject. How is Charlie liking the second grade?
  • I’d love to continue this conversation another time but it feels like it’s getting a little heated and I don’t want that for us. What have you guys been doing to entertain yourselves in quarantine?
  • I’m starting to feel a little bit criticized and I’m sure that’s not what you intended. Why don’t you tell me more about that project you are working on?

None of these scenarios are agreeing with the person nor are they antagonistic. You aren’t then campaigning for your opinion to reign supreme, and you aren’t leaving them hanging feeling scolded. The “give it & pivot” technique keeps the conversation going with a win-win. You are speaking up for yourself (while subconsciously telling yourself you are WORTH IT) and you are politely changing the subject without accusing the other person of being a terrible human who deserves a cow pattie for dinner.