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The Fear of Being Seen as Weak

The Fear of Being Seen as Weak

I grew up in the South Bronx during the mid 80s and early 90s. My mindset and experiences were forged on the streets during that very turbulent era. Those experiences, for better or worse, made me into the person that I am today.

Some years ago, I saw an interview where Mike Tyson was speaking about his personality. For those of you who may not be familiar with the former heavyweight champ, he can have a short temper, and does not take kindly to any form of abuse. He also has the one-two punch to back it up! During this particular interview, Tyson stated something along the lines of, “I was afraid of looking weak. I was afraid of being humiliated in the streets. So I became strong and really tough.”

Tyson’s words during that interview resonated with me. Anyone who has met me in person would tell you that I have a very powerful personality. They would tell you that I am confident, sometimes arrogant, and borderline frightening when I speak. They have said that I am extremely intense, and totally in your face. They know me as a mixed martial artist, a weapon’s enthusiast- and though very peaceful, I present a rough exterior.

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Unless they are one of those older friends who go back to my childhood, most of them would never tell you that I am a frightened, timid, and painfully shy guy. When I have said this to newer friends, or even demonstrated it in any form, I am met with shock and confusion. Anyone who has met me later in life would only see the other guy- that hard exterior, which I present today.

A few days ago, I was taking my wife’s Pomeranian, Calbee, to get groomed. Calbee is not a very friendly dog, and does not walk well on a leash. As such I put her in the bag that was provided to me: a small, pink shoulder carry bag. As I took the walk to the groomers, with Calbee in her pink bag, a few gentlemen pulled up beside me in a vehicle and proceeded to scream homosexual slurs at me.

My immediate reaction was to go on the defensive, and I glared towards the gentlemen. I considered setting Calbee down and going over and giving them the nice butt-whooping that they deserved. However, cooler heads prevailed and I realized that I was not defined by what these idiots said. Furthermore, I considered my friends who are gay, and how they are really great people, so why would it offend me that they chose to call me homosexual slurs?

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Perhaps my reaction is because in the neighborhoods where I grew up, this term was used to remove your manhood. It was one of the most offensive things that you could say about a man who grew up in the streets. As such, my instincts for self-preservation kicked in; back in those days you had to meet this type of aggression with equal or greater aggression, otherwise they would smell the weakness and devour you alive, while relegating your status to that of being a permanent victim. This happened to me many times, just as Mike Tyson experienced it too, and because of these experiences, I am the person that I am today.

I considered my options: there I was, 38 years old, carrying a four-pound dog in a pink handbag, and I was worried about some young punks offending my masculinity? Just like Mike Tyson, the streets made me this way. Being humiliated in the streets is one of the greatest fears that a man who comes from that environment could ever have! Respect was one of the few things we had when growing up poor and in the streets! You had to fight for it, otherwise you would be condemned to a life of abuse.

Yet, I’m not in that life anymore, am I?

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I shook my head at the young punks, and I continued walking towards the groomers. I knew that there was far too much at stake to let some fools provoke me into such a negative, lose-lose situation.

This is a message that I try to pass on to the youth today who may be in a similar situation to which I was back then. I try to teach them that aggressive reactions to such situations are all about ego, and pride- and even old guys like me have to be reminded of it on occasion.

I cannot speak for individuals who grew up under better circumstances, nor the female experience. However, for us young men who grew up in what is colloquially called “The Ghetto,” being seen as weak is one of the greatest fears that we have. Walking with Calbee to the groomers showed me, that though I have come a long way in how I deal with the world, I still have plenty of room for growth in my development.

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What are your thoughts about this topic?

Featured photo credit: Vazquez/FamilyMWR US Army via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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