Role coercion in interpersonal relationships for those who are being “too nice”

One of my clients told me that he usually ended up in friend groups of three and was being isolated by the other two persons.  This client is a very “nice guy” who always says “yes” and is very considerate to his friends.  As time goes by, this client became very successful in his career.  Even though he was very busy in his schedule, he seldom said “no” to his friend groups for gatherings.  However, he observed his friends started to team up to tease him and isolated him.  In one occasion, one of his friends in group of three tease him for not initiating gatherings with them.  In the tone of this friend, it seemed that he tried to blame him for not initiating gatherings but did not show understanding of my client’s situation.  In another episode, another friend teased my client and said he would invited another more successful guy to their gathering in the future.  In fact, in the past ten years, they gathered in group of three persistently.  Gradually, in one group of three, the other two persons only replied text messages of each other immediately in the group chat.  They ignored my client’s messages for many days when my client replied a text. 

With thorough exploration with this client, my client is usually the youngest in the groups of three and being oppressed in these groups all along.  When my client genuinely was busy in his schedule and started to back off from these groups, the other two friends started to use coercive tactics to try to control him back to his submissive role in the groups.  Role coercion is common in family and social settings.  In short, role coercion is any attempt of someone who try to dominate or control the other party, so that this party is continue to be submissive to the role assigned.  In family, for instance, a traditional father would use coercive tactics, such as criticizing a flat bought by his son for him and insisting to make all the decisions for the family, in order to control his son to be submissive to his subordinate role.

How do the client above set healthy boundaries with others to protect himself from the threat of role coercion?  This client needs to increases his self-awareness on his inner experience.  By focusing on his inner experience, he might observe that “I don’t really feel excited for going to these group-of-three gatherings”; “I feel drained after seeing the other two friends who tease and isolate me”.  When my client was able to observe his inner experience, he could choose to spend less and less time with several of these groups.  It is important to acknowledge one’s inner feelings towards certain friends and set boundaries with them.

When my client above started to set boundaries with his friend groups, it is important to clearly define his new boundary.  For instance, if two of his friends in the group of three ignored his text messages again in group chat, he would ignore their invitation for a gathering.  Another instance is to decide what personal thoughts, opinions or beliefs he would like to share with each friend group.  Boundaries could be different in different friend groups.  It is also important to acknowledge that one has the right to exercise choice around where and how one’s time is spent.  If it is too uncomfortable to gather with some friend groups, one might choose not to go. 

It is common for those who use role coercion tactics to increase their forces when an individual start not allowing them to dominate and control them.  It is important to protect ourselves from staying away from their outbursts and setting clear boundaries with them.  If one wants to maintain a harmonious relationship, it is important to communicate one’s new boundaries with good timing.  It is more beneficial if an individual tries to communicate one’s boundaries when all parties are calm and stable.  With confidence and assertiveness, one can set boundaries with others in a respectful and peaceful manner.

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