Hapy October everyone! What a great way to begin the month…no tricks…just some tips that hopefully you will find useful in your communication processes. I kind of gave it away by the title…however, yep, you got it – we are to be discussing here the boo-tiful ways to set boundaries.
We all have boundaries. Some are visible and can actually be seen, like a fence, a gate, a room partition, an office cubicle, security alarms, etc. Others though, are not visible and not known unless we communicate them. Boundaries protect our space, our feelings, and our bodies. We all have different levels of tolerance, patience, and personal limits. Boundaries can establish very clearly, when communicated, where those lines are. How we communicate those lines though, is just as important as the boundaries themselves.
There are no exact rules or guidelines for setting boundaries for yourself, or how to honor the boundaries of another person. Ultimately, boundaries speak to what we identify as making us comfortable or uncomfortable. Sometimes, our boundaries change over time. Sometimes though, they are as set as a concrete pillar that doesn’t move…not even with the scariest ghoolish affects. Our boundaries can vary from person to person and situation to situation. There is no set way or list of rules that says you must do this or that to set a boo-tiful boundary.
Our boundaries for one aspect of our life, may not apply to other aspects of our lives. I know, I know, it’s complicated. In fact, the word “boundary” suggests separation, rejection, or isolation. However, I invite you to explore the possibility that setting boundaries can also mean that a person is establishing healthy rules, guided connections, or perhaps even instruction for navigation in any number of situations. Now, isn’t that a treat?!!
How my boundaries are shaped may differ dramatically from how your boundaries are shaped, and that is okay. Some folks may appear to have no boundaries, or significantly less than you have and that can be uncomfortable, overwhelming, and for some, even scary. Maybe though, it is the opposite for you. The more vulnerable a person is and the less boundaries they display puts you at ease, makes you feel secure, safe, and relaxed. Our boundaries are influenced by our upbringing, family dynamics, life experiences, triumphs, pitfalls, our heritage or culture, our religious or spiritual beliefs, the region or Country we come from, exposure to various social circles, and our comfort level in general.
See what I mean when I say it is all so complicated?
You can start by recognizing, honoring and understanding what your rights are in this process. When you honor your rights, you’ll stop spending so much negative energy seeking to please or pacify others who dishonor them. Inherently, your body knows when your boundaries are being tested, or crossed. Pay attention to how your body talks to you. Feel your heart rate. Are you sweating? Is there tightness in your chest, stomach, or throat? What are the micro-expressions you exude when a certain topic is brought up? Do you roll your eyes, cross your arms, or sigh audibly as loud as possible?
Basic Rights When Setting Boundaries:
- I have a right to say no without feeling guilty. You can say no without an explanation and without providing any emotional response to the person you’re saying it to. You can even throw in a thank you…as in “No, thank you”
- I have a right to be treated with respect.
- I have a right to prioritize my needs as important as others.
- I have a right to be accepting of my mistakes and failures.
- I have a right not to meet others’ unreasonable expectations of me.
Learn to use “I feel” statements when setting personal boundaries. Identifying yourself first, so it doesn’t sound like you are blaming, but rather owning your own stuff and taking responsibility for your own feelings.
I feel ____ when _____ because _____________________. What I need is (you can also use What I would like is…)__________.
“when”…and this is where you place the action they have done to make you feel that way, how they caused it, or the behavior that is the problem.
“because” tells them what the result of their action caused and how it related to how they made you feel.
“What I need is”(or “What I would like is)…this is where you put exactly what you need, what you are looking for, what you want to happen instead, or action they can take to create a resolution to the situation.
You can leave it there, or add a question at the end to show you are willing to work together, or are open to resolving the problem together as a team.
- “I feel ___ (taking responsibility for one’s own feelings)
- “when__ ” (stating the behavior that is a problem)
- “because____” (what it is about the behavior or its consequences that is being objected)
- “Can we work this out together?” (or something similar to show you are open to working on the problem together)
NOT OK: Example 1 – “You never appreciate anything I do and I hate it here”
OKAY: Example 1 – “I feel overwhelmed when every time I submit a report that you haven’t even looked at yet, you belittle me, because I put a lot of effort into the work I do for this company and for you as my Supervisor. What I would like is to hear how you appreciate all my effort, recognize the time I committed to this project, and to have you review the report in its entirety and then communicate respectfully with me about it.
(optional add) Is this doable?”
NOT OKAY: Example 2 – “I’m not stupid you know. How am I expected to remember everything when this office cannot even do things properly?”
OKAY: Example 2 – “I feel embarrassed when I forget an appointment because it makes me look like I don’t care, when I do. What I need is help with reminder calls, texts, or emails about my appointments to avoid missing them in the future.
(optional add) Do you have an option for reminders to be sent?”
“I” statements can just be as simple as changing a “you” statement (which can feel like an attack by the other person) into an “I” (makes it personal) statement:
NOT OKAY: Example 3 – “You are always leaving your mess everywhere”
OKAY: Example 3 – “I feel frustrated when I come home and the house is messy.”
Do you see how the way we change our communication can change the potential outcome and also help us set some pretty specific boundaries?
Defining and asserting your boundaries can get be a bit more challenging if a person is dealing with mental illness, depression, anxiety, or a history of trauma. If your boundaries are being crossed, or you have having trouble being able to set healthy boundaries, a counselor may be the ticket to helping you develop some of those self-advocacy skills. Keep in mind, that just because it’s your trauma, doesn’t mean other people automatically know about it, are aware of your boundaries, and often boundaries can be crossed unintentionally.
Basic Signs That Your Boundaries May Need To Be Changed:
- Feeling chronically taken advantage of in certain situations, such as emotionally, financially, or physically.
- Saying “yes” to please others at your own expense.
- You don’t get your needs met because you tend to fear conflict and give in to others.
- Often feeling disrespected by others, but not standing up for yourself.
- Your fear of being rejected or abandoned leaves you accepting less that you deserve.
- Engaging in people-pleasing behaviors in order to be liked and to receive approval.
- Engaging in disrespectful behavior that hurts others.
- Flirting with those who are in relationships and/or flirt when you are in a relationship even when it harms others.
- Doing whatever you want to get your needs met—believing that limits don’t apply to you.
If someone is repeatedly pushing or violating your boundaries, listen to your internal instincts about how it makes you feel and whether that is something that you are willing to continue allowing to happen. You also should make every effort not to be the person that is crossing other folks’ boundaries. If you are not sure if you are, ask them. Keep that open line of communication with whoever you are speaking with and you can even say, “Please let me know if I am crossing any boundaries with you or making you feel uncomfortable in any way”…or something like that.
If you have interaction with someone who continues to violate your boundaries, even after you have communicated to them what they are, it can sometimes be the wisest move is to distance yourself from those who choose not to respect your boundaries. Sometimes this may even involve the need to change jobs, change departments, changing classes, moving, or establishing or leaning on a support system to help navigate your ability to be assertive (not agressive) and advocate for yourself.
Now you have a firmer grasp on what boundaries are and why they’re so important. They create the foundation for healthy relationship with ourselves and with everyone we interact with. Boundaries are a vital part of communication and a vital part of life. Take the next step in exploring some of those Boo-tiful ways to set those boundaries and be the best version of yourself you can be.