This is crucial.
A significant question came up today during a Live chat regarding personal boundaries that made me realize there is a serious need out there with people needing help on knowing what a boundary is and how to set one.
A workbook to help with this is in the works as we speak, but I thought I’d write a note NOW to help with this before it’s done!
Let’s get the basics out of the way. What is a boundary?
Personal boundaries are verbal guidelines, rules, or limits that you create to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for others to behave towards you and how you will respond when someone passes those limits.
It is a verbal communication between you and another person where you share with them what is and isn’t okay treatment from them. You’re laying out your clear expectations of how you’d like to be treated by them AND what will happen if they don’t respect your boundary (they should have NO question how you’d prefer to be treated after you state your boundary!).
This isn’t about controlling or manipulating the other person, they’re still free to do what they want with that information from you. But you’re keeping your side of the street clean and sharing your feelings and preferences with them.
Someone who genuinely loves you should have ZERO problem with you setting a boundary with them because it means you’re honoring yourself and that you have good self care. If they aren’t okay with that, then that is clearly their problem, not yours (all the more reason to set a boundary, right?!).
And if they choose to get angry or disrespect you or your boundary when you set it, then that is valuable information you now have about that person! Now you know they’re not an (emotionally) safe person and you need to take that information into consideration when interacting with them.
Okay, so onto the “how-to” part of a boundary now that we’re solid on what boundaries are and why we need to set them.
1. Start with I-statements, always. You’re owning your feelings and taking responsibility for your preferences and are communicating them withoutshaming or blaming, this is about you and your feelings.
— Think of someone in your life that you aren’t too fond of how they treat you, or if there was a specific situation in which someone hurt you.
— Write down how that person made you feel. Use emotion words such as: embarrassed, sad, hurt, attacked, disregarded, afraid, etc.” Something like “you made me mad” isn’t an I-statement. Anger is typically a cover-up for hurt, so use “hurt” or “sad” instead.
— Write out a complete I-statement sentence with your emotion word and what they did specifically that caused that emotion, and request that they stop.
— For example, “I felt pretty hurt when you spoke about my recent decision to quit my job in that condescending tone at dinner last night. Please don’t talk about my personal decisions like that anymore.”
2. Come up with something that will happen if they cross that boundary. Realize that the consequence should match the “offense.” Don’t say “I’ll stop speaking to you if you eat the last banana again” type of thing, it has to match the severity of the feelings it caused you (I mean don’t get me wrong, I know we love our bananas, buuuut….).
— Think about what kind of consequence you’d like to enforce if your boundary is crossed. Keep in mind, you MUST follow through on whatever it is you say you’ll do, so if you still want to spend time with them, do not say “I won’t hang out with you anymore.” You have to do what you say you’ll do, so make it something you’re willing to do.
— Add this consequence to your I-statement from above.
— For example, “I felt pretty hurt when you spoke about my recent decision to quit my job in that condescending tone at dinner last night. Please don’t talk about my personal decisions like that anymore. I need to tell you that if you continue to talk about my decisions in that condescending tone to me, I’ll have to realize that you don’t respect me as much as I thought and I won’t be able to talk with you in detail about my career choices anymore.”
NOTE: This may feel like you’re guilt tripping them, but I encourage you to re-frame your perspective and see it as you’re standing up for you, what you care about (your family), and you’re practicing good self care, which is something you should never feel guilty about! Boundaries are NOT about manipulating or controlling. They’re about you protecting you from unsafe situations and people (emotionally or otherwise).
3. Now sandwich it! This step is optional, but does work well for most situations. This is where you add something you enjoy about your relationship with that person at the beginning and end of your boundary. It’s super important that this is as sincere as you can be. You don’t want your compliments to be disregarded by the other person and come across like “I-love-you,-but…” does. The chances of them disregarding your compliments also goes up if you say your boundary in a disrespectful or rude tone. It’s important to be genuine, kind, and respectful. Empathetic even, no one really likes being told they’re hurting people.
— Think of two compliments you can give that person about him or her, or about the relationship you have together.
— Say one at the beginning of the boundary and one at the end. Note that how you start a conversation is usually how it ends, so be as kind, empathetic, and respectful as you can! A wave of calm should come over you before you even begin a conversation like this because when emotions are involved, things can get pretty heated.
— For example: “Hey Jane, I had such a great time at dinner last night. Thank you for the invite, you always make me feel so welcome! There is actually something else I’d like to share too. I felt pretty hurt when you spoke about my recent decision to quit my job in that condescending tone at dinner last night. Please don’t talk about my personal decisions like that anymore. I need to tell you that if you continue to talk about my decisions in that condescending tone to me, I’ll have to realize that you don’t respect me as much as I thought and I won’t be able to talk with you in detail about my career choices anymore. I know you probably didn’t realize how your tone comes across sometimes, but it’s important for me to let you know that because I really value your friendship and wouldn’t want to let something like this come between us.”
And there it is, a clean, respectful, clear, kind, empathetic, boundary.
Now practice it! Say it out loud a few times and think of how that person may react to the words you’re saying. Is your message clear? Is your message free from shaming and blaming? Are you taking responsibility for you and your feelings? Are there a few words you can tweak to make it more clear or less “hard” for them to hear?
But again, even if you foresee them not reacting well, realize that their reaction and behavior is on them, you cannot and should not take responsibility for their anger specifically!! Know that you’re still doing the right thing by saying something…
Rinse and repeat this process as needed!
Your written-out boundary may seem like a long paragraph, but will probably only take a minute or so to actually say, and your friend or family member will probably be very relieved you said something and will have a whole new level of respect for you.
They most likely will have NO idea that they were hurting you and are glad you told them, because if they genuinely care about your relationship, they will want to stay in your life and will do what it takes to keep it that way!
If they did know they were hurting you and get angry that you’re setting a boundary, well then, that’s all the information you need to know. That they don’t have your best interest at heart and are just looking to control you. Not someone I’d like to have in my life, personally!
Same goes for if you set a boundary with someone and they deliberately cross it. You have all the information you need to know. You need to do what you said you’d do (so that they’ll trust your word and believe you the next time you set a boundary!) and decide where you want to go from there. Do you still want to spend time with this person?
This process is about being intentional about your relationships. Everyone is in our lives because we choose them to be. Whether that choice is conscious or not. Let’s shift these to conscious decisions!
If someone doesn’t treat you right, you have ZERO obligation to keep that person in your life! They may whine about being entitled, but know that if you kept your side of the street clean and told them how you felt and set a boundary with them, then now the ball is in their court to treat you how you’d like to be treated.
As an aside, here’s an interesting thought… Do you resist setting boundaries because you feel “trapped,” like you still “need” something from that person? Maybe you have a child and your mother takes care of that child for free while you’re working and you’re afraid that if you set a boundary, then she will passive aggressively “refuse” to watch your child anymore… It’s a tough call, but for me personally, I’d prefer to pay for day care than deal with a person a like that! My emotional well being is waaaaay more important to me than a few extra dollars in my pocket!! I can’t put a price tag on my emotional well being. If this is you, do whatever you can to make a little more money to pay for day care.
So switching gears, is there ever a time NOT to use a boundary?
Sure there is. I think it’s all about patterns of behavior.
If you have a friend who has been an amazing, trusted, and loyal friend for over 20 years, for example, and one night she was very tired and snapped at you, give her the room! Give her the benefit of the doubt. Be flexible. She deserves that because she’s been such a good friend to you.
But, if you have that friend who for the last 5 times you’ve scheduled lunch with her is pretty late every. single. time. and you’re kind of over it, say something. You have that right, and she’d probably be happy to know how you feel and gracious that you let her know. Because you’re probably not the only one she’s doing that to!!
What do you think? What road blocks do you have to setting boundaries?
Guilt perhaps? Maybe I’ll have to write another long note on guilt next…