5 min read
06 Feb

Do you recognise yourself in the following statements?  If so, you may be in need of working on setting better boundaries.

  • You agree to things that you don’t really want to do
  • You put others’ needs before your own
  • You feel as if you’re being taken advantage of
  • You feel resentful, angry disappointed and frustrated
  • You feel responsible for other people’s feelings
  • You fear conflict or upsetting other people
  • You want to please people
  • You often suffer from poor sleep
  • You have low mood

Boundaries are the limits we set and define for ourselves in our interactions.They mark the edge of what we will accept.  Boundaries govern our behaviour and indicate to others how they can treat us.  

Imagine Kate has a brother, Tim who always makes fun of her weight.  it's always been like that, ever since they were kids.  Every time there's a family get together, out come the jokes.  So she takes it, but It actually really upsets her - she feels hurt, humiliated and pretty angry.  So why doesn't she tell him?  Well she doesn't want to rock the boat, cause a scene, start an argument.  Their Mum might get upset if Kate loses her temper.  And Tim's wife will do that eye-rolling thing that she does that makes Kate feel really small and insignificant.  And it's only fun, right?  Maybe Kate shouldn't be so sensitive.  Tim might think she has no sense of humour if she tries to  tell him how she feels.  Or other family members might make fun of her and say 'can't you take a joke?' or even worse ' then lose some weight, and then he won't have anything to tease you about!'

Now imagine that Kate has come to the realisation that she no longer wants to be treated like this.  She is ready to set a boundary.  When Tim next makes his usual comment, Kate states firmly and clearly 'I don't like it when you talk to me like that, please don't comment on my weight again'  There is a tumbleweed moment in the family living room.  Everyone looks at Kate in shock. Tim's wife gives her a look of renewed respect and nods.  Kate's mum says 'oh Kate, don't be so sensitive, it's only a joke.'  And Tim laughs and says 'Yes Kate, come on, lighten up, always the black sheep, you're ruining the family get together.'

And that's the thing with boundaries, we can only state our own truth,  what is important to us.  How others respond is not our responsibility.  They may not like it, they may laugh, not take us seriously, get angry, snub us, avoid us, undermine us, guilt-trip us.   It's our job to maintain those boundaries even when somebody might try and knock them down.  Or we may get lucky.  They may listen to our truth, and respect our boundaries. 

That friend who lives abroad and drops in unannounced for several days at a time when he feels like it?  If you choose to set your boundaries and say something like 'Jim, I need at least a week's notice if you're going to want to stay at my house.  And for the month of May and June I have a no visitors policy as my kids have their GCSE's.' It's possible that Jim might get annoyed and disappointed,  maybe going on about how much it costs to stay in a hotel, or how inconvenient it will be to find somewhere else to stay, or how he just won't be able to afford to come at all if he can't stay at yours.  Remember, his feelings are not your responsibility.   

Or consider the colleague who constantly talks over you in meetings, or finishes your sentences for you.  You might decide enough is enough and say 'Hey Amanda, I feel really  patronised when you talk over me in meetings, I'd like you to just let me say my piece uninterrupted please.'  Amanda may be genuinely sorry and embarrassed that she does this.  If you're lucky, she may say 'Wow, other people have told me I talk over them too - that's something I need to work on.  I'm sorry, I definitely want you to have a voice in meetings.'  And in fact, you may have done Amanda a huge favour - she might go away and work with a coach on her own interactions at work and come back a much better member of your team.  But remember, her feelings are not your responsibility.

I'll say it again, in fact I'll shout this time,  as I think it is one of life's biggest lessons - HOW OTHER PEOPLE RESPOND TO YOUR TRUTH IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.  Think it over, and then think it over again, get a tattoo of it if you want, graffiti it on the side of your house, shout it from the rooftops.   Let go of feeling responsible or guilty for other people’s feelings.  Listen to what they say, but don’t feel that you have to justify your boundary.  It’s not your job to fix them or take away or soothe their feelings.  Teach it to your kids too so that they grow up with a strong sense of self - the best way is to model good boundaries yourself.  

When you start enforcing boundaries, the people around you may not like it.  They are used to you behaving in a certain way, and playing a certain role.  Some people may try to ‘keep you in your place’ and manipulate you.  This is not necessarily a conscious act on their part, but a reaction to the unfamiliarity of who you are becoming.  Change is rarely without challenge.  To have clear boundaries is not selfish or unkind.  It’s not about ignoring the needs of others.  It’s about making sure that you’re balancing your own needs, rights and wants with those of others.  It’s about being treated with the equal respect that you deserve and making decisions that are best for you, recognising that what you think, feel and say is important.

If some people consistently disrespect and resist your boundaries, you may need to have a relationship detox and decide who you really want in your life.

How to set boundaries

State what you want  clearly, calmly, kindly and compassionately.  Get comfortable with being uncomfortable - it's going to get harder before it gets easier, but the upshot is that you will be able to live a more authentic and free life.

Here's the kind of thing you'll need to say - 

‘You may not continue to shout at me, I will leave this room if you do’

‘It’s not OK to keep making comments about my weight.  If you don’t stop, I won’t be able to carry on with this friendship.’

‘I can’t commit to that, I need to honour my own need for space.’

‘I need time to think about what you’ve asked me to do.  If you need an immediate answer, then it’s no.’

‘I won’t be lending you any more money.  I care about you and you need to take responsibility for your own finances.’

You are only responsible for communicating your boundary in a calm and respectful manner, but you are NOT responsible for how the other person will react to it.  In an ideal world, everyone would know and understand their own boundaries and would accept those of others.  Sadly we don’t live in that world...yet!

Use ‘I’ statements and take ownership of your decision and opinions.  Use sentences such as ‘I feel...when you...I would like…..’  ‘I feel angry when you constantly text while I’m speaking to you.  I would like you to put your phone down and listen.’

Use non-judgemental words and stick to facts - keep the emotions out.  so don't hurl accusations 'you always avoid unloading the dishwasher, it makes me so angry.' but say 'it would be really helpful if you unloaded the dishwasher in the morning.'  

Don’t apologise or justify - keep it simple.  

Consider what it says about the other person if they don't accept your boundary (but do remember that in time, they may well come to respect your boundary)

Observe people who are good at setting boundaries (real life friends or family or famous people) and learn how they maintain them

Remember you need to enforce boundaries too and follow through with consequences if people don’t respect them

Setting boundaries is like exercising a previously underused muscle.  At first it may be difficult, awkward and hurt but over time, it will become stronger and stronger, easier and easier.  At first you may feel guilty, selfish and embarrassed but remind yourself of your right and duty to take care of yourself.

Benefits of setting and maintaining boundaries

You will be empowered to live your life as you wish. You will be the captain of your own ship

You respect yourself which can lead to increased happiness, self esteem and motivation

Others know where they are with you and respect you

You only give what you want of yourself and your time, and therefore will be able to be more present with the people you really want to be with

Displaying good boundaries yourself leads others around you to become conscious of their own behaviour and therefore can lead to their own personal growth

You will have more emotional energy to really live the life you want rather than wasting energy on lingering anger and resentment

In setting your own boundaries, you will understand and honour the boundaries of others

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others. 

Brene Brown

Now try this…..

Who do you need to set boundaries with?

What 3 boundaries could you set to ensure that your needs are being met?

What's the biggest thing that stops you setting and maintaining your boundaries?

If you’re interested in exploring boundaries in your own life in more depth, get in touch.  My details are above.   Alternatively, if you’ve found this article interesting, sign up for regular newsletters or leave a comment below.  Thank You

Further reading

Boundaries - Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert

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