Boundaries are one of the most important ways you care for your relationships and for yourself. It’s a way of being honest about what works for you and what doesn’t. This has nothing to do with being selfish.
When you are not clear with others about your limits, the result is usually leading you down a road of resentment and/or anger. That road leads to a breakdown in the relationship (think: blow up) or you distancing yourself. So, you either end up feeling like a monster or feeling isolated, not because of anyone else’s fault.
I say all this with as much compassion and humility as possible. Boundary work is an on-going practice (I’m practicing too!). So, no matter how much you know, there will be times where you get it wrong and that’s ok. You can repair it and try again. The point is to practice so that you are empowered and know what is inside your locus of control rather than feeling like “people just don’t get it” or feeling unloved or unseen.
Communicating and holding boundaries allows for you to keep your relationships healthy and your sanity in check.
People feel more comfortable knowing what your boundaries are (even if they don’t like it at first) and trust that you will be straight with them if there is something that bothers you (rather than leaving the relationship or talking with others behind their back).
We think people should “know” the boundaries. But, in reality, people have all different kinds of limits. Some boundaries relate to natural temperament, some correspond to culture or ethnicity, some stem from family dynamics, some are a response to painful experiences, some relate to specific roles a person holds (like being a parent or holding a professional role within an organization like a manager or being a specific type of professional like a teacher or police officer) and the list goes on. So, we can’t assume that “everyone should know” what ALL appropriate boundaries are, even if we feel like some should just be common sense. There are a lot of factors at play!
Here are 3 tips for how to communicate and hold your boundaries:
ONE: Say what your boundary is clearly.
Make sure you say it in plain english. Be kind, but direct.
For example: “I’m not really comfortable with x, so let’s do y instead”. Or letting someone know how things are done according to the rules or guidelines in your home or professional space. Or, if it is something more serious: “I do want to talk about this. And I will stop the conversation (or hang up the phone) if x happens”.
Adding some kind of “yes” in there helps create a way forward with the interaction. Only including a form of “no” may stop things all together because the other person might not know what to do or how to respond. People can experience a boundary assertion as you pushing them away. So, by including a “yes” like “I do want to talk about this”, you offer reassurance.
TWO: When it is tested, hold the boundary with objectivity.
Boundaries are not always honored right away. People test them. If they are pushing boundaries, it usually is not conscious or malicious in any way.
Stating the limit is the first step, holding it is what makes it real.
I have a boundary in my practice that people need to cancel 24 hours prior to an appointment, otherwise, I charge for the session. I do that to be able to plan my time to get work outside of sessions done (caring for myself and my business) and I want to protect time for people to be able to come in for a session if they are trying to squeeze in because something difficult has come up (caring for my clients as a whole). I also do that to protect my relationships with my clients (caring for the relationships with my clients). I don’t want there to be a reason to feel angry or resentful toward a client. That’s just not fair. When there is a late cancellation or missed session, I let my client know about the charge. I do not criticize, I do not get angry, I just hold it with objectivity and compassion. I allow the boundary to do the work.
When you express anger about a boundary being crossed, the conversation becomes about your anger, not the boundary. That doesn’t change behaviors or preserve the relationship, it just poisons the relationship. Does that make sense?
THREE: Remember that you are responsible for upholding your boundaries.
You are the person that cares the most about your boundaries. Regardless of the reason for the boundary crossing, whether the other person is “right” or “wrong” in their actions, the person responsible for upholding it is you. Because it is your limit. Getting into the right and wrong of it doesn’t help anyone.
You don’t have boundaries for fun. You have them for a reason. Because you care about your relationships and yourself. So, while you might feel anger (that is your notification that a boundary has been crossed), the way to manage that anger is to channel it into holding a boundary when you are ready to communicate directly and objectively (see tip #2).
The good news is that once people in your life are clear about your boundaries (you communicate and uphold them consistently), there is less hard work you have to do around this.
If you are feeling like you need some support in learning what your boundaries are or how to communicate about them, let us offer you some support. Contact us.
**Disclaimer: All of this is assuming that the parties involved are not dealing with significant emotional or mental health challenges that create a threat or sense of danger on any level in the relationship**