“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me.
A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins,
leading me to a sense of ownership.
Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.”
– Henry Cloud, American author
Do you set boundaries for your family, personal and business relationships? Or, are you stuck in guilt when you even consider this question?
In IMAGINE THAT! Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance (Chapter 8), I explore “Rules for Relationships.” However, my interest in boundaries has been reignited with Harry and Meghan changing the rules in the Royal Family.
Their courage is admirable. Despite guilt, others’ expectations and pressure, they had to confront and break century old rules of rigid family structure in order to lay the foundation for the life they truly want, the life THEY consider best for them and their child.
Harry and Meghan are not the only ones with complicated family dynamics.
‘Established boundaries’ are the backbone of healthy relationships and these boundaries are unique to each one of us. Our mental health depends on it! So, make a commitment to get over the “disease to please.”
LIFE FACT: You teach others how to treat you by your words, actions, non-action, silence and tolerance!
Where do we begin? With you!
BOUNDRY RULE #1: Put yourself first. Make self-care a priority.
Setting personal boundaries begins by taking responsibility, respecting yourself and making self-care a priority. Making self-care a priority means recognizing the importance of your feelings and honoring them.
Your challenge is to accept and conquer feelings of selfishness and guilt, as well as the judgement of others. To overcome guilt, face it head-on and use it as a signpost that you are on the right track.
Good news and bad news:
Good News: Most people will respect your boundaries when you explain what they are, why they are important and that you will do the same for them.
Bad News: Then, there are those who do not understand where you end, and they begin. Humans are basically selfish and therefore focus on their self-interests. They feel entitled to get what they want because they feel their needs are more important than yours.
LIFE FACT: Very few people embrace any change that forces them out of their comfort zone. That especially includes changing the rules in a relationship.
In order to establish personal boundaries, you will often have to overcome others’ expectations and deal with their resistance. Resistance to your changing the accepted rules will often throw them into discomfort, uncertainty, even anger.
BOUNDARY RULE #2: Learn to “RE-DIRECT” Resistance.
Most individuals have the mindset of “Overcoming resistance” when it comes to establishing boundaries. They believe that using logical arguments or anger will convince another person. This is flawed thinking. There is no way you can talk others out of their resistance, because resistance is an emotional process. Driving the resistance are feelings. You cannot talk people out of how they are feeling (anger, hurt, rejection, loss, discomfort.)
I prefer to look at dealing with resistance as redirecting resistance through the art of “Verbal Aikido.”
Aikido is a twentieth century evolution of the martial arts, developed by a Japanese master of sword and open-hand combat, Morihei Ueshiba.
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of Aikido, the one that distinguishes it from other fighting arts, is Utilization of Energy. In Aikido, we don’t resist attacks; we embrace them. The person being attacked (Nage, pronounced nah-gay) does not defend in the usual sense by blocking and striking back against the person offering the attack.
Embracing another’s resistance requires an open heart, compassion and love. Your job is to encourage the full expression of another’s resistance and, by doing so, form a bond that allows you to re-direct energy. Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem.
Tell people your priorities have changed and that you are taking care of your needs. If you feel a resistance to focusing on yourself, remember, when you put yourself first, you are then fully available to others without resentment or anger.
a. Ask the person resisting about his or her concerns.
b. Name the resistance.
c. Be quiet and let the other person fill the silence.
d. Don’t take it personally.
The foundations for establishing personal boundaries can only begin when you know your boundaries have been crossed. How does this process begin? How do you know when your boundaries have been invaded?
Know Thyself: Learn what is important to you, what you really value.
BOUNDARY RULE #3: Pay Attention: Instincts are built into your body, brain and nervous system. When you pay attention to your feelings, instincts and body, you will recognize the warning signs that your boundaries have been crossed. You might feel a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach or a discomfort in your chest. Underneath, you will discover resentment which usually comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated. That is often the beginning of anger.
The psychological challenge is that most of us are conditioned to believe that it is not safe, or it is wrong to feel anger. So, we suppress it. Once you accept this helpful physiological warning cue, you will realize it is there to help you defend your boundaries. You DO NOT have to act on anger. You can choose NOT to let another person manipulate you into attacking back. Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem. Use anger to motivate you to action! Your job is to pay attention.
Setting and maintaining boundaries (Intellectual, Physical, Social, Emotional, Spiritual) is a developed skill that, unfortunately, most people don’t have. You will be unable to set good boundaries if you don’t know where you stand in a relationship. Consider what you can tolerate. Ask yourself: “What is it about this this interaction that is making me feel uncomfortable and stressed?”
LIFE FACT: Everyone has a different set of expectations. We are not mind readers.
To paraphrase the father of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Pearls: “Expectations are the source of all anxiety.”
There can be tremendous psychological barriers to openly communicating. As in so many other areas of life, the greatest barrier is fear, fear of being punished, rejected, yelled at, demoted, or fired.
BOUNDARY RULE #4: Be willing to be communicate assertively. Assertive does not mean aggressive! Do not expect others to know what hurts you. I said it before, “People, regardless of what you expect or want, are NOT mind readers. Be loving. Be firm. Choose not to blame.
“We can say what we need to say.
We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind.
We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming or
cruel when we speak our truths.”
― Melody Beattie, American Author
Even though it can be very uncomfortable, families should meet in person and openly communicate when possible.
When you set boundaries, there is no need to debate, defend or over-explain your feelings. Be loving, firm, gracious and direct.
BOUNDARY RULE #5: Back up your choice with action and set consequences. Be strong. Be courageous! If you act cowardly, people will ignore your needs.
Setting boundaries without consequence is totally unproductive. Those who trample over your boundaries will eventually sneak back, taking advantage. These individuals are controllers, manipulators, agreement breakers and those who simply ignore.
Reinforcement of new behavior is mandatory. Without the reinforcement of communication and setting consequences, others will often revert to their own comfort zone.
What is the appropriate consequence for the infraction? Letting someone know in a firm way how you feel. Leaving the room, house or asking the other person to leave. Hanging up on the person. Leaving the relationship.
You might even consider a reward for positive behavior. Perhaps an positive acknowledgement or a straightforward “Thank you.”
BOUNDRY RULE #6: Seek support. This is a must. You don’t have to do it alone. If setting boundaries is a challenge, seek support from good friends, coaching, counseling or church.
I suggest you have your support in place before having your conversation. Knowing you have support will give you courage.
A FINAL THOUGHT:
If people are unwilling to respect your boundaries, they are not true friends or people you want to spend time with. Setting personal boundaries can be very important in how you lead your life and the quality of the relationships you have. Don’t expect to make drastic changes overnight but do focus on making and practicing small changes. Practice and more practice.
Your self-esteem and self-respect will thank you for it.
Book James Mapes for your next speaking engagement. firstname.lastname@example.org