Boundaries – the word has become such a buzz word in therapy and in relationships in general. I think it’s cool that it’s being talked about and becoming an important part of discussions.
I used to be terrible at setting boundaries. I lacked the confidence to be okay with setting a boundary and having the other person not like it, not like me, reject me altogether, and I didn’t know what to do if someone didn’t respect a boundary I set.
Boundaries felt like a lot of work. Often I’d just avoid them entirely. I’d suck it up and try to not let things bother me. It sucked. It made people think it was okay to walk all over me and treat me poorly. And so they did.
I got tired of it. It was a pattern that didn’t afford me the luxury of blaming anyone but myself for behaviour from others that I didn’t like. If I didn’t like how I was being treated I was the only one responsible.
We all want people to like us, affirm us, and treat us well. We should never depend on others for this feedback in life, but we all know how nice it is to be appreciated, respected, and have that communicated to us. That’s human.
What’s also human is that some people will treat you poorly. How other people are has nothing to do with who you are, but what you allow has everything to do with how you feel about yourself.
People that have self respect and self love don’t allow others to treat them like a doormat or punching bag.
When you work on building up your self worth you start to find it easier to set boundaries with others. You set the standard for the people you allow into your lives and what you find acceptable. And everyone is different, so this is a constant negotiation in the relationships in your life.
People will hurt you. Not always on purpose. People will make mistakes and say and do dumb things. Not always on purpose. You still have to set boundaries around this and trust that the healthiest people can receive and respect that and adjust their behaviour to be more appropriate.
You have to be prepared that not everyone – even people you really like, or love – won’t be able to handle it. You have to be okay with the potential for defensiveness, hostility, volatility and outright rejection. It will happen. Find ways to tolerate the possibility of and the actuality of those unhealthy responses.
Your job is to set boundaries around how you want to be treated – your job is not to be able to control the outcome.
Release the expectation of being able to control and be attached to outcomes – it’s unrealistic and a setup.
Like any new skill, boundaries take practice. If you’ve never been good at setting them, expect that people will be surprised by your new boundaries and you will need to reinforce them. The right people will respect them and stay. The toxic ones will freak out and leave, or need to be pushed out.
My mistakes with setting boundaries were often too little, too late … (or never). Or setting boundaries in haste as an over emotional reaction. Being too flexible or too inflexible on the boundaries and people involved.
Try and avoid these three mistakes when setting boundaries in your life…
- Setting a boundary in haste, in the heat of the moment, when you’re overemotional. Your boundaries should be set in advance from a grounded place. They should make sense to you and feel solid.
Tossing out boundaries from an emotionally exaggerated place of hurt or frustration can become a boundary you regret and can push people that you want in your life, out. You want to be intentional and proactive with your boundaries, communicating them clearly. They need to be important to you and thoughtful.
- Setting an inflexible, permanent boundary based on an event rather than based on the individual. Set a boundary when someone has hurt you, made a mistake, been inappropriate – you’re still entitled and should do so. But setting a stubborn boundary that is permanent based on an event and not the larger character of the individual is also a set up for regret.
Does this person constantly disrespect your boundaries or did this happen just one time? Is the person genuinely apologetic and actively making repairs? Sure, some assaults are a one strike situation, but not all of them are. Sometimes your boundaries can be flexible, taking into account the individual and not just the event.
- Not reinforcing boundaries. People are slow learners. Especially if you’re throwing new boundaries at them that they aren’t used to. Don’t allow people to continually ignore your boundaries, but when you’re new at this you might have to reinforce them a few times. Your behaviour didn’t change overnight, theirs won’t either. Look for effort and respect, not one shot perfection for each situation.
Be intentional and solid in the boundaries you choose to set in the relationships in your life. Value yourself enough to know how you deserve to be treated and don’t settle for less.
Choose the flexibility and permanence of your boundaries based on character and intent and not a single emotional event.
Practice and reinforce with the people already in your life and each new one that you invite in. The payoff is a circle of influence of people that treat you well, with respect, and reflect the level of confidence and health you have worked on within yourself.