Why you aren’t setting boundaries

Discomfort, anyone?

Sometimes people mix up setting boundaries with trying to control other people. We do not create boundaries for other people. We create boundaries to take care of and protect ourselves. 

Boundaries are not:

  • Ways to control or manipulate other people
  • Things you think other people should be doing (e.g. “I want my partner to clean the bathroom,” “I want my friend to call me back when I call her,” I want my kid to clean her room”)

We need to recognize when to use and talk about boundaries. This means having a clear sense of what and where our boundaries are. When we don’t have clear boundaries, people don’t know if they’re violating them or not. 

A visual example is that of a home. If an uninvited person is in the yard of a home that doesn’t belong to them, they are crossing a boundary. If an uninvited person walks through a door or climbs through a window of a home that doesn’t belong to them, they are crossing a boundary. 

When there is a clear boundary violation, such as someone speaking to us in a demeaning way or someone doing something in our home that’s not allowed, we have the boundary conversation.

The conversation includes making a clear request along with stating a clear consequence. The consequence is something that WE will do, an action or behavior that WE will take. 

Here’s an example of a clear boundary: If you smoke a cigarette in my house, I am going to ask you to leave my house. We don’t allow smoking here. This is what I will do if you smoke.

It’s important to remember that the person we’re making the request of can continue to do whatever they would like to do. Human beings can smoke cigarettes if they want. It’s not a boundary violation until they come into our home or our car or our space. 

Notice that when we make the request, “Hey, if you continue to do that…” the consequence is the behavior that we will take. It’s not, “You need to stop smoking or else.” We’re making the request and then explaining what we will do as the consequence of not following that request.

OK, so why don’t we set boundaries? Because sometimes it’s difficult and uncomfortable to make these requests and establish consequences with the people in our lives. 

Sometimes it’s so uncomfortable for us that we avoid making the requests. Or if we do make the requests, we don’t actually follow through on the consequences. Because that’s uncomfortable too–doing what we say we’ll do when someone violates a boundary means potentially risking our relationship with that person, facing their disapproval.

But then what happens when we don’t make these requests or when we don’t follow through on the consequences? People continue to violate our boundaries. 

And we get upset and build up resentments. Usually we’re the only ones feeling this way, because the people who continue to violate our boundaries don’t think there are any consequences for doing so. 

There’s a lot more to say about boundaries and we’ll look into this further next week.

Your turn: Are you recognizing why you might not be setting boundaries that would benefit your life? What would you have to believe in order to make the requests and follow through on the consequences? How can you practice saying what you want to say instead of avoiding setting boundaries with people?

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