So you want to set a boundary?

OK, here’s how.

We’re revisiting boundaries this week.

Most people think boundaries are something that they’re not. When it comes down to it, much of what we think needs a boundary is due to our own lack of self-care. 

To review, a boundary is required only when there has been a boundary violation. 

A violation is when someone comes into our space (physical or emotional) without permission. 

A boundary is stating what WE will do if that person continues their behavior. 

It is not us telling that person how to behave. 

For example, “I don’t appreciate being berated, so don’t yell at me,” is not setting a boundary. It’s telling someone else what to do. 

“I hear that this is important to you and I don’t appreciate being berated. So if you continue to yell, I’m going to leave the room until we can talk without you yelling,” is setting a boundary. The person can continue to yell. You’ll just leave the room if they do. 

Another example, “When I have my door closed, it means I’m busy. Please knock first and wait for my response. If you come in without waiting for a response, I’m going to ask you to come back later.”

When someone calls and wants to download all their current drama: “Hi Allen, I want to hear what you have to say and I’m available to talk for 20 minutes tonight. When the time’s up and if you have more to say, I’m going to stop you and we can continue our conversation on another night.” 

We set boundaries because we want to keep our relationships healthy. Because our relationships are important to us, we can state our requests and boundaries from a place of connection instead of disconnection. Stating a boundary from anger, annoyance, or frustration usually isn’t helpful to a relationship. 

It’s our job to protect and be responsible for our boundaries. We can make requests, but ultimately we can’t force someone to do something. We can choose to leave or take action to protect our boundary.  

Additionally, if we make a boundary request and don’t follow through on what we say we’ll do, we’ve only made an idle threat or consequence. This diminishes our own self-respect and the other person’s respect for us. 

Here’s an example: Klara and her family moved down the block from her mother-in-law (MIL). Her MIL started coming over to their house and entering because Klara would leave the front door unlocked. Klara started to change her mind and not appreciate her MIL’s unexpected visits. So whenever her MIL came over unexpectedly, Klara would feel upset and resentful, but wouldn’t say anything directly to her MIL. 

Her MIL had no idea Klara was feeling upset, so she kept coming over, likely thinking she was being a good MIL and spending time with her grandkids. 

After some coaching, Klara did make the following request, “I know you like spending time with the kids and I want to be able to plan for any visits, so please call before coming over.” 

Because this wasn’t a strong boundary (Klara didn’t say what she would do if her MIL didn’t call before coming over), her MIL kept coming over unexpectedly without calling. There was no clear consequence or action that Klara would take if the boundary was violated.

Finally, after more coaching, Klara made this boundary request, “I enjoy having you spend time with the kids, but sometimes we’re doing our own thing. Please call before coming over to check with me first. If you don’t call and check first, the door will be locked and we may be busy doing other things.”

Klara kept the door locked and her MIL learned to call first to check if it was okay to come over. Sometimes Klara would say that it was okay and sometimes she would ask her MIL to come at a certain time or to come the next day. Instead of feeling resentful, Klara was able to feel genuine appreciation for the time her MIL did spend at their house.

Next week, we’ll look at why saying “no” on its own is not setting a boundary.

Your turn: What boundary requests would benefit you if you made them? Do you have a clear request and a clear consequence/action that you’ll take if the other person violates your boundary? How can you keep the relationship connected while setting a clear boundary?

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