Things To Remember About Boundaries
What are they and how do we set them?
Set boundaries, Find Peace is a little over two years old and it is still wildly popular. A few months ago a woman sent me a message and said, “You need to start telling people how to be kind when they set boundaries.” I asked her what she meant and she said, “I loved your book so much I bought a copy for my daughter-in-law, but after she read it she asked me to call before I come over to her house. This is not something that I’ve ever done with my son and she was very mean to ask that of me.” I would venture to say that her daughter practiced exactly what she read in the book. It seems that despite how widely we are now using the term “boundaries,” we need some clarification on just what boundaries are and how to utilize them.
Here are a few things I think people need to remember about boundaries:
Boundaries are for you.
Changing your behavior and not forcing others to change can be a significant part of setting boundaries. For instance, if you have a friend who constantly calls you during work hours despite your request not to, you can't make them stop calling, but you can take action to protect your boundaries. You might choose not to answer their calls during work hours or put your phone on Do Not Disturb. It would be nice if everyone automatically knew how to respect our boundaries. We often have to communicate them clearly and enforce consequences when they are not respected. So, when someone crosses one of my boundaries, I will take action to protect myself and my needs.
Your boundaries aren’t everybody’s boundaries.
There is no prescriptive rule for what qualifies as a boundary because we are all unique. What I may see as a boundary might not be a boundary that you need, want, or desire. For example, working on vacation. There is no hard rule that you should never work on vacation. I know people that take a vacation so that they can work in peace. Their boundary is to get out of the office and go to Mexico with their laptop, so that they know they won’t be interrupted and can really get through whatever they’re doing. There is no “you should never work on vacation”, “you should never have people come by unannounced”, “you should never, fill in the blank”. Your boundary is your business. That’s how they work. They are unique to you.
Sometimes you are the boundary violator.
The toughest thing I see with boundaries is acknowledging when you are the boundary violator. How can you tell? One sign is when someone keeps restating their boundary to you over and over again. Another is if you find yourself having multiple deep conversations with someone about who they are and what’s important to them. If you are wondering why you keep having to talk about the same stuff, it may be because you’re not getting it, or your behavior indicates that you aren’t. Sometimes it’s not them. It’s you.
There is an intergenerational cost to not having boundaries.
With families when we don’t set certain boundaries, things repeat and it becomes a cycle. You may wonder why so many people within your family or a given family exhibit so many of the same challenges or behaviors, but it is likely evidence that there are some issues with boundaries. A cousin told me I should be around all my family whether their behaviors are healthy or not, and when I asked her why, she said, “Because it’s family.” This is often why many of us remain in patterns of dysfunction that bleed into future generations. You can be the person in your family to change patterns of codependency, neglect, sibling rivalry, or whatever the issue might be by practicing healthier boundaries.
Boundaries can’t be forced, but they can be enforced.
When we force a boundary we approach the situation with the mindset that “this person has to listen to me.” When we enforce a boundary we create a consequence for if the boundary is violated. That consequence is not always ending the relationship. Some people in our lives will not respect our boundaries and we have to figure out if we want to be in a relationship with them, and if so what that needs to look like. You get to decide what that consequence is, and that consequence has to be something that you feel okay with. Again, it’s not prescriptive. It’s not “if this, then that”. You are creating the “this” and the “that”, so you get to figure out what they are.
Some people don’t care about your boundaries.
With some people we may wonder whether we have been clear enough about our boundaries even after we’ve verbalized them, written them, and tried all sorts of strategies to get our point across. When this happens, we have to accept this really hard thing. Are you ready? Some people just don’t care about your boundaries. Some people just don’t want to respect them. It doesn't have anything to do with you specifically, they just don’t want to do it for anybody. In those situations you have to accept that people don’t want to listen and figure out what you need to do from there.
It is important that when we are talking about boundaries and setting boundaries, we know what that actually means, and what is required of us and the people around us.
If you're interested in learning more about setting boundaries and cultivating healthy relationships, I highly recommend checking out my workbook.
A Few Things That Caught My Attention This Week
The Insidious Habit That Can Hurt Your Relationship, by Catherine Pearson, in The New York Times.
The Locksmith. You can watch it wherever you stream movies.
Grace and Frankie. You can watch this show on Netflix.
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