What Boundaries are and How to Set Them

A boundary is not about telling another person what to do.

It is about telling another person what YOU will do in the face of the other person’s continued unkind or undesirable behavior. While it is hard for most people to accept, we cannot control another’s behavior. What we can control is our own response when faced by someone’s behavior.

Often when I talk about boundaries with others, I like to use a picture of a “No Trespassing” sign. We don’t walk around with a fence around us and a no trespassing sign on it. Instead, we need to use our words to let others know what our boundaries are. Here are some examples of how these might play out at work or at home:

  • I’m no longer willing to be with you in front of our friends when you put me down. I will leave and find a ride home.
  • I’m no longer willing to have my meetings start late because you’re running late. The next time you are late, I will start without you.
  • Your constant criticisms feel awful to me. From now on, when you are critical, I will tell you that it feels awful and leave the room.

The harder part for you may be following through on your boundary, because you have to take the action you have said you would take in order to enforce your boundaries. If you do not take action, what you have said is a manipulation rather than a truth. A boundary means nothing until you are willing to take the action. The tricky part of this has to do with your intent. If your intent is to control the other person rather than take loving care of yourself, then your statement and action is just another form of control. If your desire is to take responsibility for yourself, then your tone of voice will be calm and matter-of-fact that you’re just letting the other person know what you will be doing or are doing. If your desire is to control the other person, then your tone of voice will be angry, blaming, and accusing, and your energy will be hard and closed.

 I’ve found that we cannot hide our intent as it will always come through in our energy and our tone of voice. You might try to mask an intent to control; however, the other person usually picks up on it and reacts to it with his or her own controlling behavior. Since you cannot ultimately control another, trying to will leave you feeling frustrated and powerless. If you are focused on controlling how the other person will feel in the face of your actions, then you will not be able to take the loving action for yourself. Focusing on the other person looks like this:

  • He will feel hurt or angry if I leave the party.
  • She will be furious with me if I start without her.
  • He will feel rejected and tell me I am running away from conflict if I leave the room when he is critical of me.

 Instead, you come from a place of personal power when your intent is to take loving care of yourself rather than controlling the other person. The challenging part of this is taking loving action on your own behalf as you need to be willing to let go of the outcome regarding how the other person will feel and behave. Only if you have compassion for yourself will you be able to act on your own behalf. Compassion for yourself means that you are 100% willing to take responsibility for your own feelings rather than trying to control another’s feelings. It means that you are willing for the other person to be upset with you rather than continue to be treated unkindly.

 It is interesting that people tend to mirror how we treat ourselves. If you tolerate unkind treatment, you are letting others know that it is okay to treat you badly. By taking loving care of yourself in the face of others’ unkind behavior, you will find that generally others will respect you and treat you well.

Work with me

I know that boundary setting is hard and enforcing our boundaries is even harder. I always love cheering women on to courageous boundaries because I know the loving, peaceful existence that comes on the other side. If you’re looking for help with boundaries, click here and find a time for us to talk.

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