Recently I’ve had several clients wanting help setting boundaries but were very confused as to what they are and what they aren’t. In talking to others, I find this to be a common confusion so I thought I’d set out to write about boundaries, how to set them and how to follow through on them.
Let’s start with what boundaries are not. Boundaries are not saying no to someone, they are not about controlling someone else’s behavior, they are not a way to manipulate another person’s feelings and they are not something we create out of resentment, frustration and anger.
Boundaries are a line we create about what we will do IF someone does something to violate our space, whether that be a physical or emotional space. Most of our physical boundaries are pretty well defined- we know the property lines of our house, the fact that we expect no one to hit us, touch us inappropriately, etc. Yet sometimes we have to expand those as well to create clear communication. Our emotional boundaries can be much more tricky.
Boundaries are a clear statement that allows us to honor ourselves and our truth. How another person interprets our statement is up to them. The statement serves serve to strengthen our relationship by us being honest with ourselves and the other person. It allows us to own the change we want to make versus expecting them to change for our sake.
A boundary looks like this:
“If you ________, I will _________.”
There is a clear request with a clear consequence that includes YOUR action.
Note that this doesn’t say “You will stop _________.” The goal of a boundary is not to take the free will of another person or expect than to be any different than they are. The other is free to do whatever they want but you have defined what you are going to do if they continue that behavior. You are respecting the agency they have over their own lives as well as your own agency to create the life you are wanting. You have become clear about what you will stand for and what you will expose yourself to.
Here’s how to create a boundary:
1. Identify the boundary issue.
2. Create a statement around the boundary with the example above.
3. Share the boundary with the other person.
4. Consistently follow through on your boundary>
Now, if you feel bad setting this boundary, that’s emotional work you need to do. This isn’t easy. We are often conditioned to say yes and please others but this in fact is not honest to them or yourself. We have to do the work to love ourselves and others enough to set boundaries. And if it’s important enough to create a boundary, we must be willing to sacrifice the relationship. Boundaries may be different for different people. You get to choose both the individual and the action.
Let me give you an example:
I have a child who was assigned female at birth. During his transition, he used a name that included initials and the pronouns they/them. He now uses his name and the pronouns he/him. While he is fully out with his name and pronouns, there are people who he is fine with using the transition name and pronouns. As well, he has a certain few people he is more forgiving of making mistakes and has communicated a different type of boundary. After having a conversation with him, it’s my job to develop my own boundaries about how people speak about my child in my presence. I have multiple.
With my dad, my boundary is, “If you use my child’s incorrect name and/or pronouns, I will correct you.” With his dad, my boundary is, “If you use a different name and/or pronouns than my child has requested of you, I will ask you to leave our home and will not invite you for holidays.” With an acquaintance who refused to use anything other than the dead name and pronouns, my boundary is, “If you continue to use his old name and pronouns, I will not have conversations with you.”
In each case, the boundary doesn’t state what the other person will do in the future, but what I will do. They have the choice whether to use the given name and pronouns or not. No one has to do anything differently. It’s my job to take a different action. I am not attacking anyone or pushing them out of my life. I am just being honest about what is acceptable to me and how I want to support myself in my parenting of my child. I get to decide how I want to handle the situation and with whom. I get to decide if I want to have a conversation with my child about it first or not. I have full control over the situation.
Now where it often goes awry is on the follow through. If you don’t follow through on a boundary after stating it, you have made an idle threat. In doing so you will decrease your self respect and their respect of you. It’s important to be clear on the front end of making the boundary that you will follow through each and every time, and that you will do so with love and peace, not resentment or anger. Creating and follow through with boundaries is an act of courage, the courage to be your authentic self and tell others the truth. It’s saying yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. As Brooke Castillo said, “when people walk all over you it’s because you are lying in their way.”
If boundaries are a challenge for you and you would like more support, please reach out to me on the website or at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my honor to be present for your growth. Now go take a look at your life and see if you are needing to create or delete some boundaries in your own life.