Don't Cross That Line!
Setting healthy boundaries is essential to practicing good self-care and maintaining a positive state of being. Unfortunately, too many of us lack the knowledge and confidence to set healthy boundaries. Does this sound like you? Maybe you feel you would come across as rude or mean if you set firm boundaries. Or maybe you think you set firm boundaries, yet still feel as though people are constantly walking all over you. Either way, this post should help you understand the importance of boundaries, how to define them and what to do when your boundaries have been crossed.
So, first things first, let’s chat about what boundaries are (and what they aren’t). Boundaries are simply our way of teaching people how to treat us. This is why they are so important to self-care and why I feel you can’t practice good self-care without them.
For instance, I expect to be spoken to with a certain level of respect that doesn’t include a raised voice, passive aggressive comments or the use of profanity out of anger. This is the way I want to be treated, and if someone violates this wish, they have crossed one of my boundaries. At that point the ball would be I my court and I would have to decide how to respond. This is the formula I follow:
1. Address the issue of the boundary being crossed and check for understanding. It may be possible the person was unaware of how you felt. It is also just as possible that they were aware and didn’t care because they're a bit of a jerk. The purpose of addressing the boundary is to find out which one it is.
2. Provide clear consequences if they continue to cross the boundary. This step is really more for you than for them. Putting a consequence to the action is what makes it a boundary. And since your boundaries are about you, not them, this step is important.
3. Follow through. If the person continues to cross your boundary, act on the set consequence. This is why setting realistic consequences is important, as you need to be prepared to follow through. Don't threaten to quit your job or leave you spouse as a consequence of boundary crossing if you don't plan to really do it. If you don’t follow through with the consequence, you are reinforcing the idea that it is ok to ignore your boundaries.
Notice the focus isn’t really on the other person. Why? Well first, and probably most importantly, you can’t control what others do, only how you respond to them. Second, remember, boundaries are about teaching others how you want to be treated. This isn't about them, it's about you and how you feel. What you're willing to put up with and what you are not.
Something else to point out here is boundaries are not about telling someone what they need to do in their lives. For example, telling your spouse they need to stop hanging out with their friends so often or you're leaving is not setting a boundary. That's giving an ultimatum. Telling your spouse that you're not comfortable with them staying out late every night because you feel worried or disrespected when they do, is setting a boundary. Notice in the second example there was no demand. This gives the other person the option to decide what to do. If they continue to cross the boundary, then you start in with the formula above.
Are you still feeling overwhelmed by boundary setting? Read the tips below to set you mind at ease:
1. Get used to putting yourself first-- Again, boundaries are about teaching people how you want to be treated. The implied idea here is your boundaries are about you. Setting boundaries is one time where you absolutely must put yourself first. This creates the conditions for healthy relationships.
2. Learn the power of the word NO-- This one little word has such a huge impact and is similar to the fence around a physical boundary. Sure, someone could still choose to go through the gate, but there will be a pause before they actually go through. Saying no is not only empowering, but really shows that you are not afraid to put your well-being first. “No” is the catalyst for starting the formula I mentioned above. For example, I might say or think to myself, “No, I will not accept being spoken to in this manner”. Then I would begin the steps of addressing the issue, providing consequences and following through.
3. Have a plan-- Boundaries aren’t something that you come up with in the spur of the moment. Boundaries are based on your values and core beliefs. So, knowing your values and boundaries before you get into a confrontational situation is key. The time to plan is not during the disaster, but before. It may be helpful to take some time and think about the things that matter most to you and how you would like others to treat you. Where those two points intersect, you have a boundary! Need more helping with planning? Check out my Setting Healthy Boundaries resource in the member section of the website!
4. Seek professional help-- Not all the clients that I see for counseling are in need of deep mental health therapy. Actually, a lot of my clients just need counseling or coaching on navigating life’s challenges, like setting good, firm boundaries. If you struggle to set and keep boundaries, look into finding a therapist or counselor that can help. That therapist or counselor doesn't have to be me, but I'm here to help if you like. It’s worth it. Learning to set good boundaries is a huge part of self-care and is needed to stay mentally healthy.
What are some boundaries that you won’t budge on and how do you handle it when someone crosses them? Let me know in the comments below!
Thinking we should work together? That’s a great idea! Reach out via the contact page on the website or call directly at 910.745.0303.