“ When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”
– Brene Brown
Boundaries are tools that we all need to work on. Even with decades of therapy and personal development, I still found myself wavering over a recent boundary violation.
When I begin working with a new client I always ask them their goals for therapy, and nine out of ten say they want to learn to say no without feeling guilty or to learn to set boundaries.
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that you create to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards you and how you will respond when someone passes those limits.
Your boundaries also tell other people how they can treat you, what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Without boundaries, people may treat you contrary to how you expect to be treated because you haven’t set limits about it.
It's important to remember that boundaries are not universal. Everyone's limit will be different. What is a boundary violation for one person may be completely acceptable to another.
I always share this one example in my Boundary Boot Camp online workshop.
I gave my friend a spare key to my new apartment. My intention was that she holds onto the key in case I locked myself out. I did not give her permission to use the key to enter my home. Whenever she came over to my place, this is what she did. She used the key to let herself into my home without knocking on the door or signifying in any way that she had arrived.
I knew this was a boundary violation because my body would heat up every time it happened. My breathing would also change and I would go into fight/flight mode.
At the time I didn't have the skill to set a healthy boundary by calling out her behaviour. Again her behaviour may not trigger anyone else, but it disturbed me and as she was coming into my home, I had the right to ask for my needs of respect and privacy to be upheld.
Most of us are afraid of setting boundaries because we prefer to avoid conflict. I was afraid that if I spoke up to my friend, it would spark an argument that would end our friendship. The deep fear of conflict and the possible ensuing rejection is deeply wired into our nervous system. In primitive times, being rejected from our community could literally mean death, and this fear is still hardwired into our psyche.
Many of us also do not want to rock the boat and so avoid calling out behaviours that are boundary violations.
1. Name your limits. You can't set good boundaries if you're unsure of where you stand
2. Tune into your feelings
3. Be direct, don’t make excuses, explain or qualify your actions or decision
4. Give yourself permission. Don’t harbour feelings of guilt for your action
5. Practice self-awareness. Feel into what’s going on for you
6. Consider your past and present. When has this happened in the past and what happened when you didn’t set a boundary?
7. Make self-care a priority. Allowing people to take advantage of you is not self-care.
8. Seek support. Speak to a therapist/friend
9. Book-end boundary-setting - call a trusted person before and after setting boundaries
As I stated at the beginning, there are always opportunities to refine our mastery of boundary setting.
On a recent phone call with an organisation I contract for, I was asked to do something that I do not have the capacity to take on. Even though I explained that I could not physically take on the extra clients, the person proceeded to ask me three more times. I could feel myself wavering as she told me about the chronic needs of the family. However, I held firm and clearly repeated that I could not help them on this occasion. I felt compassion for the family in need but I also felt proud of myself for prioritising my self-care. Taking on the extra work would have been detrimental to my well-being and to my ability to serve my existing clients.
I will be offering my Boundary Bootcamp online workshop on Sunday 24th April. Find out more below.
Alternatively, if you prefer to do this process at your own pace and time, my self-paced version will be available later this month.