Dormats and Dictators: finding the space in between through setting healthy boundaries.

This week I have had the privilege of setting many boundaries with people: boundaries for myself, my partner and my children.  It is not always easy to set boundaries.  Sometimes we don’t know how the boundaries will be received.  Sometimes we might feel self-doubt or incapable of setting boundaries in a healthy way.  The self-questioning can be debilitating.  Will the other person be mad at us?  Will they respect our boundaries?  Are we being needy or demanding?  Am I speaking in a loving way?  Is this my stuff and I just need to get over it?  Can I just ignore it and hope it goes away?!

Making boundaries may feel uncomfortable AND I have faith that you are capable of doing it.  I believe that setting a boundary with a loved one, whether they are friend or family, is a gift to yourself and the person you are making a boundary with.  From my experience I have learned that when I feel the need to make a boundary but DON’T, I begin to get resentful and I continually get let down and/or hurt.  This can lead to rifts in relationships that I actually care about which can add another level of hurt and disappointment.  When I DO make a boundary I give myself and the other person the chance to get both our needs met and take steps forward in our relationship which can lead to a deeper connection, respect and trust.

The first thing I do when embarking on the process of setting a boundary is getting clear with myself, of where I want the boundary to be.  I may ask myself: what is it that I don’t want in this relationship?  What is it that I want to make room for?  What was the specific behavior that hurt or offended me?

It is important to be clear with yourself so that you will be able to be clear with the other person exactly what it is you are asking for.  When building a house the contractor does not go into the building phase until they have a detailed and specific architectural plan.  If they try to build the structure without clear plans they will not know where the walls go, where the windows belong or where to place the doors to let things in.  Also, when you are clear it is easier to communicate your needs to others.

Next, I clarify with myself how I feel about the situation that has instigated the boundary.  Do I feel hurt?  Am I mad? What am I mad at?  Am I sad or feeling let down?  Do I feel insecure about our relationship?  I look at where I can own my feelings.  How is my emotional reaction rooted in past experiences that have nothing to do with this situation?  Do I frequently react this way?  Is it more about me or the other person?  There may be times when you need to set a boundary that is centered in your own issues.

e.g.  I know you are in a new relationship that you are really excited about and I am happy for you but I am really heart broken right now since Joe and broke up 2 days ago.  Can you please not come to me with that stuff right now?  I want to celebrate that with you and I will let you know when I am ready.

In this example it is not that someone else did something wrong it is about where I am at that time.

I proceed to planning out what I want to say, how I want to say it and how I can say it in a way that will not cause more harm than healing.  I use “I” statements (I feel hurt by this and I need you to talk to me in a more respectful way.  Are you open to hearing me when I bring this to your attention?).  I own my part.  I stay away from shaming and blaming.

Then I have the conversation.  I state my boundaries clearly and firmly.  I like to think about a warrior drawing a line in the sand with a sword.  I am not a crazy sword wielding maniac whipping a sword around and harming people.  I am calm making the line, the barrier, the boundary.  I may also leave myself room to explain to the person that I am making the boundary because I love this person.

Lastly, I stay open to a dialogue with the person where I can hear where they were coming from or their feedback about the boundary.  The other person might not be able to accept the boundary, so I may need to renegotiate to something that will be acceptable to both of us.  It is possible to compromise a boundary without compromising yourself.  There is the possibility that the person may be acting out in a way that you don’t like in response to something that you are doing.  If you attempt to make a boundary and the person has excuses or says they are responding that particular way because of something you are doing the opportunity for both of you to make a boundary becomes available.  The compromise may mean that there is a particular thing that you can’t do with that person or there is a way where your interactions may need to be limited or maybe a boundary needs to be set up on both sides.  It could look like this.

“You’re right. I do act that way when we hang out in big groups.  In the future can we have a word or signal we can give each other so we can both be aware when we are crossing each other’s boundaries?”

This gives both people the ability to get their needs met and boundaries respected so the relationship can continue without shaming/blaming the person or ending the relationship.

As with most things, when we are honest and coming from a place of love, chances are we are going to come out in a better place than where we went in.