Boundaries are rules that we communicate to others what we will and will not accept from them. The boundaries that we establish for ourselves create a framework for who we are with the people we re close to. The are the outward expression of how we see ourselves. They define what is important to us, where our priorities lie, and how how expect to be treated. They teach others how they can show respect for us. They come from a firm sense of commitment to what we truly value, and they are only possible if we respect ourselves enough to insist upon them. Strong boundaries allow us the opportunity to get what we need and want in relationships. Firm boundary setting is essential to maintaining long-lasting and healthy relationships. Some of us will end a relationship because we feel stepped on rather than establishing strong boundaries so we can stay. If you catch yourself thinking that this boundary stuff seems ‘mean’ or Selfish, remember that by communicating what you need and insisting that you be respected, you are building an enduring foundation for your relationships. As you strengthen your own foundation, you will find that you attract people with strong foundations as well. By taking yourself seriously enough to establish boundaries, you are modeling healthy behavior for the people you care about most.
How do you establish a boundary and make it stick? The following are five clear steps to successfully establishing boundaries. Each step is essential to the process. They are;
1. Clearly identify you boundaries for yourself and know when they are being challenged or stepped over. Go beyond that general sense of discomfort when you are with certain people in certain situations. Ask yourself what specific behavior is causing you your discomfort and whether it is reasonable to expect that behavior to stop. At this point you may decide that the problem is not about boundaries at all but an unresolved issue from your past instead. If you are clear that it’s a boundary issue move to the next step.
2. Inform the person about the behavior you find unacceptable and ask them to stop. Please do not expect them to know. They don’t. You have to tell them. That is best done at a calm and relaxed time, not during an argument or in the middle of a stressful situation-probably not when they are in the middle of stepping over your boundary, you will most likely be feeling angry or victimized at that time. Wait for a neutral time when you can speak clearly, evenly and confidently. Be very matter of fact. Don’t blame. Don’t bring up excessive past history. Don’t say too much. Just ask them to stop. Act as if this is the first time you have mentioned this, even if it is not.
3. State the consequences of their behavior if they do not stop. Boundary setting without this step is called nagging. When you complain about a behavior over and over again without any consequence to the other, you waste time and energy. You destroy your image as a happy positive person. You do not get what you want. People stop listening to you. You feel defeated, disregarded and nasty. The purpose of the consequence is to let the other person know that you are serious, to shift the problem to their shoulder if they disregard your request, and to protect you from the negative behavior you do not like. The consequence needs to fit the crime, make sense, and be something you are willing to deliver. If you are excited about the consequence because it seems so right, then you are on the right track. Be creative!
4. Remind them once the behavior occurs again. Everyone deserves a bit of grace. They are probably not used to this more assertive you. Remember-you do not need to feel angry. You are in control here. You have the perfect consequence to fall back on if you need to.
5. If the behavior continues, follow through with the consequence. I’m pretty sure you will have to take this step at least once. That is why the consequence you choose is so important. If you do not feel good about it, you will not do it. Empty threats spoil the whole routine. You may even need to go through with the consequence on more than one occasion. If you feel protected completely by your consequence.
One example of this process in action follows: You become aware that your spouse tends to raise his or her voice when you are having a disagreement and that you do not like the yelling. Once this is clear to you, you find an appropriate time to tell him/her, ‘I don’t like it when you yell at me when we are having a conversation. Will you please stop. The next time this situation occurs, you tell him/her, remember, I don’t like it when you yell at me. If you don’t stop, I’m going to leave the room. If the yelling continues, you follow through and leave the room.
All of this requires careful thought and planning. I recommend writing out the words you will say if you are unused to standing up for yourself, you are very timid, or fear you will get angry and say things you don’t really want to say. Doing a role-play with your coach or a friend is very helpful preparation. Begin with just one situation and see how this goes for you. Your first attempts may feel awkward, but as you get more comfortable with this process, you will find that your boundaries become more natural and easy to establish.