How to Set Boundaries & Still Be Kind
First, it’s important for us to be clear about what a boundary is and is not.
A boundary is what YOU will do when someone violates a boundary you have set. It’s how YOU will respond to protect yourself when someone comes into your space emotionally or physically in an “inappropriate” way. And YOU get to decide what is inappropriate for YOU.
A boundary is not what THEY need or have to do. A true boundary is never a threat. A threat is when you want someone to do something different and try to manipulate or control their behavior so that you can feel better.
In this post, we’ll look at how to set boundaries and still be kind. But first, here are a few things that are important to know about boundaries.
The Truth About Other People
Even though it sometimes seems like it, other people are not responsible for our feelings. Even if they have done something to “trigger” you, YOU still get to choose how you feel by choosing your thoughts about it.
It’s important to remember that you can never really control another person. Seriously. Ever. It never works. It’s only exhausting for you and takes away from your best self. The hard truth is that other people can do whatever they want….whether we agree with it or not. We can tell them our preference, but how they decide to respond is entirely up to them.
When Is a Boundary Needed?
We use boundaries to make it clear what we will allow in our lives. It helps us clarify what is acceptable for us and what is not.
When do you need to set a boundary? Anytime you want to protect and honor you or your child’s personal, physical or mental space.
For example, I had a coaching session with a client who was having an issue with something her mother-in-law was doing. It was making her miserable. She told her mother-in-law that she didn’t want her to do that, but she continued doing it anyway. My client couldn’t understand how this woman she loved could continue to do something she asked her not to do. I taught her what a boundary truly was and how she could set a boundary with her mother-in-law and do it from a place of love instead of frustration. Her mother-in-law would continue to do what she wanted to do. It was up to my client to set and stick to the boundary.
What It Sounds Like?
A boundary is what YOU will do to protect your physical or mental/emotional space or even your time.
Here is what a boundary might sound like:
“If you yell at me, call me names, threaten me verbally, etc. I will _______ (leave, hang up, block your number).”
“When you drink and drive, I’ll get another ride home.”
“If you continue to post pictures of my son on social media, I won’t allow you to take pictures of him anymore”
“If you’re not here by 7:15 pm, I’ll go ahead and go and you can meet us there.”
“I love you but if you come over unannounced, I won’t answer the door.”
If my sister puts me down, I will leave and when I return we won’t discuss it any further.
When my mother tells me I need to lose weight, I’ll say “I love you, but I’m not talking about this with you.” If she brings it up again, I will hang up the phone.
If my partner yells at me, I’ll say, “I love you, and I’m ready to talk about this when you can talk to me without yelling”, and I’ll leave the room.
When a co-worker walks into my office within these hours, I’ll say “I would love to chat about that. Let’s set up a time to do that.”
How to Set a Boundary?
When we don’t create boundaries or don’t express them clearly (to ourselves or other people), we end up repeatedly frustrated when other people violate them.
So, here’s how to set one:
- Don’t fool yourself. Understand that the other person probably will not change their behavior. Try and prepare yourself for this and get ok with that. Understand and know that they’re allowed to behave however they want. We think or say things like “He should know better”, “She shouldn’t talk to me that way and I shouldn’t have to even tell her that”, “It’s just common sense”, “They are so rude”. Then we get upset or feel frustrated. But the truth is that they may not even know that they have crossed a boundary because we have never told them or taught them what to expect.
- Get super clear and specific with yourself about what you will and won’t allow. Decide ahead of time exactly what the boundary is and it is triggered by. Get clear on what you will do when it’s time to act on your boundary. Don’t be vague. “I won’t put up with it” isn’t a clear boundary.
- Make a commitment to yourself to keep the boundary and do not waver… ever. If you allow it to slide once, you won’t be taken seriously. Also, by not following through, you run the risk of not taking care of and losing integrity with yourself.
Do It From a Place of Love
Many people don’t set boundaries because they are afraid of coming across as mean. Merely setting a boundary is not mean.
Boundaries work best when they are done from a place of unconditional love for yourself.
Even better is if you can get to a place of love for them in addition to yourself.
The Key to Boundary Success
Choosing to set clear boundaries can really change things. But a boundary will only work if we follow through…on a consistent basis. When we set a boundary but don’t follow through, our boundary is not taken seriously. Until you make that boundary clear AND follow through, nothing will change.
Following through on what you said you would do to protect yourself can be scary. The other person probably won’t like it at first. Especially if their behavior has been tolerated in the past. But new and healthier relationships can eventually grow and become better based on honesty and respect through setting boundaries.
Are You Really Ready to Create One?
You know when you are ready to make a boundary when these things are true:
- You are setting a boundary for the right reasons. Ask yourself why you’re wanting to set a boundary. If it’s to try to change the other person, it’s not time to set a boundary. You’re ready only when you’re setting the boundary from a place of love for yourself.
- You are able to accept (possibly even love) the person you set the boundary with just as they are. This means you truly understand the concept that adults are “allowed” to do and say whatever they want including what they’re currently doing.
- You understand and accept that they’ll probably keep doing this behavior regardless of the boundary you set…at least initially. Remember, the purpose of the boundary is not to control them but to take care of YOU.
- You are committed to following through on this boundary, no matter what — You’re 100% ready to do what you said you would do. This may mean you have to leave when you don’t feel like it, or miss out on a family function, or possibly end a relationship with someone.
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