Setting boundaries is one of my favorite things to talk about with others. Many people think that having a boundary with another person means erecting a gigantic wall that nobody else can scale. That is not a boundary, and in fact is typically a fear based response for self protection, and a topic for another day.
No, boundaries are what we us to teach others how we want to be treated. Let me repeat that. Boundaries are used to teach others how we want to be treated.
There are two general rules with boundaries. The first is that you must clearly state the boundary. The second is that it is your job to keep the boundaries intact.
Clearly stating the boundary is not difficult if you have the language to do so, the understanding of what you are trying to achieve, and the courage to be daring enough to say it. And it does take courage to speak up.
It is practically impossible to be taken seriously about your boundary if you mumble while you talk, look down at your feet, beseech the person to stop, or try and cajole them into changing their behavior. Tears, theatrics and namby-pamby language is also out. Instead, be clear, direct and look the person in the eye. I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with clients that are shocked when I give them an example of the stern voice and body language to use when setting a boundary.
For example. Let’s say your best friend cuts you down or uses passive aggressive language when speaking to you. Aside from the fact that I am puzzled why on earth someone with such poor behavior is your best friend, the fact remains that if you intend to set a boundary, here is what you could say with a clear, direct voice and eye contact:
“Mary, you tend to cut me down when I share with you something that I am proud of and I would like you to stop doing that.” Simple, direct and to the point. Yes, you say, but what if they ignore me/tell me I am being dramatic/keep doing the behavior?
This is where the second rule of boundaries come into play. It is your job to ensure the boundaries are enforced; not the other persons job to follow the boundary. Wait, what? Afraid so. Why? Because it is YOUR boundary and YOU have the control.
Sure, it would be great if everyone respected your boundaries without question, but I guarantee that doesn’t always happen. If I ruled the world, I would make it an edict that all boundaries would be followed, but until then, it is imperative that you mind your own boundaries knowing that the other person will or will not follow them.
So, let’s go back to Mary. Let’s say she responds with, “Wow… seems like you can’t take a joke. I didn’t realize you were such a drama queen”. Her response indicates a disregard for you boundary, so you state it again. And maybe again. But you also might get up and leave the situation. Yep. You can leave the situation even if you think you can’t. You can even plan ahead to allow yourself an exit strategy. Shut. The. Front. Door. I know, I know – revolutionary right?
It’s the getting up and leaving part that really floors people when I talk about boundaries. They think it is shocking/mean/scandalous/impolite. Yeah, maybe, (it’s not) but let’s look at it from this perspective. If someone was slapping you across the face every ten seconds, would you take it? Or would you tell them to stop (maybe get a few licks in yourself) and then get the sam out of dodge? Verbal disrespect is no different than physical disrespect, we just tolerate the verbal stuff a lot more. So claim value for yourself, by valuing yourself (setting boundaries) and I bet you will start feeling a lot better about yourself in the process.