I’ve been doing a lot of boundary work within the past 6 months. I just want to say it is HARD work. I grew up in a family where boundaries weren’t allowed. I questioned my emotions all the time and catered to my mother’s needs more than my own. Needless to say, now I’m an adult with fairly loose boundaries and I often think I’m being irrational so I don’t stand up for what I want or need. Guilt was also a big part of my childhood and is a response I go back to frequently as an adult.
Some things I have learned by setting my own boundaries:
I am not responsible for the way someone feels.
If I want or need something, I need to ask for it. The same goes for others and I do not have to feel bad if I didn’t meet someone’s needs because they didn’t tell me it was a need. None of us are mind readers.
Being assertive is a wide range between being passive and being aggressive. It means assuming the best of someone, sticking up for yourself by stating what you want or need, and doing so in a loving manner. It also means not allowing people to cross your boundaries without permission.
Sometimes it is the best decision to limit communication or even cut-off people who continually refuse to respect your boundaries.
It’s hard to know when you’re setting appropriate boundaries.
I question myself all the time and I flip-flop on my decisions because it’s hard to know which is the “right” one. I think setting boundaries comes down to:
1) Figuring out what you need. Specifically. Whether it be help around the house or your significant other to start speaking to you with respect. The range is far and wide and it could be anything as long as it is a NEED and not a WANT. As for specificity, figure out what you mean by “respect” or “help around the house”. Does that mean help with the dishes once a week or making dinner every night? Does that mean not calling you names when arguing or including you in financial decisions. Be specific.
2) Brainstorming what might happen when you enforce that need. If you want more help around the house and you ask for it, how might the person respond? S/he might say “no”, maybe want more guidance on what you would like help with, or s/he might take it upon themselves to just start helping right then and there.
3) Analyzing your expectations and not expecting the person to react in the way you would like. This can cause a fight if the person reacts negatively and you expected a positive reaction. Remember, until now, the person wasn’t intentionally crossing your boundary because you hadn’t set one.
4) Deciding what you will do if the person doesn’t agree to respect your boundary. Will you make a compromise? Will you leave? Will you stop trying to push it and maintain the status quo? Change isn’t easy for anyone so don’t expect the person to just do what you say you need without a fight, relapse, or faulty memory.
5) After talking with the person about it, saying what you need specifically, and making compromises if necessary, continue to be assertive. If the person stops doing what they agreed to or starts doing what they agreed not to do, confront them about it (assertively, of course). They may have forgotten, had a rough day, etc.
6) Being consistent. If you aren’t consistent, people don’t know what to expect and get confused.
The last thing I will say is that it is easy to write out how to set boundaries but it is hard work to put them into practice. Boundaries are not meant to keep people out. You can’t draw the same strict boundaries for everyone because everyone doesn’t need a strict boundary. Some people will be respectful and mindful of your boundaries and won’t need a constant reminder. Others will constantly test your boundaries and will need strict enforcement.
It’s not easy to find that balance. Right now I am inconsistent and I vacillate between having loose boundaries and strict boundaries. However, I can’t expect to be perfect, I don’t think anyone is. I’m learning a relationship skill.
Comment below on your experiences with boundaries. We can all learn from each other!