Whether in the context of politics, business, or interpersonal relationships, our societal culture has been created to believe the stronger and more authoritative person has the final say in a given situation. As a result, this person may often abuse their power in relationships and people with more timid personality types. Both men and women can be guilty of steamrolling, bulldozing, and doing whatever it takes to get their way.
The problem with this is when we let it happen. Maybe we don’t want to ruffle feathers or we’re afraid that we’ll put ourselves in some kind of imminent danger if we stand up to someone we feel is crossing the line.
We think boundaries have already been set to protect us, but then those boundaries get violated because we either didn’t voice them or said nothing when that behavior continued to happen.
How many times have you said nothing when you’ve wanted to say “no?”
Being conscious of boundaries and willing to take a stand for yourself can be scary. Sometimes people can hold the key to your future and you’re worried that speaking up will make things worse.
But it all comes down to one question ultimately: Do you value yourself? People who do not set clear boundaries do not have a clear sense of self worth.
You can’t have extraordinary and working relationships without boundaries. They are critical because if there aren’t boundaries and expectations set, you can easily lose trust. If you lose trust, you can undermine the relationship. It is then that you can experience resentment or anger between two people that’s unnecessary.
The key to a healthy relationship is communication. Being able to express your needs – what works and doesn’t work – is imperative in setting expectations for both people. If you don’t know what my boundaries are, then you might be crossing them without knowing it. If I don’t express them, and you don’t honor them, then I get mad that you didn’t read my mind. We lose the trust. Setting healthy boundaries avoids unnecessary drama.
A healthy relationship should create joy and empowerment. “When I’m with you, I feel special/unique and I feel as though you’re contributing to me and me to you.” If you’re in a relationship right now and thinking of that person causes you anxiety/stress/fear/discomfort, then most likely there’s a boundary being crossed. It’s your job to take responsibility for the relationships you want or to end the toxic relationship entirely.
It’s not about creating walls between each other, but about about creating an agreement. It’s a negotiation – not “my way or the highway.” If your happiness and joy are non-negotiable, then you’ve got to learn to set boundaries. It’s a way of saying to the other person, “I respect me and I respect you.” These boundaries rescue and recharge relationships.
Think of all the unnecessary drama that will be spared by being able to do this. Think of the environment you’ll create and the powerful mindset that you’ll generate when you change your thinking from, “I’m going to tolerate abuse/sexual aggression/being hit/partner invading my privacy/kids running around the house wild…” to “This is what I ask of you and what I am committed to giving to this relationship in return.” Even if the former is giving you great results, you’ll still be miserable.
Is “tolerating it” worth it?
Now you may be thinking that this doesn’t work for a professional relationship where you are an employee. I’ve done this in my life with a boss who was abusive. He would yell and scream and curse at employees and everyone around me seemed to just grin and bear it. Finally, I built up enough self worth to sit down in his office with him and have the discussion. I told him what he could expect of me and what my request of him was. And his response was, “Wow…is that what I’ve been doing? Is that really how people see me?” From that point forward, everything shifted – for everyone. Sometimes it takes even having the conversation for someone to realize that they’re showing up in a way that is less than pleasant.
Here’s how you’ll know your boundaries are being crossed: if you feel anxious, stressed, sad, or angry. If you’re experiencing yourself biting your tongue or stifling tears, then I urge you to read these steps to setting boundaries carefully to implement into your own life and watch how your relationships transform before your very eyes.
STEP 1) GET CLEAR ABOUT YOUR OWN WORTH
If my self worth is dependent on you, I don’t have a relationship. If how you treat me, that you like me, you’re in a good mood, or my joy and well-being has everything to do with you, then I will have a hole in my heart that nothing will fill.
Put your oxygen mask on first. The most important priority in relationships is not your significant other, boss, your children, or your best friend – it’s you. Take care of you. Develop your self worth and discover all the value you have to offer to all of these relationships and this world. The more value you see in yourself, the easier it will be to set boundaries that honor your worth.
One of the reasons we may tolerate behavior that is less than our ideal is because we’re afraid of losing something. We tell ourselves, “if I’m honest with you that I want [X] and it’s non-negotiable,” then I’m risking you saying, “I don’t want that and I’m leaving.” Sometimes we convince ourselves we would rather be in a miserable situation than alone. So we say nothing. And we hurt.
When you don’t have self worth, you’re a victim. “I’m powerless. This is the way it is. I just got to grin and bear it.” It’s enabling the unhealthy behavior. If I have a strong sense of self worth, I’m happy alone. When I have self worth and self value, I know that everything’s going to be okay. I trust myself.
CHALLENGE: Do inventory on your successes. We don’t highlight that enough. What have you accomplished that you’re proud of? Make a list of 5 of those things. When you highlight your accomplishments, it builds your self worth and value. Things like honoring your agreements (both to yourself and to others), keeping your word, or as simple as being on time are ways to demonstrate your value. Even creating and completing small goals like reading a book, exercising, meditating, or going for a walk builds momentum in honoring your value and what you bring to the table. Highlight your value and count your blessings.
STEP 2) CREATE A CLEAR VISION FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
The same way that you create focus in your career and your life is the same way we can approach our relationships. It all comes down to having a clear vision.
What type of relationship do you want with your wife/boss/children/etc.? What does it look like? What do you feel and what does the other person feel in the relationship? What do you contribute and what is contributed to you?
Once we know what our vision for any given relationship looks like, we’ll be clear on what boundaries we need to create to fulfill that vision. Being clear about things I want and what works for me becomes a very clear guide to where my boundaries get to be set.
STEP 3) MAKE A PROMISE
Once we’re in the relationship, it’s important to articulate what your vision looks like. Be clear about what your role is in the relationship. You’re creating the context and environment of the relationship by setting boundaries and that also means that you get to have contributions of your own. You let them know what you’re going to give and what they can count on you to say, do, and be. You can’t expect for other people to respect your boundaries if you’re not willing to lay down the expectations that you anticipate fulfilling and giving to the relationship too.
STEP 4) MAKE YOUR REQUEST
At this point you’ve told the person what they can count on from you, and now you can establish confidently and justly what you request of them in return.
“Don’t hit me. Don’t disrespect me. Don’t force me to do things I don’t want to do. Respect my time with my friends. Keep your word to me. Never go to bed mad. When we have an issue, we talk it through and not yell.” These types of requests are the boundaries that you are setting with someone in the relationship. Be clear in exactly what you are requesting so there are no misunderstandings.
STEP 5 ) HEAR THEIR REQUESTS
The exchange isn’t over yet! Now it’s time to listen and hear the requests of the other person. What can they promise to provide in the relationship? What are their needs? What are their requests and boundaries for you to honor? And what role do you play in their life?
STEP 6) NEGOTIATE
This is where the conversation faces its true test. If there is a request from the other person that does not work for you, you can request to negotiate the terms of that request. It’s a subtle way of saying “no” to something that doesn’t work for you. You’re not making them wrong for voicing their needs, but you’re telling them that their request – as articulated – is not something you’re willing to honor.
If something suggested goes far beyond a negotiation point for you, you can clearly say “no.” But this is an opportunity to give and take and communicate what will and will not work for both parties. You’re honoring your boundaries by voicing a hard “no” or negotiating what you are more comfortable with. If the person is unwilling to negotiate to where you’re both comfortable, then you have to be willing to walk away. And they can choose to do the same. That can be challenging to do, but will be an important step in taking your power back.
If you find walking away difficult, go back to Step 1. Remind yourself that you are worth having a relationship how you envision it. You can create more loving and empowering relationships and open up more possibilities for yourself with others.
In a severe case, people will not honor your requests. But in a typical scenario, people will appreciate your honesty and that you are opening up the floor for them to voice their boundaries too. It prompts the relationship to move forward with respect and trust.
STEP 7 ) VOICE YOUR APPRECIATION
Once we establish the clear boundaries, I get to acknowledge and appreciate the person for honoring those boundaries and the relationship. Thanking someone goes a long way. We don’t often spend time doing this verbally and – like boundaries – assume it is understood. Ultimately it’s a version of positive reinforcement because when they’re making a behavior change, your acknowledgement tells them, “I see you making changes and I appreciate your effort in honoring me.” This lets them know that not only do you see that they’re taking your request seriously, but that it does make a difference.
Creating boundaries, even in more challenging contexts such as a parent with a child or as employees with our boss, is important. If it hasn’t happened already, it’s likely because we don’t think we deserve to create boundaries or have a right to set them – we are lacking self worth. As a result, we let our kids and bosses walk all over us.
Boundaries don’t have to be evil or mean. They just create clear expectations for both parties. Many relationships blow up because Partner A has a vision and Partner B has a different vision. Soon Partner A has issues that Partner B isn’t meeting but instead of telling each other, they tell their friends, the friends validate their unhappiness, and it creates a bigger wedge between them. If our visions don’t match, neither will our boundaries so we get to have the conversation and be clear about what is missing.
There is nothing worse than settling into a life you don’t want to live. The reality is our lives have a beginning and an end. Every moment we have could be the last. Why not be happy and joyful in every moment? If you’re not, you’re making that choice by allowing your boundaries to be crossed. You’re operating from a place of scarcity and fear. When you set boundaries from the mentality that you have nothing to lose, then you live your life with power and joy.
Which boundaries have you been avoiding setting into place?