With the holidays upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to have a discussion about boundaries. Because the truth of the matter is that your to-do list is about to birth holiday quadruplets, and your schedule now includes a ton of time with extended family. (Which is not always easy.)
Family is the source of so much love and support. It can also be the source of a great deal of angst and unnecessary drama. We’re all spoon fed this picture of holiday bliss and togetherness (especially now that we live in a social media age), but in my work as a life coach, I’ve found that family stories are a lot more complicated than that.
Everyone has a rulebook they use for life. Your rules tell you what’s okay, and what’s not okay. They guide your behavior, and they dictate what you expect from other people. This would work great if everyone played by the same rules, but (of course) that’s not how it works. People’s rules for life differ as much as people do.
When you think about rules in this way, it makes sense that gathering a large group of people together (even when they love each other) is going to result in some level of dysfunction and conflict, doesn’t it? While there’s little you can do to control the presence of challenging circumstances, you are totally in control of how you respond to them.
I want you to respond on purpose, so today I’m going to teach you how to set boundaries. A boundary is a behavioral fence. It helps you define limits for others, and it helps others define limits for you.
Hear me now. Relationships without boundaries do not work. They create misunderstandings, and breed resentment. So it’s really important that you learn to set boundaries, even when it makes you uncomfortable. Let’s do that right now, okay?
Step 1: Stop being so nice.
How many times a week do you say yes when you mean no? Admit it. It’s a big number, isn’t it? Are you constantly doing things you’d rather not do? Do you agree to help when you don’t want to, or accept invitations to events you’d really rather not attend?
Stop it already! Stop saying yes when you mean no.
Stop turning yourself into a pretzel of niceness. Here’s the thing, if you’re doing something for someone because you wanted to be nice, but you’re secretly stewing the whole time you’re doing it, that’s not nice.
If you’re so frustrated by your yes that you’re complaining about it to other people (aka talking smack), well that’s not nice either.
Instead of being nice, be honest.
Tell the truth. No, you can’t fit that project in. No, it doesn’t work for you to host the entire family at your place for a week. No. Period. No explanations required.
Saying no and setting boundaries is difficult, but it will save your sanity. Be real instead of being nice. Your life will thank you for it.
Now for the nuts of bolts of just how to do that…
Step 2: Name your change.
To set a boundary you have to get specific. You need to put your finger on exactly what isn’t okay with you, and name precisely what you want instead. You also need to get clear about consequences.
You can build your boundary by answering these five questions.
· What isn’t working?
· What do you want instead?
· What do you need the other person to start or stop doing?
· What will you start or stop doing?
· What will happen if the other person isn’t willing to change?
Once you know what you want, it’s time to…
Step 3: Ask and ask the right person.
The only way to set a boundary is to communicate. I’m gonna level with you here. You’re going to be uncomfortable. You need to do it anyway.
Before you lay it on the line, make sure you’re talking with the right person. Most of the time when you have an issue with someone, you’ll set the boundary directly with that person. This is not the case if you’re dealing with a family unit (which is kind of what kicked this whole blog off, right?)
While the need for boundaries exists in all parts of life, they get most complicated within the family unit. Families are complex ecosystems. These scenarios typically include long histories, high stakes and emotional landmines. They need to be navigated with care.
The rule I follow when working with a client is that the person from the original family unit is the person who should set the boundary. So if the boundary needs to be set with your mother-in-law, your mate would be the one to set it, because that’s his mom. (Love to mother-in-laws.)
This approach helps you avoid emotional landmines and achieve familial peace, which is the whole purpose of setting a boundary in the first place. Boundaries buy your freedom. Be brave. Start building them, and know that this doesn’t have to be a big dramatic deal. In fact, boundaries don’t even need to be set in person.
If you’re having heart palpitations at the thought of making your request in person, or you’re talking yourself out of having a conversation at all, set your boundary in writing. Think letter, text or email. (Never social media. Keep it classy).
Breathe. Allow your thundering heart to quiet and your shaking hands to still. Write the email. Send the text. Set a time to have the conversation.
Once you’ve set your boundary, expect some testing. That’s normal. You can check out a couple of my other blogs to help you make your boundaries stick, and say no like you mean it. You are strong and brave, and you can do this. Even if you’ve never done it before. I promise.
My mission is your empowerment. That’s why I’m here. If you haven’t already joined my community, please do it at my website (www.kimfulcher.com). I’ll send you free weekly coaching, and we’ll get your groove back together.
Until we meet again, know that life is happening for you.
And you’ve got this!