Why Boundaries Matter and How to Set Them
No is a complete sentence – Anne Lamont
Probably one of the most important reasons behind conflicts, fatigue at work or at home, dysfunctional relationships and even stress-related disease is lack of clear boundaries So many emotions (guilt, anger, fear, sadness, discouragement) are tied to our feelings of somehow feeling betrayed, abused, controlled, overworked and misunderstood. Lack of clear boundaries can cause dysfunction in the relationships at home and conflict or absenteeism in the workplace. Friendships are also destroyed and lost because limits were not established and communicated.
This blog post is based on a book that I am currently reading called: Boundaries: When to Say Yes When to Say No To Take Control of Your Life, by authors; Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
You get what you tolerate – Henry Cloud
What Is a Boundary?
The authors compare a boundary to having a property line around your house property. What is on your property is yours and what is not on it is not yours. You are legally responsible for what happens on your property. A boundary can be in the form of a fence, a wall or any other physical boundary. In the same way, we can establish boundaries around us to protect our number one asset: us.
In human relationships, the boundary is defined as “what is Me” and “what is not Me”. I am only responsible for what is Me and not for what is not Me. Furthermore, the authors write, we are responsible to (as opposed to for) others and their actions but are responsible for ourselves (our actions, choices, etc.). It is important to make this distinction because this is where the lines get blurred. We are responsible for “carrying our load”, but we also have a responsibility towards others in order to help them with any burdens or things that they cannot do alone or that they may need help with.
In a practical application, this would mean that at work, for example, everyone should have a role ( a job to do) to play in achieving the company’s objectives. One person can not do it alone. It requires teamwork. In a family situation, it might mean being there to support family members, but not doing for them what they should be doing for themselves.
When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. ― Brené Brown
Blurred Boundaries Cause Problems
Problems arise when someone fails to assume responsibility for his own load ( and ask or expect others to do it) or when a person decides to carry a burden alone (refusing to ask for help from others). Both scenarios can result in resentful feelings, disgruntlement, stress, frustration and much more. In both cases, there is no clear delineation between “what is mine” and “what is not mine”
Sometimes the boundary is a huge concrete wall that has been set up – a fortress that no one can enter. Perhaps due to abuses or conflict in the past, the person has decided that nothing and no one is coming in. So, like a fortress, everything stays locked up inside – all the negative emotions, the trauma and no one and nothing can get in, good or bad. This person closes himself off from any help or anything that could be positive since the wall he has erected is impermeable.
Sometimes, on the other extreme, there is absolutely no property line at all – what’s mine is also yours. It is the negligence of sorts since anything is allowed and tolerated often leading to the point where one person finds himself trapped in a pattern of being expected to allow trespassing and begins to feel resentful with no way of escape. It is like allowing someone to come into your yard or your life at your house any time but never asking them to help out or take on any responsibility.
Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do – Rachel Wolchin
Some Examples of Boundaries
Time and Space
Our Word Is Sufficient
The most basic boundary-setting word is NO. This simple word is confrontational and makes people uncomfortable because it sets limits. It is one of the first words used by toddlers to affirm their independence
But how many people have difficulty with this simple word? We are conditioned, as a society, to be people-pleasing, conciliatory and nonconfrontational. We struggle between our need to affirm our limits and our fear of endangering the relationship and because we fear compromising our relationship, we say YES when we want to say NO. We give in for the sake of peace at a price: control of our decisions, our self-esteem, our time, our energy and our peace of mind.
We can say NO and our NO is sufficient. We do not need to explain, justify or in any way placate to support our decision. Our NO defines our boundary. For sure people will get their britches in a knot and call us selfish or uncooperative, but that belongs to them not us.
Our Time and Space Belong to Us
Our time and our space are ours and we are within our rights to draw a line in the sand concerning the use of our time and who can be in our space. Time is probably the area where boundaries are overstepped the most. We see it in the work environment when employees are asked to put in extra time, take the company computer home and continue to work there. There are often last-minute “must-be-done-yesterday” emergencies. Everything is urgent and employees are asked to drop what they are doing to take on the crisis.
We are not obliged to let anyone into our space just because they decide they want to. We do not have to tolerate unannounced “friendly” visits to our home by family or friends. We are also free to not answer our phone if we don’t want to. It is up to us to set up the boundaries to what we will accept and not accept, but if we want to avoid problems, we should be clear about communicating them.
Emotional Distance Is For Our Protection
Protecting our sanity and our emotional health should come far ahead of pleasing other people and fitting ourselves into their agenda. If our dignity, our psychological, our emotional or our physical well being have been abused or attacked, we can and should distance ourselves from the source of such abuse. This is a hot button topic since it gets at the core of dysfunctional relationships.
Keeping an emotional distance from situations or people is a temporary boundary we can set up to protect ourselves, but should not be considered a permanent solution. Safety is of primary concern here and it is inadvisable to be quick to jump back into an abusive situation without seeing a true change in the situation or person involved.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappinting others – Brené Brown
What Belongs to Me? Responsibilities
My Feelings, Not Yours!
We should both own them and be fully aware of them. As simple as that appears, most of us have difficulty doing both. Our feelings get blurred to the point where we have difficulty even identifying or explaining what and how we are feeling, much less expect others to understand. But, at the end of the day, we are responsible for our feelings, dealing with them and assuming any consequences which result from them. Since we are discussing boundaries and responsibilities, we can say that our attitudes towards responsibility (ours and that of other people) and whether or not we should hold ourselves and others accountable will determine the kinds of boundaries we set.
We reap what we sow
We have all heard this saying many times, but how true it is. We alone are responsible for our actions, no matter how much we try to shift the blame onto other people, circumstances or anything else. There are no excuses; we act and others react. Why is this so? Because behavior is a choice and it begins with us.
Our choices also belong to us. No matter what we feel, no matter how we are treated, no matter what someone says to us or does to us, we are 100% in control of our choices. There is no room for things like “She made me…(No, she didn’t!)” or I had no choice… (Yes, you did!)” These excuses are delusional and frankly, completely untrue and, more importantly, they render us powerless. We become victims rather than in charge. We make choices and we must live with the consequences.
Values and Convictions
Too often we are inconsistent with what we value and seeking people’s approval. sometimes it is downright frightening to stick to our values (convictions) when there is a price to pay and when it goes against what others want us to do. How often are we untrue to ourselves and end up compromising our values just to please other people (our boss, our friends, or others)? we need to draw a clear line in the sand regarding our values and convictions (and stick by them) or someone will be quick to tread all over them and our integrity.
In the book, the authors refer to internal and external limits. Internal limits referring to what we can actually control. Establishing internal limits empowers us to exercise self-control in all situations. It also means setting limits within ourselves to be able to say NO to ourselves regarding what we want to do or have.
External limits refer to limiting our exposure to situations or people that would be destructive in some way. Since we can not control people or what they do, the only limits we can set are the point to which we allow them to have an influence in our life.
Don’t Let People Walk All Over You
Having clearly communicated boundaries concerning what we will accept (tolerate) or not accept is crucial to regaining control over our life (our time, our space, our dignity and ourselves). If we don’t establish clear boundaries and stick by them, it is just about guaranteed that people will begin to walk all over us, making demands, controlling us, making us feel guilty and basically imprisoning us to the point where we don’t feel in control of our own life.
Be a leader! When people see that you are strong and that you stand by your rules and don’t budge just to be a people pleaser, they will eventually begin to respect you. Just this example of integrity will influence them in a positive way. You will free and empowered and others will see your strength and want to be like you. Not having boundaries is a destructive weakness, but having clearly defended boundaries is a strength.
Honoring your own boundaries is the clearest message to others to honor them, too. ― Gina Greenlee
I hope this post has been helpful to you. Please leave a comment in the comment section below.
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Diana Lynne’s passions are family, travel, self-improvement, living a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. You can connect with her through Livingandstuff.ca