Setting boundaries is a highly effective way of notifying others of your boundaries and preferences. This creates better relationships because it makes others aware of the way you wish to be treated. Also covered: making sure the boundaries you set are healthy, and an easy way to set boundaries that makes enforcing boundaries easier.
This blog post is for a video which is the second in a three-part series.
The first video included a definition of what boundaries are, examples of different types of boundaries, and how to recognize and define your own boundaries.
The third video, Enforcing Boundaries, shows effective ways to be assertive as you remind others of your boundaries if they continue to violate your boundaries.
Who is crossing your boundaries, and why?
To make sure your message is heard, understood, remembered, and followed, it helps to think about who is violating your boundaries, and why. These main points can help you better understand why someone has crossed your boundary.
- Typically, many of the errors are made by the same person.
- Does this person normally do the same thing with other people?
- Why did the other person feel it’s OK to do this?
- Does this person not seem to have their own boundaries?
- Disrespectful, or self-absorbed? At this point, we will not assume the other person has malicious intent; the other person could be doing this out of habit or thoughtlessness. (It’s best to address the issue in a neutral way as you will see in upcoming examples.)
- If your boundaries are violated by several people in the same way, you will still need to start the same steps of defining and enforcing boundaries with at least one person. If this is the case, it is also advised to associate with different people, if possible. The person you talk to about your boundaries might do the hard work of informing others.
To remember when setting boundaries:
- Be sensible and rational—are you easily offended?
- The intent of boundaries is not to shut people out of your life, but to improve relationships and interactions. (Experience with unhealthy boundaries cause people to think all boundaries are bad, when the boundaries they experienced just weren’t done correctly.)
- Not everyone is familiar with the concept of boundaries—misunderstanding can lead to hurt feelings!
Be assertive, not aggressive
Just as important as what you say, the way you say it matters.
- Being assertive is essentially standing up FOR YOURSELF.
- Being aggressive means being AGAINST someone else (including verbally attacking them) instead of simply standing up for yourself.
- Aggressiveness takes assertiveness further, but it is more likely to cause an argument and make others not want to listen to you.
How to be assertive with your boundaries:
Being assertive gets the best possible results when setting boundaries. If you’re not assertive, it can be difficult to set boundaries—and nearly impossible to enforce them. If you’re not accustomed to being assertive, don’t give up! Setting and enforcing boundaries can be a great way to develop this quality. Remaining consistent with your boundary (as you will learn in enforcing boundaries) can keep you from going back to being less assertive. Developing any personal quality (for lasting results) is largely an incremental process; a boundary that seems easier to set and enforce can be a good place to start.
Remember—being aggressive (confrontational/argumentative) can cause the other person to act defensively, and less likely to listen.
- Be polite, calm, and confident. (You’re only asking for the respect you’re already showing others!)
- Don’t make excuses!
- State your boundary and preferred alternative action. Refrain from starting or engaging in arguments.
- Less is more—stick to the points, and if you’re confronted, simply state that the boundary is important to you.
Setting boundaries: basic format
Just telling the other person to stop crossing your boundary is insufficient. A poorly set boundary is difficult to enforce because the other person needs to know what behavior is acceptable.
- Simply saying “NO” is only the beginning.
- You need to tell them what you’re saying “YES” to--for the best possible outcome.
Examples of an effective format for setting boundaries:
“I know you’re accustomed to (doing… or saying…) but I would prefer that you (do or say…) instead.”
- This acknowledges the fact that they have different norms—but that you have a right to be treated in a different way.
“I’m not comfortable with your (doing… or saying…). I’d appreciate it if you could handle it (give appropriate alternative) in the future instead.”
- This states a reason why you want them to adopt the more appropriate action.
“I’ve been thinking about the time you (did… or said…) and I would feel more comfortable if you could (something else) next time.”
- If you’ve been stewing over an incident they’ve probably forgotten, this is a good way of bringing it up and presenting an alternative so they will be able to avoid doing it in the future.
Elements of setting a boundary
- I know you’re accustomed to (doing… or saying…) but I would prefer that you (do or say…) instead.
- Acknowledging: I know you’re accustomed to (doing… or saying…)
- State preferred action: but I would prefer that you (do or say…) instead.
- “I know you’re accustomed to giving me a hug, but I would be much more comfortable with a handshake.”
- You’re acknowledging that they’re accustomed to a hug.
- You’re stating the preferred action, and letting them know you’re more comfortable with a handshake. It’s not a rejection, but a reasonable request to change to a more appropriate type of physical contact.
Material boundaries includes lending and care of your personal belongings, and your time and services.
When people over-extend themselves for others, they often disappointed when favors are not returned. You can protect yourself from these problems by offering only what you find acceptable.
In this example, we see a boundary that has been crossed because the other person makes the assumption of assistance. This creates a difficult situation for a person who likes to be helpful—at this point, it’s not a request, it’s bordering on a command.
Example: “Hey, you’ve still got that pickup truck, right? I’m gonna need you to help me move this weekend.”
Response: “I already have plans for this weekend, but I can help you from 8:00AM until noon next Saturday.”
Why it works: It’s OK to say no—and to offer what does not disrupt your plans. Having an end time also sets a boundary on the time you can offer.
Response: I’m not available this weekend, but I have some extra boxes and packing material I can bring in for you tomorrow.
Why it works: Sometimes, you have to say no—and that’s OK! By offering what’s possible, you’re still being helpful without over-extending yourself.
Physical boundaries includes your personal space, and how, when, and by whom you prefer to be (or how not to be) touched. (Your personal space is the physical space around your body.) This is also the basis for healthy sexual boundaries.
In this example, which can make the workplace rather awkward, a person at work is engaging in unwanted hugging or touching. It is good to master this sort of boundary, especially in a professional setting, because employers value employees who can handle awkward interactions in the workplace with maturity and grace. When employees can manage interpersonal relationships, it minimizes involvement with HR, disciplinary issues, and legal problems for the employer.
Example: Someone at work hugs you or touches you too much, or in a way that makes you uncomfortable.
Response: I enjoy working with you, too—but I’d like to have a handshake instead of a hug.
Why it works: It isn’t a rejection of the other person; it’s an exchange of one behavior for something more appropriate.
Response: I’m not a really physical person, and I feel more comfortable with a handshake than a hug. I’d appreciate it if we could do a handshake instead next time.
Why it works: You’re stating that you would feel more comfortable with a different kind of physical contact. Again—it’s not a rejection, just a change.
Mental boundaries are crossed when your thoughts, values, opinions, or beliefs are attacked. Attempts to persuade or force someone to change their mind can turn into intimidation, manipulation, shaming, or even a shouting match when boundaries have been crossed. It can be difficult for someone who is persuasive to realize when they’ve crossed the line from being persuasive to aggressive—which is why people who cross mental boundaries don’t realize what they have done.
Quite often, a person who crosses mental boundaries can’t realize what the root of the problem is—but they might realize the symptom if they’ve insulted someone who they couldn’t persuade. (The root of the problem is that they’ve crossed from being persuasive to being forceful/aggressive and/or devalued the other person who had a different idea or opinion.)
In this example, we see someone who has crossed the line—and has become insulting.
Example: “I can’t believe you actually think that’s right. You’re an idiot.”
(By not engaging in a fight, it usually diffuses the situation and shows an argumentative person who enjoys fighting that you will not play this game.)
Response: “I am entitled to my opinion, just as you are entitled to yours. I am not calling you an idiot, and I would appreciate it if you would stop calling me an idiot as well.”
Why it works: You’re providing proof that you have been showing respect and an example of the type of behavior you expect of them.
Response: “We both have different opinions, and it doesn’t look like either of us will change, so we’ll have to agree to disagree.”
Why it works: It’s an acknowledgement of differences, and a suggestion of a sensible course of action for future encounters.
Of all of the types of boundaries, emotional boundaries can be the most difficult to define, set, and enforce. Our culture has created a system of roles and expectations and bad examples that can make it difficult to realize what a healthy relationship is. Depending on a person’s role, they can be particularly vulnerable to manipulation of these boundaries.
In this example, we can see that one person is attempting to manipulate the other person by dictating how they should behave or feel by withholding approval.
Note that in each response, there is no acceptance of the other person’s attempt to control. It is absolutely essential to assert yourself. (Refer to the “How to be assertive with your boundaries” segment.) In each response example, there is a demand for time and space to heal—to come to a decision. It would be very difficult for a manipulating person to argue against it without realizing that the demand for time and space to heal is very reasonable.
Example: “I know I messed up, but if you’re a good person, you’ll have to forgive and forget.”
Response: “I care about you, but I care about myself, too. You’ll have to give me some time to heal in order to make a decision about our relationship.”
Why it works: Anyone who cares about you should also care about the fact that you need to see to your own needs as well. By telling the other person you need your time and space, they should respect that as well as your decision.
Response: “No matter what my decision is, I AM a good person. What I need right now is some time to sort through my feelings. You can’t force forgiveness.”
Why it works: You’re asserting the fact that your decision has no bearing on whether or not you are a good person. You’re not allowing the other person to dictate who and what you are. And you are stating that you do not want to be forced.
But why?!?! Dealing with questions
The other person will likely have questions. DO NOT apologize for setting the boundary, Neither should you make excuses. The only thing they really need to know is that the boundary is important to you.
“But Why?” 1st Response
Getting you to talk about the boundary might be genuine interest, or it might be an attempt to talk you out of the boundary. Either way, it is essential to keep responses as short as possible.
- “I’m not asking for anything I wouldn’t do for you.” (This is another reason it’s important to realize that boundaries go both ways! Since you are already respecting others, you are not asking for more than you are already doing for them.)
- “I’m asking you to do this because it’s important to me.” (That’s really all they need to know.)
- “I know this is a change for you, and I understand this is different from the way you usually do things, but it means a lot to me.” (This shows that you understand their point of view, but
“But Why?!?!” 2nd Response
If you feel you absolutely MUST explain why the boundary is important, stick to one main point—but don’t state it as an excuse because you deserve respect! Feelings of unworthiness must be overcome, otherwise enforcing your boundaries will be nearly impossible. You may need to refer to the earlier segment on “How to be assertive with your boundaries”.
There is a brief explanation of why the boundary has been set, but it’s neither an excuse nor an apology.
Whenever possible, it’s best to emphasize the positive action instead of talking about negative aspects of the crossed boundary. Stating that you are more comfortable with the more acceptable alternative is often the best way to stop the line of questioning.
These responses refer to the examples from the different types of boundaries.
- Physical boundary: “I’m more comfortable with a handshake than a hug.”
- Emotional boundary: “It’s important for me to have time to heal—and pressuring me does not help.”
The power of appreciation
When the other person shows respect for your boundary, THANK them!!!
3 great reasons to thank them:
- It’s a nice thing to do.
- This makes it memorable! It’s more likely they will continue to do the right thing in the future.
- Easier to enforce boundaries.
Making your boundaries easier to remember makes a big difference—because boundaries are invisible; the only thing that keeps them in place is memory.
Enforcing boundaries is necessary if someone needs a reminder after crossing your boundaries again—which is defined as a violation.
It can be difficult to enforce boundaries, especially when you’re not accustomed to asserting yourself and demanding respect.
This is why understanding the importance of self-respect will be included in the upcoming video on enforcing boundaries.
For personalized assistance with defining, setting and enforcing your boundaries, call us at 317-842-8881.