Setting Boundaries – The Why And How To Guide
By Jordan Shearer-Grimmett
We have all heard of boundaries. These come up soooo often in client sessions.
We all have boundaries. Some loose, some tight, some non-negotiable and some that are only a mere imprint of what once was, or even non-existent. Some that we didn’t even know existed until someone actually crossed them.
So what exactly are boundaries and why are they important to set?
A boundary is a limit or a space between you and another person.
A boundary is not a way to control other people, and we can’t create boundaries for other people. Boundaries are created for ourselves and they allow us to separate who we are and what we think and feel from the thoughts and feelings of others. Setting a boundary is a way to protect and take good care of yourself. Because you are the most important person. Wait, what? No, that’s selfish… I hear you say… and that is a response I hear often.
To quote Jimi Hunt from his book Inside Out (great read by the way – active and intentional) …
“The definition of selfish is to put yourself first to the detriment of others. I’m not asking you to do that. I’m asking you to put yourself first for the benefit of others”
Healthy boundaries are an important part of self-care and can be psychological, material, emotional, or physical.
Psychological boundaries could be about;
- Morals and values
Material boundaries could be to do with;
- Limits on your time (your time is valuable)
- Limits on favours/services
- What you feel comfortable lending
- Telling someone you don’t want them to damage your belongings
Emotional boundaries are most often set on yourself and could be to do with;
- Your identity – “Being You”
- Your responsibilities
- Not defining yourself by your job, your relationship, your family
- Your feelings, and separating your feelings from others feelings
Physical boundaries could be to do with;
- Personal space
- Touching – who, how, where and when
- Sexual boundaries
By setting healthy boundaries we are establishing a limit and clarifying what control we have in a situation without trying to control others.
Taking Back Control
We’ve all had those moments, when somebody does something, or says something that does not quite sit well with us. We get frustrated, angry, sad, or resentful as a result of someone else’s behaviour or words. We say things like “you’ve crossed a line” or we think things like “I wish they’d just stop doing that to me”, “I’d never do that”. So why is it that we wish and think, and most often get frustrated about another’s actions and behaviour and forget that we can actually take back some responsibility and set a boundary?
Hmmm, because, boundaries can be hard! Boundaries take a lot of courage and sometimes sacrifice. And the motivation and strength to actually follow through on them.
Boundary work is super important, and challenging, and intimate, and invigorating…
Ultimately, by setting boundaries we are honouring ourselves and our truth.
Boundaries help keep the “bad” out of our lives and relationships e.g. abuse, harassment, manipulation and self-doubt. Boundaries help keep people together in a healthy way, building more open and constructive relationships, with more effective communication. This opens up space for honesty, love, connection, respect and peace (and much less of that frustration and spite that we can occasionally have).
So how do we set boundaries?
Setting boundaries happens in 3 parts
- Make a clear request
- Make a clear consequence
- Follow through
Sounds simple right? Let’s look at these in a little more depth.
1. Make a clear request
This is the space where you are clear with yourself about what your boundaries are. So take time to think, making sure you are looking after you first! What is it that you need? What crosses the line for you? What upsets you or offends you? What is important to you?
Let’s get real here… most of us take it as an unspoken boundary that clients will not grab our bottoms when saying good bye right? We don’t need to tell them that the boundary is there – it’s unspoken and it would only ever need to turn into a spoken boundary if someone was to violate it.
Some boundaries are unspoken (like the bottom one), some should be clear and spoken, and some we don’t even know exist until someone crosses them. So, when you need to speak your boundary, first let someone know what your boundary line is. And we need to actually tell them – don’t expect they “should know” or that they will mind-read. What is it that the person is doing that is infringing on your rights or space?
Is it that a colleague is yelling at you and talking over you in work meetings?
Is it that your friend keeps popping in to your house announced?
Is it that a client is consistently 15 minutes late to their coaching appointment and still expects the full 60 minute appointment?
2. Make a clear consequence
This is not a “you’re going to get in trouble” type of consequence. This is something that you will do if the boundary is crossed. This is that behaviour YOU will take when someone violates your boundary.
Remember that you are not responsible for another person’s feelings or actions. And you can’t make people do something (although it would be nice occasionally). People can decide their own decisions, act their own actions, feel their own feelings. They can continue to do what they want to do. You are only responsible for you and the actions you will take.
So what action will you take if someone crosses your boundary?
Is it that is a colleague yells at you in a work meeting, you will leave immediately, and not return until they speak in a calm voice?
Is it that if a client continues to turn up late to their session without reason, then that time will be taken from their allocated session?
Is it that if a friend comes over unannounced without texting or calling to check that it’s a good time, the door will be locked and you may not answer it if you are busy and the timing is not appropriate?
Decide what action you will take if your boundary is crossed and let the person know what you will do.
3. Follow through
This is the most important part and sets the boundary. If we don’t follow through on our action, the boundary will not be taken seriously. In fact, it could even become a bit of a joke.
This can be one of the most difficult parts, particularly if we haven’t made these boundaries clear in the past and have allowed a person to cross our boundary with little or no consequence. They can also be difficult because we can come across people who have a negative response to a boundary we have set. This is the intimate and challenging part! Remember, just as your feelings are your choice, the other person is responsible for their feelings, and their actions. You don’t need to carry the weight of their responsibilities.
So follow through…
Stand up from that meeting and leave.
Set your boundary and only give that person the remaining 45 minutes of your time rather than running over into another 15 minutes of your time.
Lock that door and if you are busy and your friend hasn’t texted, don’t answer it! Even if your friend knows you’re home as your car is in the driveway.
I guess that the scariest thing here is; we need to 100% be willing to honour ourselves and the boundary we have set. And that, ultimately, could mean the willingness to sacrifice a relationship if there are significant boundary violations.
Know that negative reactions or emotions from another person is a choice they have chosen to make. Not something that you have caused.
If you can set boundaries ourselves and help clients set boundaries following these 3 steps, you will soon find that you are no longer as frustrated or resentful. In fact, you have loved yourself enough to speak your own truth to set these boundaries and in return it is an honour to you and to the other person.
Benefits of setting boundaries
- You build connection and stronger, respectful honest relationships.
- You have more compassion (in fact according to Brené Brown – people with strong boundaries are the most compassionate).
- Your needs are met – it’s funny how when we speak up and ask for what we need we are much more likely to get it.
- You are less angry, frustrated or resentful.
- You have greater feelings of peace and safety – you are not stuck in those loops of self-shame and doubt for allowing someone to treat you in a way (physically or emotionally) that you are not happy with.
- You have more energy and time to spend on the things that you actually love in your life – those things that bring you to a happier, healthier self.
And finally, a few tips to remember on boundary setting
- Complete all 3 steps to set boundaries.
- You are the most important person.
- You are allowed to say “no”.
- Learn how to accept “no” from other people – after all they have boundaries to protect too.
- You are only responsible for your own feelings and behaviour, not anyone else’s.
- You are honouring yourself and your truth by setting boundaries – and as another plus, you are setting a good example or a template to help others set appropriate behaviour.
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. – Book by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
Daring Greatly – Book by Brené Brown
Inside Out: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Better Human – Book by Jimi Hunt (Note: this book is not about setting boundaries, but about Mental Health, and I quoted Jimi in my article).
This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.
Jordan is a Life, Career Coach and NLP practitioner with a private practice in Lower Hutt, Wellington.
She is also the representative for ANZCAL in the Wellington region.
You can contact Jordan via LinkedIn, Facebook or her website.