Establish Boundaries for Your Peace of Mind
I have yet to meet somebody who says to me "My parents taught me how to take care of myself and get my needs met. I know how to say no when I mean it and how to stop people from hurting me in any way. I know how to honor myself!" If you can say that, congratulations!
What I usually hear is people telling me they don't know how to stand for themselves or to get what they need from others. Most women don't even appreciate they have the right to say, "NO!", or "You can't treat me that way!".
While men have issues with boundaries, it’s an especially big problem for most women. We’ve been taught to take care of others before ourselves. Without strong boundaries, you miss the opportunity for a healthy, productive, and growth-oriented life. Boundaries, strong or weak, impact you all the time, with or without your awareness. If you don't take care of yourself first, you lose your edge and limit your ability to have healthy relationships.
What Are Boundaries?
By coaching definition, boundaries are the invisible lines you draw around yourself to protect you from damaging and hurtful behaviors of others. They’re not walls; they’re filters that allow supportive and nurturing behaviors in while keeping out the rest. We all have boundaries, whether we recognize them or not.
So where do you begin? How do you become stronger and take better care of yourself? There’s a step-by-step process for strengthening your boundaries including identification of damaging behaviors and changing your communication style. It’s a simple process to understand, and it’s not easy to make part of your life. You do have to change, and change is never easy.
Also, it’s important to be aware that as you make changes in your life, all the relationships you’re in will change. Some people will leave your life and others will honor and respect your growth. Either way, what’s most important is to keep your focus on how best to take care of YOU and your needs.
How to Establish Boundaries
Identifying the boundary is, perhaps, the easiest part of this process. The next part is letting people in your life know when they're violating your boundary. Ultimately, the goal is to have them change their behavior when around you.
We teach our clients five responses they can use to establish and extend boundaries.
Inform. This response allows you to make somebody aware of a specific behavior that's violating you in some way. Often, we do things out of habit and aren’t consciously aware of what we're doing. This is a soft way to change that awareness. "You know, Condy, when you're late for our appointments to me it feels like you don't respect me or my time."
Request. This response allows you to let somebody else know what it is you want from them. We make assumptions that others know what we want and, if we've not told them specifically, our assumptions are probably incorrect. "I really need you to be on time, Cindy."
Instruct. This response allows you to tell another person what you need from them. People don't automatically know what new behavior you're asking for unless you tell them. "What I need from you instead is to respect me and be on time for our meetings."
These first three responses are soft, kind, and gentle ways to begin establishing boundaries. They’re the responses of choice because they minimize the possibility of alienating your listener. The last three responses are much stronger and the ways most of us have learned to take care of ourselves.
Warn. This response is harsher and requires you to be more firm when you’re speaking up. Sometimes it's necessary to imply there's a consequence attached to undesirable behavior. "Cindy, if it's too much for you to be here on time, we won't be scheduling anymore live meetings."
Leave. This is the final choice in responses and sometimes may be the only alternative that allows you really to protect your heart, mind, and soul. Even in its severity, you can use this response lovingly to take yourself out of a situation. "I'm not will to be treated with disrespect and not have my time valued. I'm leaving now. I'm open to talking about this again in the future, Cindy, but for now, I'm leaving." (With time boundaries like this, I allow a 10 minute window and if the person I'm meeting isn't there yet, I leave and contact them when I get back to my office. It's a boundary that works for me.)
Putting It Together
There is no magic in the response you choose to use, or in the order you use them. For most of us, our way of handling boundary violations is to let people treat us, and do to us, anything they want. We bury our feelings of being violated, and the behaviors repeat over and over again. Finally, we explode and either attack or walk away. Now you have more choices.
It’s absolutely okay, even necessary for your well-being, to speak your truth, especially when it involves protecting yourself. Forget what you learned as a child; to be nice, always smile, share your toys, put other's feelings first, and all the other damaging lessons. Start standing for yourself and establish boundaries NOW.
Begin to establish boundaries regardless of the consequences. Treat yourself well by respecting your own boundaries (and making others do the same). Great change will occur in your life, and you will notice differences in the way people respond to you.
Be aware, also, that this is a new way of behaving for you. Change doesn't happen quickly - give yourself plenty of time and space to learn how to stand for yourself and have your boundaries honored. It’s a journey that’s made up of many little steps.
Bear in mind that as you’re learning to stand for yourself, you’re also teaching others in your life how you expect them to behave around you. They may not be willing students. Be persistent, consistent, and relentless in helping them understand what you’re asking of them.
Don't Go It Alone
It helps a great deal to share with the people you love the path you’re on. People who care about you will support your efforts and help you. Others will drop out of your life. It's okay and a natural part of this process. At the end of the journey, when you've learned to establish boundaries and extend them, you’ll be surrounded by caring, loving people who support you, respect you, and honor the boundaries you've put in place. It's never too late to begin.