by Madeline Laughs
I’d like to explore the art of making and enforcing personal boundaries. This year I finally worked on some of my own. I won’t be telling you what my boundaries are, but I will talk about how I created them and the art of making them work. I think that boundaries and what they mean to you is private. Besides if everyone knows your limits then they can figure out ways around them. And who wants to put up with that kind of mess?!
First I think it’s important to define what a personal boundary is.
I was told a long time ago that I needed to make boundaries to protect myself and I thought it was the stupidest advice I ever received. But once I realized this was a way to control the amount of upset and destructive upheaval I was experiencing in my life, I got hooked on the idea.
A personal boundary is kind of like a rule you make for yourself.
I found this great tool to use to get started on Oprah.com. It’s called Begin to Set Personal Boundaries and I’m going to paste some of the tools they share in the body of my blog to make it easy for you to get started on your own personal boundaries.
The first step is getting in tune with yourself. Knowing yourself is not as easy as it sounds and I find many people have no idea who they really are. The article gives three questions you can ask yourself in order to explore what’s in your head and your heart so you can start the process of knowing what you will and will not put up with. Ask yourself each of these questions and list at least ten answers to each question.
“1. People may not __________.
2. I have the right to ask for _________.
3. To protect my time and energy it’s okay to ________.”
That’s Step 1! How did you do? Were you able to list at least 10 answers to each question? Do you feel good about your answers? Are they realistic?
I had a chat yesterday with one of my girlfriends and we talked about some of these same tools. I told her about a recent episode where I felt I had screwed up when enforcing my boundary with someone and her questions and insight led me to an epiphany. Even though I had ruminated about my decision, it turned out I had made a correct decision without even knowing why it was correct. This happened because I had set a personal boundary and even though it felt totally wrong to enforce it at the time, by sticking to my plan I ended up saving myself a lot of future grief.
She advised me that in the future to approach situations with less emotion in some cases, more emotion in others. In time I’ll figure out my approach and soon it will become a natural response for me to make. Right now it feels uncomfortable and it almost seems easier to just slip back into my old standard way of doing things, which is to say “Oh, okay. No, no, that’s okay. I don’t mind that.” Don’t beat yourself up if you backslide, but don’t stay in a backsliding pattern. Go back again after you’ve had time to recover and stress your new personal boundary using a new approach. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to finally shed that old, itchy skin.
Step 2 is when you start to actually put your self awareness into action. From Oprah.com:
- Be sure to have support in place before and after each conversation. If you can’t find support from a friend or family member, you may be successful finding a friend online.
- Vent any strong emotions with your partner before having your boundary conversation.
- Use simple, direct language.
- To set a boundary with an angry person:
“You may not yell at me. If you continue, I’ll have to leave the room.”
- To set a boundary with personal phone calls at work:
“I’ve decided to take all personal calls in the evening in order to get my work done. I will need to call you later.”
- To say no to extra commitments:
“Although this organization is important to me, I need to decline your request for volunteer help in order to honor my family’s needs.”
- To set a boundary with someone who is critical:
“It’s not okay with me that you comment on my weight. I’d like to ask you to stop.”
- To buy yourself time when making tough decisions:
“I’ll have to sleep on it, I have a policy of not making decisions right away.”
- To back out of a commitment:
“I know I agreed to head up our fundraising efforts, but after reviewing my schedule, I now realize that I won’t be able to give it my best attention. I’d like to help find a replacement by the end of next week.
- To set a boundary with an adult child who borrows money:
“I won’t be lending you money anymore. I love you and you need to take responsibility for yourself.”
- To set a boundary with an angry person:
- When setting boundaries, there is no need to defend, debate, or over-explain your feelings. Be firm, gracious and direct. When faced with resistance, repeat your statement or request.
- Back up your boundary with action. Stay strong. If you give in, you invite people to ignore your needs.
See how that works? It’s not easy, but it is well worth it!
My downfall was always allowing the person I’m setting a boundary with to debate the issue with me. What always happened was I felt torn asunder and they kept doing whatever they were doing that made me uncomfortable. Eventually I realized they didn’t respect me or my feelings. It took me years to realize this!
Your personal space is not up for debate! If someone wants to argue with you about what makes you uncomfortable then the simple truth is that they are not a compatible friend. Move on gracefully.
Step 3 is about strengthening your personal boundaries.
I used to take everything anyone said to me or about me personally. I don’t anymore. Usually when someone is making a rude or mean comment about you it has nothing at all to do with you, but it has everything to do with them and how they feel about themselves. Now it has become easier for me to take that step back and think about what is being said, rather than immediately reacting to it with emotion.
About five or six years ago I started being aggressive in defending myself and my friends when we were hurt by another person’s mean behavior. I pointed the mirror back at the offender because that’s where it needed to be pointed. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was something I talked about with a friend recently. I was wasting my time trying to make the offender see their transgressions when in reality they would never see their mistakes. They couldn’t see them because they have no idea that what they did was wrong. This is the way they behave and they can’t help it.
Rather than continue to waste your time trying to fix someone, spend your time moving on and away from these people because they are not compatible with you. You might love some of them to distraction, but I’m going to strongly advise you to love them from afar, or prepare yourself to be hurt over and over and over again.
“One of the reasons that women take things personally is because they have weak “internal boundaries.” An internal boundary is like an invisible shield that prevents you from taking in a comment without checking it out first. For example, when someone accuses you of being arrogant, stop and consider the statement before taking it in.
When you use this internal shield, especially with difficult people like an ex-spouse or critical parent, it gives you time to ask yourself the following three questions:
- How much of this is true about me?
- How much of this is about the other person?
- What do I need to do (if anything) to regain my personal power or stand up for myself?
This last question is very important. Too often women neglect to stand up for themselves by avoiding confrontation and end up weakening their internal shield, making it harder to set boundaries at all. So, if someone offends you, it may be necessary to let them know in order to protect and strengthen your internal boundaries.”
I’m going to end this post with Step 3 of making and enforcing personal boundaries. Step 4 is a post all to itself and one that I will explore in depth because I think out of all of the steps, it’s the one we all have the most trouble with.
So until next time, I am Madeline Laughs and I am out here on my tiny island drawing my own line in the sand for personal freedom and better mental health.
- The Importance of Setting Personal Boundaries (gettingatwhatmatters.wordpress.com)
- Being BIGGER (spreadinformation.wordpress.com)
- Confidence – the magical ingredient (earlyinitiative.wordpress.com)
- How to Take Back Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries (lifehack.org)
- did we just become best friends? (nichekaplan.wordpress.com)
- The Making of Strong Moral Boundaries (glengaugh.com)
- Setting Personal Boundaries – Protecting Self – Part 1 (gettingatwhatmatters.wordpress.com)
- Personal Boundaries (born4rthis.wordpress.com)