3 Steps to Better Boundaries
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run . . .” Don Schlitz
Oh, the 8-Track memories! While Kenny Rogers wasn’t necessarily singing about boundaries, “The Gambler” popped into my head this morning as I thought about writing this part 2 of my Boundaries Blog. When the song fits, sing it!
Last week in part 1 – 5 Cool Things about Boundaries – we covered why boundaries are great, why we don’t set them and what they are. Today, let’s get into the 3 steps of how to set and keep boundaries.
But first, I want to clarify that this advice is for your average, routine limit setting. If you happen to be in danger or experiencing abuse from someone, your first step is to remove yourself from harm and get help from a professional or trusted friend.
3 Steps to Boundaries
1) Recognize – Considering your feelings and needs, in what relationship or area of your life would you like to set a boundary? There are many ways to choose. For best results, you may want to start with an easier, nice-to-have or better-off boundary rather than a difficult or long-overdue limit.
You could try considering your desires as one way to choose. What would you like to increase/ introduce or decrease/release in your life? And what’s the boundary that you could set for more or less of what you want? For example, if you want to practice self-care more regularly, you could create a boundary with yourself to build a daily habit. Or if you want to feel less frustration with a friend’s negativity, you could set a limit on how you’ll respond to their criticism.
2) Communicate – Developing a script will help you define exactly what limit you want to put in place and how you will express that with yourself or others. Keep it kind and simple. “When you (boundary crossing behaviour), I feel (your feelings). Would you be willing to (your specific preferred response)? If not, I will (your intended response).”
For example, with yourself you could prepare this script as a mental plan. “When I don’t allow myself an evening walk away from it all, I feel cranky and stressed. Would I be willing to ask my partner to watch the kids for an hour every day after supper so I can get out for some exercise and ‘me time’? If not, I will revisit the plan and try the next best idea to improve my daily self-care practice.”
Or try using the script to practice what you could say to another person. Whether you use it as a mental plan or choose to say it to the person is your choice. “When you speak negatively about work all the time, I feel drained and frustrated that you don’t do something to be happier at work, as you deserve so much more happiness. Would you be willing to stop complaining about your workload unless you genuinely want my help to change your situation? If not, I will change the topic of conversation or ultimately spend less time with you.”
It’s also important for you to remember that when you share your boundary needs, there is no need to explain or justify yourself. You are welcome to clarify, but don’t defend your choices. You could prepare a statement to repeat as many times as needed, that shuts down the other person’s attempts to debate about your boundary.
“This is what I need to do to take care of myself. I’m happy to (how you will shift your boundary) if you (meet your stated request).” For example, “I need to set this boundary to take regular care of my emotional and energy levels. I’m happy to reciprocate so you have your own self-care time.”
“My decision to (your boundary choice) feels right to me and I’m not open to sharing more details about it.” Such as, “My decision to surround myself with more positive and helpful conversation is what I need right now, and I’m not able to share more details about why at the moment.”
3) Maintain – If the other person is unable or unwilling to meet your request, the last step is to take care of you. Follow-through is an important part of boundary setting, otherwise you won’t move forward. You may wish to ease yourself into this step by starting with a gentle boundary that is easier for you to carry out, and then build up from there. If you’re having a hard time following through, remember this takes practice and the more you try, the better you’ll get at it.
So your maintenance plan is already stated in your above script: “If not, I will (your intended response).” For example “If not, I will change the topic of conversation or ultimately spend less time with you.”
There’s no judgment with how you proceed. It’s your choice to bend or change your own consequences. It’s also your choice about whether or not you follow through with your stated response. It’s interesting to note that by repeatedly not following through, it becomes you who is crossing your own boundaries. As you likely know, the only person you can control is yourself. This is what it means when it is said that it’s nobody else’s job to respect your boundaries. It’s yours.
So there you have it. Recognize – Communicate – Maintain. Whether you hold ‘em, fold’em, walk away or run from them, boundaries are like the “ace up your sleeve” in relationships. If you want to read more, I recommend Nancy Levin’s book, “Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free”. Or if you prefer my personalized support, reach out to see how we could work together. I’m happy to help!