Last week we took a look at the reasons boundaries are so important in The Beauty of Boundaries. In this week’s piece, we’ll explore some of the techniques that are keys to setting healthy boundaries and the perks of mastering these empowering lines in the sand.
Learning proper boundaries means that, rather than giving all our trust to people up front, we simply remain neutral. We observe. We reveal one detail of our life at a time to them. Then we notate how they handle it. Do they support us or judge us, manipulate us for their own goals, or encourage us with ours?
The answers to these questions help bring to light the depth and type of the relationship we’ll have with the people who come into our lives. Some people are in our lives just to help us learn to stand up for ourselves; others may be our professional mentors, healing guides, teachers, friends, or romantic partners. Still others are casual acquaintances only meant to be in our lives for a season. A few cross over into several of these categories and become the people we are closest with.
4 Boundary Setting Techniques
- Honor Your Feelings.
Being true to our instincts is one of the most important aspects of boundary setting. When another person’s behavior is stressing us out or breeding resentment, it is important to set limits on it.
We often think it is selfish or a fault within ourselves if we can’t handle things that don’t even faze other people. Yet the truth is, self-love starts with honoring that space within ourselves that brings us peace.
Limits on others’ behavior allows for this peace to settle in. And it is from this space of calm that we’re able to fulfill our life’s passions and purpose. Everyone’s purpose in this world is different – and that is why everyone’s boundaries are different. Setting healthy limits on other’s use of our energy allows us to be limitless in fulfilling our own Soul’s goals.
For instance, a person who runs two businesses, has elderly parents to attend to, and spends time volunteering at a charity they love may need to set more limits on their time spent in a relationship than someone with fewer outside obligations. Being honest about this doesn’t mean they are selfish; it simply means that their passions and purpose in life aren’t going to allow for a lot of free time.
When stress about a situation or resentment towards another person isn’t going away, it’s important to identify the issue – such as a partner who is consistently inconsiderate of your time constraints. Once you’ve identified the issue that is throwing you off balance, you’re ready for the next step.
- Practice Being Direct.
This requires lots of courage, especially when we’re not used to telling people what we need. One good technique to drum up confidence is to practice on small, not-so-significant issues. It’s best to begin this practice with someone who you already know you can trust.
For instance, if you’ve been “hating” on the new hand soap your roommate brought home, try using this as a boundary setting test case. Explain why you liked the old soap better.
Ask him/her to consider picking up the other type of suds the next time they’re at the grocery. Beginning with issues like this one that aren’t going to mess with your peace of mind builds up confidence and helps you understand ways to politely ask for what you need without tearing the other person down. It also helps get you ready for one of the potential consequences of boundary setting.
- Be Prepared for Some Push Back.
Push back can come in a few forms. One type of push back happens when your boundary overlaps the other person’s boundary. This is “self-love” push back. Using the first example above, maybe you need to limit your time spent on fun activities with your partner to one night a week. However, your partner really needs more quality time than this to feel connected with you. In this situation, jointly deciding if a compromise is possible, and what it looks like, is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship.
The more difficult type of push back is ego-driven. While everyone’s ego flairs up at times in response to boundaries, consistent ego-driven push back is the territory of the manipulators, the projectors, and the judgers that were discussed in last Monday’s article The Beauty of Boundaries.
These are the people who have successfully pushed boundaries in the past – either ours or others – and they want to continue to do so. They are solely interested in their own agenda.
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the difference between the two types, especially since life is full of gray areas. One of the best ways to figure out whether someone is coming from a place of self-love or a place of ego is by asking yourself if they are interested in solving the issue or just creating more drama about it. Are their conversations with you factually based, with attempts at empathy, or does trying to set a boundary with them leave you feeling more drained than ever?
If it turns out to be the latter, it can be helpful to remember that everyone who consistently sets boundaries in life will experience flak from ego-driven individuals at one point or another, usually in the form of guilt. The most important thing to understand is that it is not “your fault” for setting guidelines for your well-being, even though they will try to make it seem like it is.
Just try your best to stay consistent with your boundaries when dealing with these types of people. Our lives are about following the guidance of our own Higher Power, not about conforming to ego-driven individuals’ expectations of us. Reminding them of this fact can be a powerful way to ensure that your boundaries are respected.
4. Be Gentle With Yourself.
Learning to set boundaries is a little like being Goldilocks – you have to test out a few batches of porridge before you figure out which ones do and don’t taste good to you. Everyone’s limits are different, and in fact our limits can change depending on what we’re going through and what stage of life we’re in. If we’ve just experienced a loss, for example, we may have to set up some additional boundaries while we heal.
The key to this step is making sure that you give to yourself first. One of the best ways to do this is to practice self-care, whether that be with meditation, counseling, venting to friends, taking a hot bath with bonbons, yoga, reading self-help blogs (not a bad choice;-), or anything else that helps you feel supported. Being patient and kind with yourself during the boundary-setting process ensures that it will go more smoothly.
What to Do If a Boundary Has Been Set for You
Oh yeah, nobody wants to talk about what happens when WE’RE the schmuck. Yet it happens to us all, and it’s just as important for our growth into self-respect as being on the flip side of the coin.
Once I moved from beginner to intermediate boundary setter, something unexpected happened: I began to notice more and more when others were setting boundaries for me. Mostly these boundaries were just par for the course. At work, for example, a boss would limit information revealed about her personal life; at home, a friend would let me know how much time she had available to spend with me. These were healthy boundary-setting techniques that had nothing to do with my personal actions.
Every now and then, though, I’d have a boundary set for me that had EVERYTHING to do with how I was behaving. The memory of this that stands out the most for me was when a good friend set a boundary that limited our interactions substantially. It left me reeling. Yet, those feelings of pain were key indicators that something wasn’t right in Kansas – Kansas being my conduct in this case.
The important thing with boundaries that sting is to turn inward. Fast. Focus on what’s going on in your life, NOT on picking apart the boundary setter. For me, I’d become overly needy due to several rough situations back to back, and was pulling on the friendship too much. This was no fun to own up to. Yet because I did own it, I was able to work on being a stronger spiritualist, relying on prayer, intuition, and working on my own purpose to find emotional balance in life, rather than over-relying on other people’s good will.
The biggest boon to my life now that I’ve adopted healthy boundary-setting techniques is more freedom than ever to just be myself. This is because I’m now surrounded by people in my personal life who love my unique style. If there’s any cliché that holds true in life, it’s this one: We ARE the company we keep. Even the strongest-willed people will eventually start to pick up the habits and ideas of those we’re around on a consistent basis. Boundaries help ensure that the people we allow to get close to us are the ones who love and encourage our gifts and passions.
Increased self-confidence is another great takeaway of consistent boundary setting. The process of advising people what we deserve is also known as standing up for ourselves. And standing up for ourselves breeds a slew of self-respect. After all, it’s not easy to insist on being treated with respect when a person is determined to manipulate, project, or judge. By teaching people how to treat us, we gain faith in our ability to conduct our life on our own terms.
Helping people without enabling their negative behavior is also an upside of learning to draw lines in the sand. When we master our boundary setting skills, we can choose to be there for people during their down times without getting sucked into being used by those who don’t want to take responsibility for their lives.
Finally, practicing boundary setting allows us to grow more adept at recognizing and appreciating the people who set proper boundaries in their lives. This means that we end up attracting more balanced individuals into our personal space, while at the same time becoming more balanced ourselves. And this helps ensure that the angst of having our trust used against us is a thing of the past.
For more information on the ins and outs of boundary setting, you can check out The Guide to Strong Boundaries by Mark Manson.
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