This idea of boundaries – of knowing where you end and another begins seems to be theme over the past few weeks with clients. Most of us understand physical boundaries – knowing that we want people only so close to us, emotional boundaries are another matter.
Many folks are having difficulty understanding another’s behavior and are spinning their wheels to make the person “see” the light or going out of their way to make a point. You are wasting your energy, time and effort. People typically change when they are ready to change not because someone else is forcing it upon them.
The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is starting to know that we have a right to protect and defend ourselves. That we have not only the right, but the duty, to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us. We teach people how to treat us every day.
We need to start becoming aware of what healthy behavior and acceptable interaction dynamics look like before we can start practicing them ourselves. Setting personal boundaries is vital part of healthy relationships – which are not possible without communication.
The purpose of setting boundaries is to take care of ourselves. Being forced to learn how to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to own our self, of learning to respect ourselves, of learning to love ourselves. If we never have to set a boundary, then we will never get in touch with who we really are – will never escape the enmeshment of co-dependence and learn to define ourselves as separate in a healthy way.
When I first encountered the concept of boundaries, I thought of them as lines that I would draw in the sand – and if you stepped across them I would shoot you (figuratively speaking). (I had this image of some place like the Alamo – from a movie I guess – where a sword was used to draw a line in the sand, and then those that were going to stay and fight to the death stepped across it). I thought that boundaries had to be rigid and final and somehow kind of fatal.
Some boundaries are rigid – and need to be. Boundaries such as: “It is not OK to hit me, ever.” “It is not acceptable to call me certain names.” “It is not acceptable to cheat on me.”
No one deserves to be treated abusively. No one deserves to be lied to and betrayed.
We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. If we do not respect ourselves, if we do not start awakening to our right to be treated with respect and dignity (and our responsibility in creating that in our lives) – then we will be more comfortable being involved with people who abuse us than with people who treat us in loving ways. Often if we do not respect ourselves, we will end up exhibiting abusive behavior towards people who do not abuse us. On some level in our co-dependence, we are more comfortable with being abused (because it is what we have always known) than being treated in a loving way.
Learning to set boundaries is vital to learning to love our self, and to communicating to others that we have worth.
- If you – a description of the behavior we find unacceptable (again being as descriptive as possible).
- I will – a description of what action you will take to protect and take care of yourself in the event the other person violates the boundary.
- If you continue this behavior – a description of what steps you will take to protect the boundary that you have set.
One very drastic example (in the case of someone who is just learning about boundaries and has been physically abused in the past) would be:
- If you ever hit me, I will call the police and press charges – and I will leave this relationship. If you continue to threaten me, I will get a restraining order and prepare to defend myself in whatever manner is necessary.
It is not always necessary or appropriate to share the third part of this formula with the other person when setting a boundary – the first two steps are the actual setting of the boundary. The third part is something we need to know for ourselves, so that we know what action we can take if the other person violates the boundary. If we set a boundary and expect the other person to abide by it automatically – then we are setting ourselves up to be a victim of our expectation.
It is not enough to set boundaries – it is necessary to be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them. We need to be willing to go to any length, do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. This is something that really upset me when I first started learning how to set boundaries. It took great courage for me to build myself up to a point where I was willing to set a boundary. I thought that the huge thing I had done to set a boundary should be enough. Then to see that some people just ignored the boundaries I had set, seemed terribly unfair to me.
It is very important to set consequences that we are willing to enforce. If you are setting boundaries in a relationship, and you are not yet at a point where you are ready to leave the relationship – then don’t say that you will leave. You can say that you will start considering all of your options including leaving – but do not state that you will do something that you are not ready yet to do. To set boundaries and not enforce them just gives the other person an excuse to continue in the same old behavior.
Boundaries can be large or small, they are focused on you taking care o yourself. Try some different ways to set boundaries with those around you.
With permission http://www.joy2meu.com/