There’s been a common theme showing up during my coaching sessions that I imagine some of you might experience as well.
It’s a violation of boundaries. OR not having or knowing your boundaries.
The word “boundaries” might bring up some big feelings for you. There are certain words that act as triggers for people; some words are more common triggers that affect most people, and some are words that are so specific they only affect a small group of people.
Noticing how you feel about the concept of “boundaries” is a good way to measure how comfortable you are with them. Let’s explore.
WHAT IS A BOUNDARY
If someone you don’t know enters your home without your permission, that violates a boundary most of us have (I’m pretty sure they call it breaking and entering).
Nobody has a problem with that boundary. But what if it’s your mother-in-law who shows up unannounced to play with the kids? Maybe not as traumatic a scene as a stranger entering your home, but this scenario also doesn’t make you feel completely comfortable.
So what happens if your mother-in-law does this repeatedly? Would you tell her that you’re not comfortable with that, or let yourself get angrier and angrier because “she should know better”?
I’ve heard people say, “There are certain things people just shouldn’t do.” I don’t completely disagree with that; for example, you should never murder someone or steal or break into someone’s home.
But what happens if someone doesn’t break any law, but breaks your own personal code? Unless your personal code is written very clearly and advertised, like the law is, how do you expect people to know what your personal code - or BOUNDARIES - are?
Let’s switch the script for a second. How would you feel if you violated a boundary of someone you love, but didn’t know it? If they finally came clean and told you that you betrayed their trust or made them uncomfortable somehow, would you be happy that you crossed a line? OF COURSE NOT!
So what can you do to prevent this from happening to you and the people you love? It all comes down to communication. When we’re afraid to express how we feel about our boundaries because we think the other person will be offended or get upset, we’re making an assumption that isn’t based in fact.
Setting clear boundaries isn’t a way of shutting people out, it’s a way of respecting and loving yourself.
It’s a way of saying, “This is my threshold, and if you love and respect me you will honor it.”
It might feel scary because you might fear losing the relationship or job (depending on the situation), but again, that is based on an assumption (and is it more important to have the job or relationship OR to respect yourself?).
Boundaries are set with love. They’re not a threat, they’re not manipulation. They’re a kind and loving way of saying, “These are my limits.” And you can communicate what those are with your behavior.
For example, if someone tries to smoke a cigarette in your home you wouldn’t say, “You shouldn’t smoke, that's disgusting, you’re going to die of cancer….” You might say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t allow smoking in my home, I respect your desire to smoke, but if you choose to do it in my home I will have to ask you to leave.” See the difference? Stating your boundaries clearly is something everyone can respect.
Or a big one that’s been coming up is Too Much Work. But guess what? Rather than accepting yet another assignment or task on your to-do list, you can simply say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept any more assignments until X is done” (clarify when you can take on more). That might be scary or uncomfortable to say, but you are part of a team, and a good team works together.
In my experience, I have found most people are unaware of their boundaries - or they don’t have any. Either way, it’s kind of the same thing because it impacts you the same way; you get upset about someone not knowing something you think they should.
All we can TRULY control is our communication. When we don’t set clear boundaries we are asking people in our life to walk a tightrope, hoping they have good balance. It’s important to nurture the relationship we have with ourselves, and knowing what we can or cannot tolerate is very very important.
Vulnerable communication can be frightening, but is it worth suffering for? Because that’s what happens when you don’t communicate your boundaries clearly - you suffer. Remember, you would feel terrible if you violated someone's boundaries, so let them know yours.
Choose to love and respect yourself ABOVE all else!
To summarize, boundaries are GOOD when communicated effectively. Boundaries are not manipulation. We don’t feel good when we cross someone’s boundaries unknowingly.
Trust that the people in your life that matter the most to you respect you and would love to know your boundaries so they don’t cause you suffering.
But most importantly, boundaries are a way of respecting yourself and showing others you know you are worthy of their respect too.