Girl, you have got to set some better boundaries!” I heard the woman behind me tell her friend
“I know, I know,” her friend said in agreement. “It’s just so hard sometimes.”
“Boundaries” is one of those buzzwords. It seems to be the perfect answer for any issue. Struggling with your sister-in-law when she comes to visit? Set some boundaries. Being taken advantage of by your boss? Boundaries. Parenting out of guilt and giving into those little miscreants’ incessant demands? You guessed it – boundaries. It’s like Oprah announcing to her audience that everyone gets to take home a shiny new car. But in this case, you get to set up some shiny new boundaries.
If boundaries are THE answer to nearly every problem, then why don’t we do it more often? Or maybe a better question is, what prevents us from actually enforcing the boundaries we (reluctantly/inconsistently) set?
INSIGHT INTO YOUR BOUNDARY SETTING HISTORY
Before you look to setting boundaries in the future, I want to take a quick trip to the past. It’s critical to acknowledge how setting boundaries historically has gone for you, especially when you were a child. Were you allowed to tell your parents “no?” Were you encouraged to establish boundaries with your siblings or were you punished for it with comments like “we share in this family” or “of course your sister will let you borrow her jacket.”
If setting a boundary in the past has forced you to choose between asserting your independence and being loved, accepted, and valued, it may be hard for you to follow through with enforcing the boundaries you set. Why? Because we all want to be loved and accepted. That’s a biological need. The question I want you to consider is, at what cost? At what cost (my own needs, my own desires, my self-respect) are my boundaries worth enforcing? It’s easy to flippantly tell someone to stand their ground and enforce a boundary. What many fail to consider is what is being lost when that boundary is enforced. Oftentimes it’s a relationship. And that can trigger a lot in an individual with relational trauma. This doesn’t mean that you CAN’T set boundaries. But having an awareness of your boundary setting history can influence how you show up and set them going forward.
BOUNDARIES ALLOW YOU TO SPEAK YOUR TRUTH
Oftentimes, people look at boundaries like a fence. But I see them differently. Boundaries are announcements. They allow us to speak our truth while finding ways to protect that truth fiercely. From people that haven’t earned our trust. From situations that feel unsafe. From anything that feels like it threatens us (physically, emotionally, sexually, financially, etc…). When we feel unsafe, that can cause us to take action from a place of fear. Boundaries enforced from this place are not as helpful as those rooted in love. Love for the other person. But most of all love for yourself.
I have found that individuals who are advocates for their own boundaries have a much easier time accepting the boundaries of others. When you are able to identify what is important to you, those things that are non-negotiables, then you’re able to determine what you are willing to tolerate and accept. And that may seem like an easy step – figuring out what you want. But after working with thousands of individuals over the years, I’ve found that this is rarely the case. We know what we don’t want (a nosy, nagging mother-in-law). But are we able to identify what it is we do want?
FOCUSING ON WHAT YOU WANT IN YOUR LIFE
When we’re able to focus on the things we want in our lives and protect those, it changes how we see boundaries. It’s no longer about keeping people out, but about protecting that which we love within, including ourselves. But in order to do that, you first have to believe that you are deserving of things worth protecting. Otherwise, people who do not have your best interests will convince you that they deserve access to you and will treat you how they see fit.
So what does boundary setting from a place of love actually look like? One of my favorite boundary statements is this: “If you ____, then I will ____.” For example, if it bothers you when your uncle smokes in front of your kids, you can respectfully tell him, “If you smoke in front of my children, then I will move them to another room.” That’s it. It’s not a discussion. You’re not vilifying him for smoking. You’re not telling him where he can or can’t smoke. You are simply conveying your actions in a respectful manner. Here is the most essential component of this process – you have to be confident in what you’re conveying. If your confidence wanes, so will your ability to communicate and enforce that boundary. So believe in what it is you’re trying to protect.
BOUNDARIES ARE ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL SETTING THEM
Now, when others announce a boundary, we have a tendency to make it mean something about us when really boundaries have nothing to do with the other person. Boundaries are about the individual setting them. That is so important to remember. When we make someone’s boundary mean something about us, that is when we get triggered. And usually, that doesn’t end well. Instead, what if you saw someone setting a boundary as a way of them announcing love for themselves? What if you saw it as an act of love? That doesn’t mean you have to agree with their boundaries. But it does require you to respect it. Can someone’s boundaries inconvenience us? Yep. Can someone’s boundaries be annoying? Sure can. And that is one hundred percent okay to acknowledge.
The holiday season is an excellent time to flex those boundaries. I encourage you to explore and enforce them from a place of love. I hope you know that you and the things you value are worth protecting. Be an advocate for them.
Courtney Boyer received training as a clinical mental health and sex therapist. As a seasoned military spouse, she has pivoted professionally many times and currently serves as a Relationship Expert helping individuals and couples infuse passion and purpose back into their lives. Courtney passionately believes in the mind-body connection and is a Certified Level 2 Reiki Practitioner. She has been trained and certified in numerous modalities including EMDR, Internal Family Systems, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Neurolinguistic Programming. Courtney is the mother of three children, a lover of good coffee and red wine, and a world traveler