Boundary setting is one of the most important and challenging steps we must take in any relationship. As friends, we may be joined at the hip. As partners, we’re soul mates who finish each other’s sentences. In our careers, we have inseparable colleagues. Regardless of the setting, the truth remains that we’re individuals first and foremost. This means we can and do have boundaries that impact even those closest to us.
Why is it so hard to set boundaries?
The answers to this question are complex and virtually endless but here are some common trends:
- We have been conditioned from an early age to be a people-pleaser. Boundaries will likely decrease your popularity and sometimes perceived safety. Boundary setting is sure to anger those who seek to control.
- Not knowing what it is what we want. How can we set boundaries when we’ve never been encouraged to put ourselves first?
- This is when others do their best to stop you from putting yourself first. Some will try to twist around your boundaries until they are nothing like what you declared. That also can be referred to as “Crazy Making”, where you may even doubt your own need for the boundary!
- We feel responsible for the other person’s response. This is tricky. We love many people in our lives and fear hurting them in any way, having conflict with them or being potentially emotionally abandoned if boundary setting is not appreciated.
6 Ways to Support Effective and Respectful Boundary Setting
- Don’t lose perspective when online
The Internet has changed almost everything. Boundary setting has become harder than ever. Of course, there’s the anonymous option—which seems to embolden many to become trolls. But also, without the benefit of being face to face, even the nicest among us make ugly choices. Choose wisely when entering online communities. Opt for environments that bring out the best in you.
- Learn about social dynamics
No relationship is created equal. There are always social dynamics at play, e.g. sex, age, ethnicity, financial status, and more. If you’re the one on the higher perceived rung, you’re required to accept more boundaries. It’s not easy for others to ask for what challenges societal norms.
If you’re not sure what someone needs, ask them. Healthy communication is the foundation and the glue of boundary setting. When we consider how boundaries can and do evolve, it’s easy to recognize the need to stay connected and open.
- Hold each other accountable
Boundaries require consequences. This doesn’t mean “punishment.” Rather, everyone involved must work together to create a form of accountability. This ensures that boundaries are noted and respected.
- Don’t feel guilty for attending to your own needs
As stated above, it’s hard not to feel responsible for someone’s reaction to your boundaries. This inevitably leads to feelings of guilt. In addition, someone in your life may try to make you feel guilty when you set a reasonable boundary. When this happens, you have every right to question why they’re in your life.
- Practice empathy
Effective boundary setting requires us to see and feel beyond ourselves. They teach us to practice empathy and open-mindedness. It requires patience to set and respect boundaries. Patience is fast becoming a rare commodity in our culture. So, in a way, you should perceive someone’s boundary setting as an opportunity to learn and grow.
What to do when your boundaries are not respected
In a culture that is unclear or uncomfortable with healthy and respectful boundary setting, we may lose perspective on what we’re willing to accept. We may also feel challenged in terms of understanding the boundaries of others. It may be difficult to override our conditioned response to avoid setting boundaries due to habit and fears. This is the ideal time to ask for help. Counselling and Coaching is a powerful step for many reasons. In terms of boundary setting, it’s super helpful to work with a guide to better navigate this crucial and tricky part of life.