We hear a lot of talk about boundaries. We learn that setting boundaries is a way to not let other people walk all over us. We learn that setting them is about keeping ourselves safe. We learn that setting them is a good way to maintain self-esteem. But do you ever set boundaries only to have them not respected? Do you find that you cross your own boundaries all the time, and then feel bad about it? Does it just seem too hard sometimes? In this article we will discuss a system for setting boundaries that people in you life will actually respect.
Your heart is a scared little animal
A boundary can be a line, a border, a wall or a cage. We all have them, some of them are unconscious, and we don’t know they are there till they get crossed. When we set a boundary we usually do it in relationship to another person. We tend to think of them as rules for other people in our lives. But here is the truth, Boundaries are agreements we make with ourselves. They really have nothing to do with other people.
Remember if you’ve been hurt before (and who hasn’t) it sometimes helps to think of your heart as a scared little animal. It’s a feral cat. One really good way to know if you have a boundary is to listen to that scared little feral cat that is your heart. Chances are, it is screaming at you bloody murder when your boundaries are getting crossed.
First step is to listen to it, and to do that you are going to have to give it space. You have to build a trusting relationship with your heart, one step at a time. And you do that by making agreements with yourself. “I won’t make you sit through a triggering situation and not speak up.” “I won’t make you hang out with drunk people any more.” In order to keep that agreement with your heart, you may need to set boundaries in situations that are difficult for you.
In this way, boundaries have nothing to do with other people. The truth is, we can’t control anyone else. We can only control ourselves and our reactions to things. Boundaries that are intended to control someone else are absolutely 100% going to fail eventually. Why? because it is totally impossible, not to mention unethical, to control someone’s behavior.
This leads me to step one for effective boundary setting:
1. When you set a boundary plan for it to be broken.
This sounds a little pessimistic, so let me explain myself. When we’ve been hurt, violated, broken by the actions of others, it is really easy to view all people who break our boundaries as villains. But guess what? Most of them aren’t, they are just humans with imperfections just like us. You can strive your whole life to find someone who will never cross your boundaries, but you will most likely eventually be disappointed.
Remember what I said above: Boundaries are agreements you make with yourself. When you set a boundary, you have to be totally okay with the fact that it might not get respected. You have to be able to detach from the other person’s behavior. If you can’t, then you are using boundaries as a way to control them.
So what are you going to do when it gets broken? I suggest having a plan of action. What do you need to make yourself feel safe? Leave? Take a walk? Go in the bathroom and shut the door? Take 5 minutes? It all depends on the situation, but having a plan will make that scared little animal that is your heart, feel safer.
Let’s say you have a boundary with someone about time. Say your sweetheart is always late, and you’ve finally set a boundary that you only want to wait 15 min. for them. Having a plan means that you’ve already figured out what you are going to do if your darling violates its. The second half of having a plan is communicating that you will back up your boundary with action: “Darling, I have a boundary about being late, and if you aren’t ready in 15 minutes, I’m going to leave without you, and meet you there.” Or if your partner just won’t give you any alone time: “Sweetie pie, I need you to give me a little space, and if you don’t, I’m going to step out and take a walk.” Having a plan is having some sort of consequence in place for what happens if the boundary gets violated.
2. You are the only person responsible for upholding your own boundaries.
It’s frustrating and hard when we work so long to finally make a boundary only to have it not respected. Especially when it has been a long road to finally learning that it is ok to have boundaries. But guess what? No body else is going to hold that line for you!
This is where your plan comes into play. People violate boundaries either out of ignorance or because they get something pretty valuable out of not respecting your boundary. If they are your spouse, chances are even higher it is the latter. Maybe they know you will eventually cave and give them what they want. And guess what? if you don’t respect your boundary enough to up hold it, you will be proving them right.
Take some kind of small action to up hold your boundary every single time. By doing so you communicate by your actions that you are serious about changing a pattern. Chances are when the boundary crosser realizes they are getting nowhere, they will start respecting your boundary. If you find you can’t do this, it’s time to be really real about whether this is actually a boundary you value.
3. Never set a boundary or consequence you aren’t willing to keep.
You maybe really pissed, and want to leave them the very second they violate your boundary, but chances are you aren’t going to. In fact I would highly recommend against it. Love and relationships aren’t built on a set of hoops we make people jump through to get to us. So keep it real and keep it fluid. A boundary is never an ultimatum.
Pick something do-able for a consequence. Take a 5 min break, leave and go home if you don’t live together. If you do live together, take a walk. Pick something that gets the scared little animal that is your heart to a safer place, but don’t make pronouncements you can’t keep.
Even if you have really almost had enough, and want to bail, don’t say it unless you are really ready to do it. Instead you can say “if this keeps happening I’m really going to consider all my options, including whether I still want to be in this relationship”. But don’t bring out the big guns until you have taken some other kind of smaller action to uphold your boundary in the moment.
Also, don’t set boundaries as a punishment for your partner, kids or friends. Attachment bonds within relationships are real and valuable. Always communicate them with love, and let your partner/spouse/kids know you will be back, and that you love them. Boundaries should only be used for the sake of giving yourself time to emotionally regulate, not to manipulate or punish someone else.
4. Keep the focus on yourself where it belongs.
Remember, boundaries are about you. Communicate that to your partner. It’s bewildering and hard when someone we love suddenly tells us we have crossed a boundary. The most common reaction is to feel like you did something wrong. Chances are what your partner did only felt wrong to you. Avoid getting in justice conversations about it. This is between you and your scared little heart. Keep it focused on that. “Look this is just hard and triggering for me, it’s not personal, I just can’t be around you when you _______, I’m gonna take 5 min.” If it helps, you can remind them that you are doing this specifically because you want to stay in a relationship with them.
One person may really have a hard time with yelling, whereas for someone else being loud is just how they were raised. Just because it’s wrong for you, doesn’t make it wrong. I know it’s hard to remember this when the feral cat inside your heart is freaking out, but try, it will make everything so much easier.
Acupuncture for better boundaries.
Can Acupuncture really help you with setting boundaries? Of course it can! In Five Element Acupuncture we treat the organs and channels to help people tune into what their true boundaries are. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is the most important organ in the body, and a proper functioning heart system allows us to let in those we love, and keep out those we don’t. If this is a struggle for you, getting some treatment on your Heart channel, or associated channels might really help make this easier.
To find out more of Acupuncture could be the right fit for you, sign up for my email list and I will send you a short article answering the most common questions my patients have.