A Quick Lesson in How to Set Boundaries.

Via Lorenzo Stride
on May 30, 2016
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“Be softer with you. You are a breathing thing. A memory to someone. A home to a life.” ~ Nayyirah Waheed

Do you find yourself always wishing for things to be better, for people to be nicer, wishing to be appreciated but often picking friends and ending up in situations where you are treated badly? Do you find that it’s not easy to do nice things for yourself but you will work tirelessly to take care of others? Do you find that you do some of these things (probably with love) and still feel resentful—or that something is missing?

If so, then showing people how to respect your boundaries could help you change this.

We have all heard about having boundaries. But what does it actually mean to have boundaries? What exactly do they look like and how do we implement them?

There are a few important things to be aware of regarding boundaries.

Firstly, having boundaries means that we’re taking responsibility for how we respond to others and for the way we respond. As an example, instead of saying “you’ve made me so angry!” we should say “I became so angry because of what you did.”

It probably sounds like the same thing and probably appears like a play on semantics but—if we look closely—we see that the first statement lays the blame on someone else, whereas the second statement takes steps towards taking responsibility for own own actions and our own responses.

Thus the internal locus of control lies within us, regardless of what the other person does. The thing is, we simply have no control over someone else’s behaviour—we can only take control of our own and it is certainly a lot healthier for us to take responsibility for how we behave.

If we don’t have boundaries it means that we’re constantly reacting to what others do and say—we live in a reactive state. Reacting to any situation, instead of responding resourcefully, means that we’re giving our power away. If we’re constantly reacting, you’re just a puppet on a string—and someone else holds the strings.

For example, if someone calls you a b*tch, how would you react? Maybe you’ll be offended and think “how dare you!” Or maybe you’ll be really hurt, begin to question your behaviour and think maybe you should change. Perhaps you will insult the person in turn who is attempting to insult you.

What do you think the correct response for a boundaried person should be?

The way that I see it, it depends on who the person is. Do we value their opinion and if so, why? Is this an important person in our life? Important enough for their opinion to influence us in any way? Behaviourally, emotionally, or even physically? Additionally, is this person important enough for their opinion to become our own?

It also depends on whether we want to allow someone else to have a say over our behaviour, emotions or thoughts. If it is an important enough individual, then yes—maybe we should evaluate our behaviour and look at whether we were behaving in a way that qualifies their attempted insult. Even so, we have a choice to agree or disagree with them and respond resourcefully or react. We always have a choice.

If the person is unimportant, then why do we allow ourselves to be insulted? What they’re doing is attempting to insult us. It only becomes an insult when we accept it and allow ourselves to be hurt. Why do we allow anybody the privilege and ability to influence us in any way whatsoever?

Decide for yourself on the person you want to be and how you want to behave in the world and be that—or at least work toward being that.

A boundary is like an invisible glass screen which separates us from others. Just imagine what that would be like:

There you are, walking around with a glass screen around you which allows you to have emotions that are authentic emotions that are yours and only yours. Consider Joe, your brother and best friend who comes crying to you to tell you that he’s short of money and he doesn’t know how he’s going to get through the next month. You know that he went partying over the weekend so you have a pretty good idea where the money went. Instead of trying to rescue Joe and bail him out—with your glass screen around you, you will allow him to resourcefully sort out his own issue without making it yours. You will allow him to take responsibility for his own actions without saving him. Even if you are tempted to bail him out, you will support him and maybe commiserate with him regarding his financial plight. His issue thus remains his own deal with and doesn’t become yours.

Let’s assume that Joe is used to you coming to his rescue and he realises that you’re not going to do that this time around. He calls you a terrible person and says “since when have you become so cold?” If you have been socialised to please others and to be seen to be “good,” like most of us have been, you might be tempted to feel bad and respond by trying to either justify your behaviour or by bailing out your buddy Joe.

How do you think a boundaried person would respond? Yes, maybe not in the way that you’re used to. The best response could be: “I love you buddy and I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

Too often are we drawn into wanting to explain ourselves. There should be absolutely no need for that, as you should know who you are and you should know what motivates you. Additionally, it should be more important to take care of ourselves than it is to take care of Joe. Taking care of you shouldn’t mean that you have to be selfish but rather that you have to be self-first. I use self-first because being selfish is seen to be such a negative thing—and nobody likes being called that, even a boundaries person.

Let’s take the Joe scenario a little further. Your brother Joe responds to your resourceful response by saying: “Now you’re just making me feel bad!” How often does that happen and how often do we get pulled into that in an attempt to make the other person feel better?

The truth is, nobody can make anybody feel anything that they don’t want to feel or that they don’t allow.

How would a boundaried person respond in this scenario? By recognising that Joe has to take responsibility for how he feels—we are not responsible for him and how he feels. This can be tricky because we don’t want to come across as being cocky or arrogant and because we probably want to keep Joe in our life.
So you could respond by saying, “sorry that was not my intention,” or simply by repeating yourself and saying “I’m sorry you feel that way Joe.”

Saying to Joe you’re sorry and that he should take responsibility for his own emotions could be helpful, but it might just come across as if you’re trying to teach him a lesson, which is not what you’re trying to do.

You’re just trying to be boundaried, to take care of yourself, and to behave in a self-first way.

Remember, the relationship we have with ourselves is the most important one we’ll ever have while on this earth. It might as well be a good one!

~

Author: Lorenzo Stride

Editor: Sarah Kolkka

Image: Shmona Sharna // Flickr

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About Lorenzo Stride

Lorenzo Stride is a psychologist who hails from the Eastern Cape, South Africa. He was educated at the historically significant University of Fort Hare, which produced the likes of Nelson Mandela, among others. He joined Cleanstart Wellness, a psychology practice in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August 2009. Lorenzo has played a significant role in the Addiction programme as well as the establishment of the “Healthy you” philosophy, which he believes plays a major role in having healthy relationships with others and a well balanced life. Lorenzo is passionate about people, assisting them in leading productive lives, and helping them in getting the best they possibly can out of life. He thrives on building relationships and dealing with conflict, and helping people understand themselves and what motivates them and their behaviour.

 

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