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The Hardest Part of Creating Boundaries: Step 2

I am the ultimate people pleaser, so when I discuss boundaries it comes from a place of knowing what it's like to disregard your own boundaries in order to keep yourself safe from an abusive situation. It's from a place of working on regaining control over what I allow and what identifies me as an individual. It means that, whether they know it or not, my friends are often helping me process through my boundaries as I feel tremendous guilt over saying no (even years after I do it) and need reassurance that I'm doing the right thing.

"Is it bad if I disconnect from this person?"

"Am I a bad person if I say no to this favor disguised as an opportunity?"

"Is it okay that I stick to my decision on this?"

Intellectually, I understand that boundaries are necessary and healthy. And if I were only implementing boundaries in my head, I would be the master at it for I know what is right and wrong for me. I can feel it in my body. I feel anxious and agitated when a boundary is crossed. But the only boundaries that do you any good in your head are the ones that you set for your own behavior. Otherwise, boundaries set for others need to be communicated clearly to be successful.

Step One: Create the boundary. Think about what you will and will not allow to happen in the situation in which you're creating the boundary.

Step Two: Get other people to adhere to your boundary. This, to me, is the most difficult part. The fact is that you can create boundaries in your head all day but if you don't communicate them or other people don't follow them they are useless. discusses a four-step, straightforward way for communicating boundaries. It is:

  • Identify the desired boundary.

  • Communicate what you need.

  • Don’t over-explain.

  • Say why it’s important.

I think this is a great way to communicate boundaries. Especially as women, we tend to try to over-explain our boundaries because we want other people to agree and feel good about our decision. Your boundaries do not need to be a collaborative effort, and if you think of boundaries as protecting yourself and what you will and will not tolerate, they don't need to be agreed to. They are yours. A simple explanation is great. Over-explaining isn't necessary.

However, what I find to be more difficult is to continue to hold a boundary when people push back, which they tend to do if you have 1) not had boundaries (or have had flexible boundaries) in the past and/or 2) they are the reason you are creating the boundary in the first place. Here are some things you can do if someone continues to push back against your boundaries.

Repeat your boundary in the clearest way possible - Say something like, "I will answer emails between 7:30 am and 4:30 pm Monday through Friday, but not outside that time." Don't leave room for misinterpretation.

Limit your engagement with that person if possible - I think that many of us, especially extreme people pleasers, have had people take advantage of our time. When I have communicated a boundary or emotion from a situation and the person has not responded in a healthy way, I have had to limit communication with that person. If I do need to communicate, I do it as professionally and without emotion as I can while still standing behind my boundaries. If they cross the boundary again, I simply stop responding.

Find procedures for common issues - If the boundary crossing is happening at work, create as many template emails or documents as you need to in order to take the pressure off you to repeat your boundaries. For example, I have template emails that I use for private sector companies that always ask me to do work for free. Obviously, that takes time away from my work and my family and contributes to burnout so it is a boundary for me. I have an email that I use to respond to these companies so I am repeating myself in a professional manner (not allowing emotions to get the best of me) and they are getting the same message (the boundary isn't flexible or changing). It also alleviates the pressure on me to change my boundary because it is a simple copy and paste.

In my journey to become a healthier individual with boundaries, I have had people get irritated with me and my decisions. Again, as a people pleaser this is my kryptonite, but I continue to tell myself that boundaries are healthy and if a person continues to cross them, that issue is more about them than it is about my boundaries. Over time it gets easier, and the space that other people take up in your mind will start to dwindle and leave room for healthier, more positive thoughts instead of ruminating or worrying about the boundary that was crossed.

What is your experience with creating boundaries? What strategies work for you?



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