How to Set a Boundary

In our previous post we explained why boundaries are so important  and how they are very seldom taught to us.

This post we are embracing boundaries with step-by-step instructions for how to put them in place in your life to start getting the results, and treatment you not only want, but deserve. You have to teach people how to treat you, otherwise they have no idea what is important to you and what your expectations are. No one can read your mind, not even those closest to you, so speak up and let them know what is and is not okay.

This is an exercise in standing up for yourself. If you are the type of person who puts themselves last to please others, if you never say, ‘No’, even when you want to, if you feel intimidated, annoyed or controlled by someone who is critical, pushy or abusive then this is everything you need to safely and politely take back the reins on your own life.

When people do something you don’t like you probably ‘suck it up’, just keep quiet and fume on the inside. Like when a family member shows up at your house uninvited, you’re asked to work the weekend on short notice or someone borrows your car for an hour and brings it back the next day. When you allow people to take what they want from you to be polite, make friends, save face or keep the peace, you start a build-up of internalised emotions that eventually, one unexpected day, will come rushing out.

The rewards to getting boundaries correct are limitless, including peace of mind, more confidence and assertiveness. It also means less frustration. If you ever find yourself feeling angry, frustrated or anxious about situations, chances are a value of yours has been stepped on. When you put boundaries in place that anger or anxiety disappears.

This is a really simple and very painless process and you can get started straight away, all you need is something to write with.

What is a boundary really?

Finding your boundary is as simple as understanding your core values and living a life where those core values are something you stand up for, defend, and believe in.

Step 1: Know your values

We don’t often stop and ask, what’s important to me? This is all you need to do to discover your values. To help you get some clarity and focus it’s best to narrow it down to a specific situation, so you might need to write out your values for different scenarios one at a time.

Some situations might be:

Work: What’s important to me when it comes to work?

Family: What’s important to me when it comes to family?

Material items: What’s important to me when it comes to my property?

Finances: What’s important to me when it comes to money?

Health: What’s important to me when it comes to health?

Personal space: What’s important to me when it comes to being physical with others?

Relationships: What’s important to me when it comes to relationships?

Free time: What’s important to me when it comes to my free time?

Some of your values may overlap, and some might be new from situation to situation, as long as you are clear yourself about which values align to which circumstances it’s all perfect.

So that you don’t get loaded down with every little problem and concern, it’s best to stick to your top 5 values for each category and focus on the things that really matter to you.

So for example your top five values for work might be:

  1. Communication
  2. Compassion
  3. Recognition
  4. Open mindedness
  5. Money

You can also say: If I didn’t have this at work (LIST VALUE) I won’t want to go.

Or

If I didn’t have this in my relationship (LIST VALUE) I won’t want to stay.

Step 2: Set your limits

Next it’s time to write out all the ways you need to be treated in order to get your top five values met.

Now that you know what your values are you can use these to set the limits for how those values can be withheld. Basically you can determine how you want people to treat you.

For example you know that at work good communication is important to you so you can set the foundations for how you want that communication to be:

In order to experience good communication at work I will be:

  • Given adequate notice before tasks and meetings
  • CCed into relevant emails
  • Asked about projects before plans are finalised
  • Notified in person as soon as any changes are made in a space where I can ask questions to determine how the changes will affect me
  • Sent all conditions of a project in writing

Step 3: Live your boundaries

You need to be committed to making these boundaries stick and that means that you live to the boundaries you put in place. If you don’t respect your boundary, others won’t respect your boundary either.

If you say that you want to finish work at 5pm then you need to leave at five every night.

If you don’t want friends or family to call you during work hours, don’t answer your phone. If you don’t want someone visiting you uninvited, don’t let them in, instead, tell them you are not able to have guests right now as you are unavailable. Your boundaries might be tested but it’s up to you to stay strong and respect them.

If your boundary is about how others treat you, for example, you want more love and tenderness in your relationship, start treating yourself with more love and compassion. Treat yourself to things that feel good, like a bath, a movie you like or a massage.

Step 4: Communicate your boundary

Now that you know what’s important to you and you are living to your values it’s important to let others around you know what’s happening. If you want to leave work on time then a simple email telling your team members that you will be finishing your day at 5pm will help them see your new commitment, that way when someone goes to hand you work at 4:59pm they will have a heads up when you say, my work hours are 9-5, please leave it on my desk and I’ll get on it as soon as I get in tomorrow.

You may need to tell people more than once, which is fine, stay calm and keep your message clear and simple. We sometimes need to communicate our boundary several times if people are overstepping it. As long as you live your boundary and stay committed they will soon get the picture.

This is all about teaching people how to treat you through your actions and your words. If you don’t communicate your boundaries to others you can’t expect them to know what you want, remember you have to teach people how to treat you. It’s not enough to enforce consequences on people after a boundary is overstepped, people need to be given a clear picture of what you want before it gets that far.

Communicating your boundaries isn’t as scary as it seems, you will be amazed how much people want to respect you and treat you well, they just didn’t know how before. When you respect yourself enough to stand up for what you believe in, other people will respect you as well.

You can explain your boundaries at any time, as long as you remain calm and explain your values.  It’s absolutely okay to go into detail and tell people your value, why it’s important, what you expect and what the consequences will be.

For example, you might say before a meeting you are chairing: ‘Time is really crucial for this meeting, I want us to get out on time so I won’t be taking any questions until the end.’

Or in the instance that someone calls around without asking first you can say, ‘My privacy is really important to me and I’d like you to respect that. Ask in advance if it’s okay to call around and wait for my reply. I won’t be able to spend time with you unless you do that.’

Step 5: Follow through

If you have ever heard anyone say that they tried boundaries and it didn’t work, chances are this step is the one they missed.

You need to follow through on your boundaries every time. If you miss even one opportunity people will expect you to bend the rules every time.

Be polite and calm, this is not about punishment and control, it’s simply about looking after yourself and living a life that is aligned to your beliefs. Be sure to stick to your guns and live by your boundaries every day, or put in some tough conditions that ensure you come out with a win that is in alignment with who you are.

Step 6: Do unto others

You need to be ready and able to meet every condition yourself in order to live a life that upholds your values.

Living by your boundaries means that you do everything you request of other people. If you don’t you are sending a message loud and clear that you really don’t value your values that much. If you tell your staff it’s crucial that they come to work on time and you turn up five minutes late each day, no one is going to take your boundary very seriously. Everything you ask of other people you need to do yourself, so that means you will also give notice before a project is due, or ask permission before you turn up at someone’s house.

Interestingly though you will also find a reduction in conflict as soon as you set a boundary in your mind. Once you are convinced of the right way forward you will notice that most of the little things just get out of your way and, in most cases, the boundary you have clearly framed in your mind starts working even before you have said anything.

Sound too good to be true? Give it a go and see for yourself. It really is that easy and that effective to start living the life you deserve.

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