Updated: Jan 6, 2019
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves.”
- Brené Brown
To add to this, I think if it is much easier to love someone the way they deserve to be loved if we love ourselves first. Boundaries are an act of love and respect and are crucial to any relationship. Appropriate boundaries allow for healthy and respectful relationships to grow. They help us replenish and refuel so we can better be there for the people in our lives. They help us take care of ourselves so we can better take care of others.
They key to setting boundaries is vulnerability. We have to make ourselves vulnerable by sharing our needs and expressing what is best for us. But by choosing vulnerability, we open ourselves to risk; the risk of being rejected, of having our needs denied, of being treated with disrespect. However, we also open ourselves to our needs being met, to being received with respect and kindness. And that is always worth the risk.
This may seem counterintuitive. Setting boundaries may seem like a limiting or restricting action, like a choice that closes off relationships, builds up a wall and incites confrontation. Setting boundaries however is an act that promotes openness, growth and balance. And this all comes back to vulnerability. Setting a boundary is opening ourselves to another person’s judgment and decision to acquiesce or not. It makes us vulnerable because we are asking for what we need, we are asking someone to respect what we have to say and act accordingly.
There are three main ways in which we can ensure we do this successfully. When setting a boundary with someone in our life, we need to remember the following:
1) Be straightforward and focused:
When we set a boundary we are expressing a need and presenting a request. We are asking that someone change their behaviour or allow for a change in our behaviour. It is extremely important to be transparent in what we are asking for. We need to express our need in a way that is easy to understand, logical and respectful. The more vague the request, the more confused the person will be about what to change because it is ambiguous what need you are trying to fill. For example, if someone in your family constantly disparages your relationship. You set a boundary by saying: “I’d really like you to be nicer to me.” What does this mean? Open the door for you? Ask how your day is each time they see you? Instead, you clearly express: “I’d really like it if you spoke more respectfully of my partner and showed trust in my choices.” Phrased this way, there is no doubt of what behaviour you would like to see change.
2) Be transparent and vulnerable about the reason behind the boundary:
Once you’ve clearly expressed what you would like from the other person, it is important to explain why. This does not mean having to justify yourself endlessly or proving that you are worthy of respectful behaviour. This simply means explaining the effects of this person’s ineffective behaviour on you. To continue with our example, after describing the behaviour that needs to change, we would explain why this behaviour is negative. “When you disrespect my partner, I feel like you’re not acknowledging that we are in a serious relationship and I feel insulted, angry and hurt.” Asking for something without explaining why can seem aggressive and confrontational. If we demand a behavioural change and do not explain why, we are creating a judgment on that person’s behaviour. When we explain the reason behind the request, we are focusing on our feelings and what comes up for us when the person behaves this way. That’s where vulnerability comes in.
3) Be honest about the consequences (to yourself and to others):
Now that we’ve made our request and explained why it’s important, establishing consequences is also important. If the person does not honour our request, we have to change our behaviour. We’ve asked for someone to change their behaviour, we need to be clear on what will occur if they do not. This isn’t about punishment; it’s about creating an understanding that if there is no change we will have to act a certain way to protect ourselves from something negative. For example, someone in your life always speaks disparagingly of your career choice. They tell you that you will fail. Understandably, this would make you feel demeaned and disrespected. You would set a boundary around the way this person addresses you; ask that they speak more respectfully about your life and choices, ask that they be more encouraging and supportive. If they are unable to do that, you can choose not to engage in the conversation at all, or limit the time you spend with them. By setting a consequence, you are expressing that you will not tolerate being treated with disrespect and will remove yourself from the situation if need be.
Still, the key is to remain kind and be non-judgmental. Just as we discussed that it is crucial to be transparent about the reasons behind our need, it is important to understand the reasons or the thought process behind the other person’s ineffective behaviours. Ineffective communication can stem from love, caring, a need to maintain control, fear or worry for someone, etc. By understanding this, many times we will realize that the person may not have entirely nefarious intentions. This allows us to be kind and respectful during the exchange.
Setting boundaries can be extremely difficult because vulnerability is difficult. It is something we are often taught is a weakness, that we are scared of and maybe even not very good at. It is, however, necessary to setting boundaries and expressing our needs. This is how we turn a demand into a healthy and open exchange where each party is compassionate. Boundaries may feel like a combative choice, but they are actually tools for growth and openness. Each time you have trouble finding your voice and you find it a challenge to express your needs, try to remember that this will help deepen and strengthen your relationship