Published in Oct 2019 / Updated in Mar 2021
Boundaries, boundaries. Like it or not, you need them in your life. EVERY RELATIONSHIP should have boundaries, regardless of how loving or close you are.
Some people understand where your boundaries are without issue. God bless them.
But then there is another lot that never seems to understand that they are crossing the line. It’s not until the “we need to talk about boundaries” line that it hits them: “I’ve been making her feel uncomfortable or disrespected and I didn’t even know it.”
Obviously, it’s never easy hearing someone you are crazy about telling you you have gone too far. So, it won’t be easy telling a “boundary-challenged” person they need to take a step back without upsetting or hurting them.
All things considered, boundaries are there and they need to be respected. There is no way around it.
The trick is making your limits known with kindness so that your request does not strain the relationship. Avoiding the subject is not an option since the violation of personal or emotional space causes resentment and broken relationships.
First of all, know that having a boundary makes it clear the manner in which you would like others to treat you. There is nothing wrong with that, even if people find your boundaries a little too strict.
You deserve to feel comfortable, respected, valued, and anything else you expect from those around you. No questions about it.
So, when a lover, child, parent, relative, coworker, boss, or anyone else crosses this line, it is your responsibility to voice your concerns.
All this probably makes sense to you, but if you are like most people, you are probably wondering how you can do it with kindness. Let’s be honest, how do you tell your friend you don’t like to be poked in the ribs knowing how much he likes it without making him feel bad?
It’s a toughie, right? And hey, the good thing is that you don’t have to set boundaries with everybody. Some people are pretty intuitive and will easily understand your boundaries and naturally respect them without requiring a speech on the subject. But with others, do it to avoid feeling suffocated, exploited, or mistreated.
Boundaries show that you love and appreciate yourself and that you have the courage to stand up for yourself and what you believe in.
One thing that makes it hard to set boundaries is the way many people handle the situation. Some people will think you are full of pride, while others will conclude you think little of them. Others might feel that you are trying to punish them, you know “put them in their place.”
The situation might be complicated because you can’t have the same boundaries as everyone. This can make it seem like you are favoring some people and punishing others.
For instance, you might have no problem with your best buddy sipping from your cup. So, another friend who gets a “boundaries” talk for doing the same might believe you think you less of them.
As you set boundaries, make sure you do it judiciously. Be reasonable so you don’t hurt people unnecessarily. Also, before you do, try to see things from the other person’s point of view.
However, at the end of the day, having boundaries will make your relationships easier to manage and also make them more successful.
Think of all the people you avoid or don’t enjoy being around because they don’t act right by you. Maybe they speak in a certain way about you or do things that upset you.
When your boundaries are well understood, you can avoid such issues and have healthier relationships.
Remember how good it feels to know what someone you care about wants and what they expect from you. You can’t argue against the fact that understanding how to deal with someone makes you more confident about your actions around them.
They also enjoy and appreciate the effort, which improves the quality of your relationship. In a nutshell, that is what having clear boundaries gets you.
It does not matter how much you love someone. Letting them do whatever they want around you and make you inwardly uncomfortable will not improve their impression of you or protect the relationship.
You will get the exact opposite effect because the resentment will build up. When you cannot take it anymore you will feel the desire to end the relationship or act coldly towards the person.
So, make your expectations understood. If done correctly stating your boundaries will win that person’s respect and make them relate to you better.
You wish you could make some of your relationships better, right? Well then, learn to express your expectations and boundaries, but in a loving and kind way.
Believe it or not, boundaries are important.
Sure, you will have to overcome the fear of upsetting and disappointing people and try to avoid ruining relationships and appearing difficult and self-centered.
People often avoid setting boundaries because they want to be “good.” To many, being good means avoiding making other people feel bad, even when that comes at a cost to you.
We also tend to think of being easygoing and appearing open-minded and resilient makes us better team players.
But, does it really? What you are doing is making yourself into a doormat and allowing people to walk all over you for no valid reason.
However, there is no way to live that would please everyone. So, you might as well have boundaries. Anyone who cannot accept them does not really respect or care for you, anyway.
So, how do you set boundaries kindly?
First things first. Just because you are kind as you set boundaries, it does not mean there will not be any negative reactions, at least at first.
What does that tell you? That you have to be ready for some backlash.
But here’s the thing: you can work on reducing the chances of this happening.
The focus of the whole exercise should be your needs, not how the other person is making you feel bad. Making someone look like they are in the wrong is likely to make them defensive.
That said, if someone has done some hurtful things to you, let them know about it. The point is not to let that be the focus of your conversation.
Being kind does not mean going around in circles. So, be direct and specific so you are understood as clearly as possible.
Don’t do it when you are angry or upset, as your tone might convey a different message. Having a contemptuous tone will take the attention of your message and make the person defensive or angry.
Timing also matters. If in doubt about the timing, then know that the time is not right. You should both be calm and sober and not distracted by anything or thinking about more important things when discussing boundaries.
However, some boundaries have to be set as soon as possible. For instance, if you think your relative is playing a little too rough with your kid, you should not wait until there is an injury before you tell them to take it easy.
At other times, understand that there will be compromises. Be ready to accept them.
For instance, if you tell someone that their jokes hurt you, be ready for a situation where you will be stopped from making jokes about them, however harmless they were. Yep, it happens.
I know all this sounds credible in theory. But how about in real life? How do you set boundaries kindly without causing any hard feelings?
Here we go.
Scenario: Your mom tells her friends what a strange kid you were when young. It makes you uncomfortable, but she tells you it’s just for fun, after all, “you are different now.”
You can kindly set a boundary here by telling her: “Mom, I would like to talk to you about earlier; when you had your friends over for dinner. I felt a little humiliated when you joked about my childhood quirks. I understand you were just kidding and that it should not bother me as much, but I felt humiliated especially when they started teasing me about it later. I’d really appreciate it if you did not share such stories about me with your friends.”
I think you catch my drift, so to speak.
Let the focus not be the mistake the person made, but what you felt when the line was crossed. Framing the issue as a request rather than a complaint also makes it easy to get your point across. It makes them care about you and what you felt instead of making them feel guilty, hurt, or defensive.
See how the example addresses all possible concerns from both parties? That’s how you do it. It is a bit like making a deal by encouraging mutual understanding.
Try it the next time your colleague calls you that cheesy nickname that makes everyone in the office bend over in stitches but leaves you feeling like crap.
Seriously. Give it a try. Who knows? You might not feel your anger rise the next time you see his face.