We all want to maintain respect and understanding in our relationships. Yet setting and maintaining boundaries can sometimes seem difficult and we don't know where to begin.
I used to be at a complete loss when it came to stating boundaries. I'd worry about offending the other person or losing the relationship. Sometimes I'd avoid stating my boundaries until the person had crossed the line so many times that I would just explode with all all the pent up anger/sadness/annoyance. Naturally this did not help my relationships. It left the other person feeling confused and blamed, while leaving me feeling more than a little bit embarrassed.
I decided a while back to make a commitment to myself to improve my communication skills and to understand my boundaries better. Not for anyone else, but as a form of self-love, care and self-respect. As a wonderful benefit, relationships, stress levels and my overall confidence have also improved.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are essentially there to help you convey what you are comfortable with, your preferences and your dislikes. They support you in being treated the way you desire and encourage healthy relationships. This may be with friends, family or someone you are interested in romantically.
Of course, I will always emphasise the impact of your mindset in your life. From my experience and research, improving your mindset should always be your first point of call. Give yourself a strong foundation to live from.
For the purpose of this article, let's imagine you have worked on yourself, you know what you like/dislike but now a situation has arisen. Someone has said or done something that crosses one of your boundaries. The skill here is to be able to state your boundaries in a way that reduces the chances of conflict or turns an otherwise pleasant situation in a negative direction.
How do I convey my boundaries?
We should aim to do this in a kind and respectful way. Even if the person has said or done something you find deeply offensive, they are probably unaware of the impact their words/actions have had on you. This is different if the person is a repeat boundary offender, but we will discuss how to deal with that in a separate article.
Boundaries may make you think of being firm or harsh. With boundaries that keep you safe and healthy, you may need to be unwavering. However, there is an art to holding your boundaries while being attentive and respectful to others. Setting your boundaries in an artful way can actually enrich your life more, make you feel more connected to others and help those around you feel a deeper understanding/respect for you
I've been doing some study and classes on communication recently. One of the methods that has really stuck out is fundamentally positive reinforcement.
The format goes:
Positive, Positive, Boundaries, Question.
Compliment, Compliment, Boundaries, Question.
How do I apply this?
This will become clearer with an example. Let's say you've been enjoying talking to someone and suddenly they say something that you dislike or move onto a topic you don't want to talk about.
You could reply:
"I feel so great talking to you, we have such fun conversations and I feel excited to get to know you even better. Yet, I feel uncomfortable talking about this topic. I'd be happy to talk about something else. What do you think?"
Basically this is a nicer way of saying "I don't like the topic and I don't want to talk about it."
Let's break this down:
Positive - I feel so great talking to you, we have such fun conversations
Positive - I feel excited to get to know you even better.
Boundaries - I feel uncomfortable talking about that topic.
Question - I'd be happy to talk about something else. What do you think?
The question at the end is involving them in the process. It's showing that you care and it is not your intention offend them. In your mind, you should have positive outcome in mind or be intending that they will understand.
This question also a great way of moving the conversation on.
Another example: Someone's done something you dislike. Let's say you have organised to meet up with a friend and they have cancelled last minute again for the 2nd time (with no reason or a poor one):
"I love hanging out with you, it always feels so much fun when we meet up and chat for hours! Yet it feels frustrating when I've cleared my schedule and the meet up doesn't go ahead. I could use more advance warning of any cancellations. Can this work?"
Let's break it down again:
Compliment: I love hanging out with you
Compliment: It feels so fun when we meet up
Boundaries: it feels frustrating when I've cleared my schedule... I could use more advance warnings...
Question: Can this work?
I've used a different question here, but both are as good as each other. It's just about what feels natural in that sentence. Again you should have an intention set in your mind that you are understood and this is resolved. Don't go down a rabbit hole of "what if they say no".
I will also note: keep it short! Don't write a 5 page essay or do a 5 hour monologue... the person will be more likely to zone out or get confused. Keep it short, sweet and simple.
All of this will become easy with practice. Even I had to sit down and think about how to say some of this, but it does get easier over time and it is well worth it.
It may seem scary at first and that's okay. Just think how much your life can benefit, then you'll understand why this is so necessary and persist with your attempts.
Sometimes you'll have lots of time to think of how to say things. Other times if you need to pause mid conversation to think...then do! You can just let the other person know that you're thinking of the best way to say something. Often they won't rush you and will tell you to take your time to think. In psychology, this is known as the "sacred pause". You slow down, be present and understand what you are thinking, feeling and experiencing right now. This pause allows you to notice what resonates and feels right or wrong for you. Sometime we want to rush ahead but taking a moment to slow down can make such a difference.
You're not being manipulative here. You are simply showing appreciation for what you have liked and saying how you feel about what you don't like.
You are giving them the option to share their opinion, agree or disagree.
Leave blaming out of it. It is unlikely to get you anywhere nice.
You are NOT saying 'YOU'. You ARE saying "I feel unpleasant feelings for the topic, behaviour or sentence". Remove 'YOU' from the whole equation, unless it's saying something positive.
Your boundaries will depend on how you feel about yourself, your worth, the world around you and your assumptions about people in relation to you. I stress the importance of your mindset for this very reason.
Knowing how to convey your boundaries in this way may make you feel more confident. You won't feel like a pushover or walked over when things look like they aren't going the way you'd like them to. I will stress again YOUR MINDSET IS THE KEY. It effects all areas of your life.
Even if you understand manifestation, you will know that sometimes we experience things opposite from what we intended or things may look in a way we don't like. At that point we don't want to overreact, but we don't want to feel like a pushover either. That's where calmly, kindly stating how you feel, saying what you like and what you'd prefer (boundaries) can come in handy. Then you're less likely to feel crazy from ignoring the situation and more likely to feel pleased with how you handled it. All the while you can still know it is possible to have what you want and continue trusting the process
See my other articles for more on mindset and manifesting