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Communicating and Enforcing Boundaries
Three professionals converse and advise a better way
Our experiences with people require communicating and enforcing boundaries. Those are not tasks most people enjoy yet they are inescapable ones if the “want” or need is tolerable interactions and a decent life.
How to go about this can be uncomfortable, arduous and even miserable.
It's helps to understand what putting up “fences” for respect and peace really means.
“Setting boundaries is self-care,” says Michele Leno, Ph.D. host of Mind Matters and a psychologist at DML Psychological Services, adding that, “Once you set boundaries, you should not have to communicate them often.”
Knowing that it’s “care” for oneself might be the framing or reframe that people need to make it click what is responsible and natural, just as going to a doctor for physical maladies is usually not ignored.
What stands in the way sometimes is uncertainty or fear and anxiety. That can be overcome if a person starts at the right place.
“In one word - courage,” says Curtis Morley, an entrepreneur, author and the CEO of Counterfeit Emotions. “It's easy to be ‘nice.’ It is brave and kind to set boundaries.”
He elaborates on what he means.
“We often try to placate and please people because we want to be viewed as nice,” Morley says, but that is the wrong thinking and approach, he contends.
“Nice is the counterfeit of Kind. Understanding the difference is essential for understanding boundaries,” he points out. “Nice is boundary-less. It will pacify others and shift boundaries in the name of being nice so as not to rock the boat. Kind is willing to advocate for oneself while still being loving to others.”
It might be illuminating or sobering to realize that one’s hopes or their own decent behavior might not be a sufficient strategy to be treated civilly.
“Relying on others to respect or honor boundaries often prevents someone from communicating a boundary because they aren't thinking about one key component of a healthy boundary: the action they will take if the other person doesn't respect or honor the boundary,” says Karen C.L. Anderson of KCL Anderson Enterprises, an expert on difficult mother-adult daughter relationships and a podcast host and author.
Communicating in a manner that is positive and likely to be received more receptively, increasing the odds of the boundaries being honored, would seem to be a smart to consider.
“When we think of communication, we often focus on verbal communication,” Leno says. “However, boundaries involve a great deal of nonverbal communication. Boundaries are set through action. People pay more attention to actions than words.”
Morley too agrees that action is the driving force for success.
“Boundaries are communicated through action not words,” he contends, going on to offer a surprising reality. “The first thing about setting boundaries is knowing what your boundaries are. I find in my research and workshops that less than 1-in-20 people currently have boundaries they can articulate.”
He recommends a 5-step model for “setting and keeping effective boundaries.”
1. Know Your Boundaries. Write them down and know them intimately. Know where you stop and others start.
2. Listen and Validate. Spend time understanding the other person and their needs. Validate them as a person and the emotions they are feeling. This doesn't mean you validate the complaint or negativity. It means you validate them as humans having a human experience.
3. Invite. Invite the other person into a place of health, safety, peace, growth and abundance.
4. Surrender. After giving the gift of a healthy invitation, it is the other person's responsibility to accept it or not. It is our job to surrender the outcome. They get to choose what to do with the invitation.
Anderson offers a formula for improvement and ideally, success in pursuit of setting healthy boundaries.
“Value: what you want to cultivate in the relationship + Request — the thing you want the other person to do or stop doing that infringes on your personal, physical, or emotional ‘property’ — + Action — what you will do if the other person doesn't honor your request — + Benefit — to the relationship = Healthy Boundary,” she teaches.
Anderson provides an example. “I love spending quality time (value) with you but please don't call me every day (request). Let's talk on Sunday at 1 p.m. If you call at other times I won't be available (action), but when we talk on Sunday I'll give you my undivided attention (benefit).”
In a recent article, the statement "I like it when you....." stood out as unique and high quality. It prompted questions. Do positive expressions of boundaries that show poise and extend trust and confidence to the person or persons addressed, significantly help in most circumstances? Does "the presentation" of our "asks" matter?
The professionals in this article responded.
“Since your boundaries are about you and not so much about other people, it is important to express them in a healthy manner,” Leno says. “People will feel less defensive if you communicate your boundaries using positive language.”
Framing and presentation are vital steps to smartly communicating.
“I see healthy boundaries as being more about what we want to grow in a relationship versus what we want to keep out, although both are important,” Anderson says.
“When we know and understand ourselves and what's okay and what's not okay, we can communicate boundaries with clarity and kindness, rather than with defensiveness or vague threats. Being "kind" doesn't mean being "nice" or people-pleasing. We must include ourselves in our values...if we're not, it's a recipe for resentment,” she points out. “I always come back to Brené Brown's simple advice: ‘Clear is kind.’ It helps others know how they ‘fit’ with us.”
She clarifies what boundary setting is not.
“It's never about trying to control someone else's behavior,” Anderson says. “They get to do and say whatever they want to do and say. And we get to decide if that's our thing or not.”
Her recommendation is positive focused to negative. “Consider changing the reason you set a boundary from ‘they're doing something bad and wrong and I need to protect myself’ to ‘because I respect myself and know who I am and what I want.’”
Morley shares his own advisory as a strategy.
"I choose _________ when _____________."
“This states, in an active way, what a person will do when certain events happen,” Morley says. “An important thing to know about boundaries is that they cannot be set for other people just like country borders can not be set for another nation. Boundaries are only set for ourselves.
Details matter in the words used and not used.
“Make sure to exclude the word ‘if’ in boundaries. It is a small yet important detail,” Morley says. “When we use the word ‘if’ it can sound like an ultimatum. For example, ‘if you yell at me I will leave.’ This is more of a threat than a boundary and isn't an effective way to communicate your limits. In fact boundaries are communicated with actions and not with words. The boundary can be stated like this, ‘I choose to only engage in healthy and productive conversations.’”
This needs to be followed with enforcement.
“When a conversation turns south, the boundary is communicated by taking action and walking away with a kind statement like, ‘I choose to only engage in healthy conversations that create connection. I would love to have this conversation when we both feel safe to speak from a place of respect and love,’” Morley says.
He shares additional, brief examples.
“Instead of Saying: ‘I can't handle your negativity, knock it off,’ say: ‘I'm working hard to bring positivity into my life. Let's focus on the solution rather than dwelling on the problem.’
“Instead of saying: ‘You can't be late again,’ say: ‘Punctuality is a value of mine. I will be starting our meetings on time from now on.’
“Instead of saying: ‘Don't interrupt me when I'm talking,’ say: ‘I appreciate your input. Please show me the respect of letting me finish my thought and then I'm all ears to hear yours."
“Instead of saying: ‘You can't make me work overtime,’ say: ‘I am willing to provide additional help outside of regular hours on occasion. When it becomes a regular pattern we will need to reevaluate the workload for this position."
“Say: ‘Thank you for valuing my work. I am not available to work additional hours today."
“Say: ‘I'm happy to work late tonight in exchange for the same number of hours off Friday afternoon,” Morley says.
Most people’s professional lives and personal lives are more likely to improve and possibly be transformed when boundaries are skillfully and consistently applied.
“Your personal and professional life will feel less overwhelming,” Leno says. “Relationships may feel more fulfilling because you are more likely to interact with more supportive and respectful people.”
This means a strong foundation on which to interact.
“Healthy relationships start with healthy boundaries,” Morley says. “Codependence,” meanwhile, “is fraught with broken boundaries.”
What respectful boundaries offer, he adds, is “a place of peace and stability for both parties.”
Being a leader for respectful behavior helps other people too.
“When we communicate our boundaries skillfully we teach others to do the same,” Anderson says, “which shifts any patterns of dysfunction, emotional enmeshment or codependence.”
That moves our life experiences in a positive direction.
“We get to relax and be ourselves in the relationship because there's less drama,” Anderson says. “We reduce the chance of finding ourselves in a stress and survival response. Others feel safe with us because they know we're taking care of ourselves and not trying to control them.”
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