So you think you need to build a better fence – Boundaries-Part Two

To restate part of an earlier entry:

Your body and your behavior equip you with signals that can help gauge your sense of balance and let you know when something is off. It takes some practice to listen to our bodies and our behaviors, but they have been there the whole time and are an incredible way to know and respond to our needs.

Ask yourself the following questions:
1.) Have I been resentful?
2.) Have I been losing sleep?
3.) Have I felt on the verge of tears or cried with little provocation?
4.) Have I been avoiding others? Certain people? Or people in general?
5.) Do I long to escape?
6.) Do I have fantasies of doing something drastically different with my life?
7.) Do I often feel disappointed in others’ behavior?
8.) Do I feel taken advantage of?
9.) Have I been overreactive?
10.) Am I experiencing tightness in my body, headaches, or stomach upset?

If you could relate to many of the above questions, you are likely experiencing a need to strengthen your boundaries. You might be feeling demanded-upon or pulled in several directions, or perhaps just stepped on. Establishing better boundaries (more on this later) could protect you (and those around you!) from resentment or other strong and uncomfortable emotion.

Boundary violation can come in several different forms. It might be a verbal crossing, someone who makes jokes about things that make you uncomfortable or inquires about things you don’t want to discuss. It might be a time crossing, with someone who consistently wants more of your time than you want to give. It might involve effort, love, commitment, etc. While it can be helpful to identify the type of violation that is giving you discomfort, it isn’t necessary to define it in order to feel it, identify its effects on you, and respond to it.

Take out a sheet of paper and a pen and write down answers to the following questions. If you have some trouble answering some of the questions, sit with yourself for a minute or two, breathe deeply, maybe even with your eyes closed, and then ask yourself the question again. I encourage you to take your time with this, reflect upon it, come back to it after several hours or days. If you have been having trouble setting or maintaining boundaries in your life, you might have some self-discovery ahead of you. So DO NOT rush your process in answering these questions.

1) Who or What is violating your boundaries?
2.) Are you allowing it? How?
3.) Why are you allowing it?
4.) What started it?
5.) What boundaries could be set?
6.) What positive things would happen if you set those boundaries?
7.) What negative things could happen if you set those boundaries?
8.) Can you accept negative consequences to setting those boundaries?
9.) Do you have positive role models for setting boundaries?
10.) What messages did you learn about setting boundaries that have not worked and how can you coach yourself to let go of those old mindsets?

When you considered these questions, did you notice how you yourself are contributing to the boundary violation? We want to blame the other person, but we often collaborate with the violation in an effort to avoid confrontation, judgment, guilt…If you believe that you need to set better boundaries in one or more areas of your life, you’ll need to examine and challenge your thinking and your habits that have been part of the problem.

One of the hardest things about setting a boundary is tolerating how others test it. In keeping with the analogy of building a fence, if you build a good fence, you might feel like your job is done. But others will peer over your fence, knock on your fence, maybe even try to damage your fence to get in. This can make us feel that the building of the fence was purposeless. It isn’t.

Believe that you have to train people to respond to the boundaries you have set. Boundaries, especially when they are new, aren’t usually welcomed. They are ignored, or they are pushed. We are made to restate the boundary. We are called upon to stubbornly refuse to give in. We may be fighting ourselves, our own guilt. So it helps – A LOT – when you believe that setting the boundary is:
1.) good for you
2.) good for the other person
3.) going to take some time to retrain you and the other person to follow the boundary
4.) has potential to improve the relationship, in addition to the individuals involved

If you have trained the people around you to expect a certain reaction from you AND THAT REACTION HAS BENEFITTED THEM, it is going to take some time for them to
1.) believe you when you change the boundary
2.) get used to the idea of the boundary
3.) adapt to the boundary by finding another means to get their needs/wants met

As with a lot of change, “one-fell-swoop” changes don’t work very well. “One-fell-swoop” refers to those changes that we make in the context of “from now on…” or several changes all at once as a result of an awakening, or epiphany. These types of changes set us up for failure because we have to change on a more authentic level and that type of change requires time and practice. Therefore, more incremental change is advised. Ask yourself to change something in your thinking that allows you to support a boundary better. Then build upon this change in thinking to add a behavior or two that reinforce the new way of handling something. Then you’ll have to get ready for the push-back you’ll receive, because reinforcing the boundary once it is set is when things really become real. When you find yourself holding your boundary, challenging yourself on the thoughts and feelings that make it difficult, you’ll feel yourself change in a more authentic way.