“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”
Boundaries are essential for healthy relationships. They are often overlooked though. Before I get into today’s blog I want to give a definition of what I mean by a boundary. To me, a boundary is a clear and specific set of guidelines that govern what you will and will not tolerate. Wikipedia defines it as “guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They are built out of a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning“. We are pretty similar in how we view this concept.
So now that you know what I mean by a boundary, I want to discuss some of the consequences of not having clear boundaries. In business, this can be financially detrimental. Let me give you an example. You are a talented artist and you love creating portraits. Your business is to create portraits for your clients. The income that you make from your business is how you take care of yourself and pay your bills. You have a friend who wants a portrait to give to her mother. She loves your work. You value your relationship with your friend, but she tries to influence you to waive your fee because you are friends. You want to help her and you have a heart of gold, but not a pocket of gold. You are not in the position to waive the fee, you need the income in your business. This is not the first time you have been asked by this particular friend to ignore one of your boundaries. What do you do?
In this scenario, your boundaries have been tested.
- A) Do you take a financial hit and do the portrait for free?
- B) Do you explain to your friend that you would love to do a portrait of them and it will cost them xx?
If your answer was A, that’s okay. What’s important is that you must be comfortable with your decision. If it leads to resentment and strains your relationship with your friend then more than likely you compromised a personal boundary. If you keep doing that, you won’t be friends for much longer.
If your answer is B, that’s good too. You just have to be clear about why you are saying no and let them know that you value your friendship but that this is business and you need to adhere to your fee. You could consider a discount but are not in a position to do the portrait for free at this time. Your business will grow and in the future, you may be more able to do free portraits.
So let’s talk about how to establish clear boundaries:
1. Know your boundaries. In most cases your boundaries are tied to your values, circumstances or principles. If it would help, take the time to write them down. Not knowing your boundaries can lead to you being controlled by your emotions and you won’t know why. Write down what your boundaries are in business relationships, intimate relationships, and working relationships. What will you or won’t allow? If so, why? This will allow you to establish healthier relationships and you will feel good about how people treat you.
2. . Be consistent and firm about your boundaries. This means that no matter what, you say the same thing to everyone concerning your personal boundaries. Don’t say one thing to one friend and then a completely different thing to another friend. Don’t you know friends talk! Eliminate any possibility of being known as wishy-washy. People will also respect you more when they know that you cannot be manipulated or swayed. They will always know where they stand with you.
3. If a boundary is crossed with a relationship you treasure, address it, don’t ignore it. Whether it is a friend, client, co-worker, or spouse you must talk about when you feel a boundary has been crossed. If you are like me, then you immediately feel when one of your boundaries has been compromised, even if you have allowed it. You may feel horrible inside because you know you have allowed it. You may even start treating the person differently. In most cases they won’t even know why. This is about your personal boundary, not theirs. Most people are not mind readers so they won’t understand why your behavior has changed. You must make it right and clear up for them what’s going on.
4. Having the hard conversation about a crossed boundary is all in the tone. Have you heard the statement, it’s not what you say but how you say it? Well in this case it is absolutely true. Informing someone that you allowed one of your boundaries to be crossed is a touchy subject. They may not know how much this has impacted you. Be conscious of how you speak to the person. Try not to have this conversation when you are angry. It will absolutely affect the conversation and how it will be received by the person you are speaking with.
5. Remember that boundaries may change as you evolve, they are not static. Depending on where you are in your life, your boundaries may change. Let me give you an example. You recently got married. Your single girlfriends are used to calling you at 9 pm to chat. But now that you are married you reserve that time for your new husband, you are not able to chat with your friends like you did when you were single. If you never have this conversation with your girlfriends it may lead to resentment or pain that the relationship has changed. If you value your friendships with your girlfriends, you are going to have the hard conversation with them to explain that they can no longer call you at 9 pm.
6. Be willing to walk away from people who refuse to adhere to your boundaries. This one may be the hardest, but also the one that will reinforce for you the importance of adhering to your boundaries. Referencing the example above, you may have a girlfriend that just won’t stop calling you after 9pm. She refuses to acknowledge that your relationship has changed and that your new boundary is that she can’t call you after 9 pm. You have the hard conversation with her. You lovingly tell her that you want to speak to her but that after 9 pm you are spending time with your new husband. You carve out time for her but she refuses to accept the new boundary. What do you do? Well you have no choice, you can’t take her call. Two things will happen, 1) she will stop calling after 9 pm and adhere to your new boundary or 2) she will stop calling altogether and lose a friend because she won’t adhere to your boundary. While losing a friend is sad, that fact that she won’t respect a healthy new boundary in your life is disrespectful. You have to be willing to walk away from this relationship.
In closing I want to remind you that boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect and integrity. It’s important to know that you absolutely should set boundaries and work to keep them. I highly recommend that you find one of the books in the Boundaries series to help you. They have greatly impacted how I interact with my relationships today. Once you realize that you are worthy, you will demand the respect you deserve in all of your relationships. It will result in you being a much healthier and happier person.
I would love to know if this post helped you. Will you be more aware of your personal boundaries? Let me know in the comments below.