Ever feel as if you’re speaking but no one is home on the receiving end, or that somehow you’ve switched from English to Urdu?
This feeling of not being heard is one of the chief frustrations voiced by those attempting to set personal boundaries, especially when it comes to family.
Boundaries are the protective guidelines we set for ourselves as individuals, in personal and professional relationships. They give us that sense of self-determination we long for and help guard against being overwhelmed by the demands of others.
Identifying where boundaries are needed is not really difficult; where we run into resistance is when we have to communicate and enforce them.
Today we’re going to focus on communication and what it takes for you to be heard.
I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. ~Robert McCloskey
You Set the Standards
Communicating your boundaries is as much about your actions as what you say. If you don’t respect yourself, how can you expect others to? I know you’ve heard this before, but it is true … you teach people how to treat you by how YOU treat you.
When you don’t take care of yourself, when you allow people to repeatedly take advantage of you without speaking up, you are sending a clear message that these are acceptable standards for the way in which they treat you.
So if you find yourself surrounded by people who are sucking the very life out of you, it’s time to take a hard look at the message you are sending to the world about what you will (and won’t) tolerate, and then get busy rewriting your story.
How to Communicate Your Boundaries
Define the Unacceptable Behavior
When you’ve identified a boundary to work on the first step is to define the issue. The clearer this is in your own mind, the easier it will be for you to communicate it in a way that the other person can understand.
Here are a few examples.
- It is not acceptable to go through my personal belongings without my permission.
- It is not acceptable to take your anger out on me.
- It is not acceptable to humiliate me in front of others.
- It is not acceptable to invade my personal space.
This is a critical step because it’s so tempting to be vague – using hints, expressions, and gestures – in the hope that the other person will be sensitive enough to just get what you are trying to say.
Understand that this is not about the other person at all, but rather about your desire to avoid the discomfort of having to express your true feelings. It’s normal to feel anxious and even guilty for putting yourself first the first few times you stand your ground. It’s good to be aware of these feelings and own them, but don’t let them stop you.
When you communicate clearly and from the heart, it is far more likely that the other person will hear what you are saying and take the request seriously.
Decide on Consequences
Without consequences for ignoring your request, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get anyone to take you seriously. How far you are willing to go with this will depend on the nature of the boundary and your relationship with the individual.
In most cases, I recommend beginning with a more lenient consequence and gradually increasing the heat until you see a change.
Let’s use the example of a friend who has a habit of dropping her kids off at your house for you to watch without asking first.
- You let her know that as much as you value her friendship, it is not acceptable or fair to you for her to assume that you are going to be available whenever she needs you and that in the future she should call first or you may not be able to help her.
- A week later she stops by with the kids and tells you she’s in a bind, so you agree to help her, but you explain this is the last time, from now she really needs to check with you first.
- Things go along fine for awhile then one day she shows up at your door ready to drop the kids off as though the previous conversations never took place, but this time you don’t let her in. You smile politely and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t this time.” You don’t apologize, or attempt to justify your stand … you stay strong and don’t give in. Simply say your piece and wish your friend a good day.
I hear you now, easier said than done, especially if it happens to be a relative. But before you are tempted to give in and let it go consider that ultimately this is about respect and accountability.
When we repeatedly assume the role of rescuer in a relationship, we not only end up with feelings of resentment, we rob the other person of the opportunity to grow by taking responsibility for their own life.
If you don’t respect yourself, others won’t either. Remember, the world sees what you put out there, so hold yourself to a high standard of grace and elegance. ~Author Unknown
Set the Stage
Personal boundaries are not meant to be used as a form of punishment. Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is people will reach a tipping point after having been taken advantage of for an extended period of time and, as a result, they end up going to the extreme by setting boundaries out of anger and resentment rather than from a place of emotional centeredness.
The way in which you communicate your request is as important as the request itself, so if you are able to time the conversation so that both you and the other person are in a calm, receptive state it will go a long way toward assuring they hear what you have to say.
Don’t Attempt to Justify Your Request
The first few times you set a boundary, it’s going to be tempting to justify your request. Beyond calmly stating the unacceptable behavior and your request, there is no reason for you to apologize, justify or explain yourself. You deserve to have healthy personal boundaries.
Will some people try to make you feel guilty, you can count on it! But if you remain calm and consistent in the way in which you communicate your new boundaries I promise you this will pass.
Try to remember that when you begin explaining, justifying and talking about your boundaries, it says to other people that you are not really confident in them and are trying to justify them to yourself as much as you are to them.
Accept That You May Have to Repeat Your Request
One of the ways in which we undermine ourselves in this process is by thinking that if we express our request once, and the other person doesn’t immediately comply, they are either not listening or don’t care about us.
Keep in mind that human nature being what it is you will likely have to repeat your request a few times for it to sink in and for people to begin taking you seriously, especially if you have a history of tolerating the behavior you now seek to change.
Most people are not out to intentionally hurt or upset you, in fact, there’s a good chance they are unaware of the effect their behavior is having on you.
It is naive to think that once established, your boundaries will never be broken again. You might as well accept that you will have to stand up for yourself for the rest of your life. There is, however, a reward for those who are willing to practice, and that is in time you will experience a subtle shift to a place of greater ease as each new occasion becomes merely another opportunity to demonstrate your worthiness. ~M. Herald
Final thoughts …
There are few things that have the ability to positively affect the quality of your life in the way a commitment to healthy personal boundaries does.
There is a tremendous opportunity for personal growth in the process of learning to balance self-respect for others with self-respect for yourself, and the rewards for your efforts include stronger relationships, enhanced self-esteem, greater confidence and an overall sense of well-being that is so essential to a happy, healthy, balanced life.
What’s your story? Are you able to communicate your boundaries clearly and confidently? Do you find yourself saying yes when you really want to say no? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
P.S. For an in-depth guide on creating boundaries with compassion for yourself and others I would like to recommend Building Boundaries With Heart: The Ultimate Self-Care, the first course my new Pathways to Resilient Living MIND * BODY* SPIRIT series coming September 26th.
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald
Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.
She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.
To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click “here“.