This client wasn’t sure where to start.
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I was reminding my client, *Sharon, that a boundary is like a fence with a gate. You control what is inside your fence (yourself), and everything else is someone else’s responsibility. She was worried that setting a boundary with her grown children would keep them from wanting to spend time with her anymore.
I explained that your “fence” has a gate. You get to decide who or what you want to allow within your fence. In other words, you get to decide when it is okay for your boundaries to bend, depending on who you are dealing with. For example, Sharon’s son had a child of his own. She was a little over a year at this time. Sharon was really concerned that if she didn’t help her son with rent money, even though she didn’t want to be responsible for his payments, that her granddaughter would not have a home to live in. She said, “How could I live with her having to be out on the streets?”. Sharon’s son is a good guy, who works really hard, but he’s had some unexpected expenses with his car. In Sharon’s opinion, her daughter-in-law could work, and help out more financially.
Sharon said, “I don’t mind helping out every now and then, but I don’t want to pay their rent every month.” So, this is a perfect thing to set a boundary around. I get that Sharon doesn’t want her granddaughter to be homeless, but at some point her son and his wife have to become the responsible parents.
I helped Sharon work out a boundary with consequences for when, or if, the boundary gets crossed. She decided that she was okay helping them out for a couple of months. We decided that she would talk to her son in private, during a calm moment. She would tell him that she could help with a month or two of rent, but then he and his wife would need to figure something out.
Sharon felt comfortable helping her son and daughter-in-law a little more, if his wife attempted to get a job, or earn money on a side-hustle, or if her son attempted to earn more money in some way, but things were still a struggle for him. She didn’t necessarily need to tell her son that she was willing to help even more. She could keep that as her own guideline for when to help.
Do You Need a Boundary?
I told Sharon to do a gut check any time she felt like giving money, or felt guilty about not helping. She can ask herself, “Do I feel like I am giving to be generous, or do I feel obligated to help?” I also told her to ask herself, “Am I doing something for them, that they could be doing for themselves?”
Honestly, we all need help at some point in our lives. Thank goodness for generous friends and family that offer support. Most kind, and empathic people will not take advantage of someone else’s generosity, and will pay them back in some form or another, whether that is watching their kids, driving them to the airport, cooking meals when they are sick, or some other act of love. Sharon needed a boundary because she felt taken advantage of. Because she loves her family deeply, she gets to choose when to bend that boundary.
How Do I Figure Out What My Boundaries Are?
You need a boundary around anything that is not working for you, or anything that is making you feel negative emotions, like anger, hurt, sadness, discomfort or resentment. Boundaries are for you, not the other person. Just like Sharon could not control her son, or her son’s wife, you can not control what another person chooses to do. Sharon’s son could go blow the rent money on video games, or his wife could insist on staying home to care for the baby, letting him be the breadwinner. Sharon can control her own actions and what she chooses to do with her own money.
Sharon decided there was a limit to what she would spend to help out. She decided that if necessary, they could move in with her for a few months. She works from home, so she could help keep the baby while they work for two days a week, but any more than that and her business would suffer. She didn’t offer any of these things, unless they brought it up to her first, and she had already thought about her limits.
Assess These Categories of Your Own Life
These are some areas that you can assess in your own life to determine if you need a boundary or not. Are any of these areas causing you stress, anger, resentment, sadness, grief, or any other negative emotion?
- Romantic relationships
- Relationships with family
- Relationships with coworkers/boss
- Relationships with friends
- Relationships with neighbors
- Interactions with sales people
- Your home
- Your work hours
- Self-care time
- Social media
- Your body – sexual, weight
- Clothing or personal items
- Your emotions/mental health
- Material items
I’m sure there are more that you can think of. These are just some of the things I came up with off the top of my head.
You Recognize You Need a Boundary, Now What?
You recognize you need a boundary, because you are going to lose your mind if your coworker borrows your phone charger and misplaces it one more time, or you feel like you might make a scene if the salesman at the auto dealership talks down to you again.
- Make a request if necessary – You won’t need to make a request if you are setting a boundary for yourself around money, or food, for example. However, if your boundary is due to someone else infringing on your rights, make a polite request to speak to them in private. Pick a moment where you are both calm. Say something along the lines of, “Can I speak to you alone for a moment? I would like to make a request that the next time I feel ___________________, I will need to ________________.” For example, to the auto salesman, “The next time I feel like you are talking down to me, I will need to speak to a different person, or take my business elsewhere.”
- State your boundary calmly and confidently. “You have misplaced my charger several times. I’m not willing to spend any more money to buy a new one, so you’ll need to find someone else’s charger to borrow.
- Have a consequence – This consequence is not to punish the other person, but rather to protect you. It can be that you will cut a conversation short to protect your time, you go to another room to leave a one-sided argument, that you will not let anyone borrow your expensive things, or that you will leave the family celebration early. You can decide what that will be. The consequences could also be on a continuum. The first time your spouse yells at you, you can make a request in a calmer moment. The second time they yell at you, you can leave the room. The third time, you can leave the house, and tell them you will be gone for a day or two. (If this is an unsafe option for you, seek support from a professional, local law enforcement, or at thehotline.org)
You deserve a life of joy, freedom, and peace. Boundaries can help you get there. The great thing about boundaries, is that you have the power to decide what you want to allow, or disallow, in your life.
Some people will continually cross your boundaries, and then you have the choice of whether they get to stay in your life or not. It can be very difficult to cut out a parent, or a child. Most people frown on that, but just because they are a relative, does not mean they get to run over you. Take a break, and then try again to rebuild your relationship at a later time, if you want. You will know if they are willing to make changes in their behavior.
You really have all the power here. I know you haven’t always felt that way, but it’s true. Pick the boundaries, and the consequences that work for you.
See my Healthy Boundaries e-book and video here.
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