Let’s Talk About Boundaries
As the leaves begin to change colors and fall from the trees and the air turns crisp and cool, it becomes apparent that spooky season is upon us. However, there may be something even scarier than horror movies, haunted houses, and Halloween decor: setting boundaries.
What are Boundaries?
As Henry Cloud asserts, “boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.” Boundaries are standards we set in our relationships that let others know what behavior we find acceptable and what behavior we will not tolerate. By setting boundaries, we teach people how to treat us, and we honor that we are only responsible for our own feelings and behaviors – not the feelings and behaviors of others.
What Types of Boundaries are There?
There are a plethora of types of boundaries including physical, emotional, sexual, material, and time boundaries. Physical boundaries encompass touch, your personal space, and your physical needs. For example, you can create limits about how or when you are touched as well as who you are comfortable touching you. You are also able to determine who is allowed into your personal space or home. In addition, you are in control of when you need to eat or sleep or otherwise meet your physiological needs.
Emotional boundaries are how you recognize and honor your feelings as well as how much energy you are able to provide in relationships at any given time. You are able to decide when you share feelings or certain information about yourself as well as when you are available to listen to others who want to share their feelings with you.
Sexual boundaries revolve around consent and respecting someone’s sexual preferences or expression. Material boundaries are boundaries you set around your personal items and what you are okay lending to others. Lastly, boundaries that have to do with time allow you to prioritize your needs and set aside time for what is important to you without overcommitting. This may look like scheduling time for yourself to engage in a hobby or self-care and making sure that work or other obligations don’t interfere.
How Do You Set Boundaries?
Boundaries are not always easy to communicate or enforce, however. Setting boundaries at work or in our personal relationships with friends and family can be incredibly challenging. The first step is to identify what you would like your boundary to be. Is your boundary flexible or rigid? Does your boundary change depending on the person or situation?
Imagine yourself as a house and your boundaries as keeping the house protected and secure. With some people in some situations, you may feel most protected by having a fence or a security system whereas, with other people in other situations, you may leave a key under the mat that grants them access to the front door. Boundaries are incredibly personal, and they can be changed or adjusted as needed.
Try this Acronym: DEARMAN
Once you have identified your boundary and what action you will take if it is not respected, you can then communicate those boundaries to others. Sometimes people unintentionally cross our boundaries – not because they want to harm us but because they don’t know what our boundaries are. It is up to us to express our needs and boundaries. Using the Dialectical Behavior Therapy skill DEARMAN is a good place to start. The “DEAR” describes what we do when setting a boundary, and the “MAN” piece describes how we set the boundary. The acronym is as follows:
D – describe the facts of the situation
E – express your feelings about the situation using “I” statements
A – assert your needs or ask directly for what you want
R – reinforce why the person should respect your boundary or need; this can be as simple as a thank you
M – stay mindful; keep focused on your goal
A – appear confident by standing up straight, make eye contact, and speak up
N – negotiate; this can look like providing space for the other person to express their needs as well
What if People Don’t Respect My Boundaries?
Of course, just because you set boundaries doesn’t mean that others will always respect them. For example, people may engage in boundary-crossing behavior. When others cross our boundaries, we may experience feelings of resentment, anger, disappointment, or even violation. It is also possible that we may feel invalidated and disrespected, which can lead to feelings of shame. If you notice yourself justifying someone else’s poor behavior or even feeling like you have lost your power to choose or make decisions for yourself, it may be important to reexamine what your boundaries look like and how to uphold them.
Boundaries are Not a Way of Controlling People
We must remember that boundaries are not a way of controlling people or their responses to us; instead, boundaries are a way of determining how we will respond. If someone has crossed a boundary, you can remind them of your boundary. If they continue to disrespect it, you are allowed to remove yourself from the situation or even distance yourself from the relationship. This might look like saying, “If you continue to yell at me or call me names, I am going to hang up the phone. I will only discuss this with you if you are willing to respect my boundaries.”
Time to Examine the Relationship?
If an individual in your life consistently and repeatedly crosses boundaries and doesn’t change their behavior, it may be worthwhile to examine the relationship and if it is a beneficial addition to your life and mental wellbeing. Remember, just because someone doesn’t like your “no,” it doesn’t mean that you should’ve said “yes.”