Years ago I learned from my friend Mabel to make this boundary statement, “It’s not good for me to say, ‘Yes’.” I had mixed feelings about having my request turned down. Her message was clear and polite. Personal and healthy boundaries provide an effective strategy to handle many relationship challenges.
As cited in my book, From woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work, survey respondents wrote about the power of making clear boundary statements and the consequences of not doing so. An outreach worker wrote, “I wish I’d stood up to her,” an office receptionist wrote, “I should have stood up for myself months sooner,” and a nurse wrote, “I did not make the world a better place by running away.”
Think of personal boundaries as similar to survey marks between neighboring properties. The marks say, “My property begins and ends here.” Some people mark their boundaries with a brick wall—hard, no entry gate and give no sense of who or what is on the other side.
Other people have boundaries similar to a decaying fence—leaving the rest of us questioning whether we are welcome to enter or not. Some people appear to have no boundaries at all until they yell at us for crossing an undefined line. Just as good fences make good neighbors, healthy boundaries make healthy relationships.
Anne Katherine wrote in Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin, “With good boundaries, we can have the wonderful assurance that comes from knowing we can and will protect ourselves from the ignorance, meanness, or thoughtlessness of others.”
Why and When to Create a Boundary
Clear boundaries help improve our communication, keep us in integrity, maintain healthy relationships and affirm our personal power for self-care. Consider the range of boundaries we consciously make or do not establish:
- Physical boundaries range from waving, shaking hands, hugging, or kissing. During COVID-19 and the need to physically distance these boundaries became tighter. Also, during this period, domestic violence increased. Many people are not managing being in near to one another for longer periods.
- Verbal and emotional boundaries. Words and neglect can be as harmful as physical attacks.
- Boundaries with children and family members. Family guidelines and rules help us better respect one another’s personal boundaries. One family may allow the children to come into the parents’ bedroom whenever they want. Another family may require knocking.
- Intimate, sexual, dating, and marital boundaries. These range from open and flexible relationships to committed marriages where there is no space for affairs.
- Workplace boundaries are most often established by the leadership of the organization. For example, the boundaries around safety would be different on a construction site compared to a library.
- Ethical and professional boundaries. The era of the sleazy sales-guy is over but fraud and taking advantage of the public still happens. In my profession of therapeutic counseling, I have boundaries around confidentiality and doing no emotional harm.
- Social and cultural boundaries require us to adjust our boundary expectations. I recall when we moved from the province of Ontario to Alberta needing to adjust my driving speed to accommodate school zones. Several times when I violated the rule or boundary of a slower speed, I was royally fined.
There are other boundary categories but for now, I imagine you get the point. They protect our personal or cultural value systems.
Protect and Identify Your VALUES
Basically, clear boundaries help us protect our value system. Many values have to do with our personal story or history. Values are those qualities, people, behaviors and things we hold as important or worthy. We can identify our values by noting how we invest our time, money and energy.
Circle below your top five values. On what do you spend the most money, time seeking, and developing? Where do you invest your energy and focus?
acceptance * achievement * adventure * acknowledgement * animals * appreciation * art * balance * beauty * belonging * caring * challenge * change * children * comfort * compassion * competition * commitment * communication * control * cooperation * creativity * courage * dignity * discipline * diversity * economic security * education * emotional maturity * equality * enthusiasm * ethics * excellence * fame * faith * family * feelings * financial security * freedom * friendship * fun * generosity *gentleness * harmony * health * helping others * home * human rights * humor * humility * idealism * influence * integrity * intuition * joy * justice * kindness* law and order * listening * logic *loyalty * love * manners * modesty * money * music * mystery * native culture * native traditions * nature * nurturing * orderliness * passion * patience * peace * personal development * play * pleasure * power * prayer * prestige * privacy * recognition * reliability * resilience * respect * responsibility * reverence * risk taking * sacredness * seniors * sensitivity * sensuality * sex * sharing * silence * spirituality * sports and fitness * solitude * success * synergy * teamwork * tenderness * thinking * tolerance * touch * travel * truth * trustworthiness * unity * vision * winning * wisdom * Other: _________
When we clarify our values, intentions and boundaries our messages become clear and less emotionally driven. We will declare what is acceptable and unacceptable to us in a calm and non-judgmental manner. The only person over whom we have power is ourselves. To put our personal power into action we can declare what we will and will not do and then follow through. We can enforce boundaries that are important to us.
Create a 5 Point Boundary Declaration
Here are the five steps to create a boundary statement:
- State the value being violated. “Speaking respectfully is important to me.”
- Point out how your value is being violated. “Calling me the ‘b’ word is disrespectful.”
State how you feel. “I feel hurt.”
State what you are prepared to do. “If I am spoken to disrespectfully again I will leave.”
Follow through if your boundary is violated. In the example above if disrespectful behavior continues, I would leave.
It’s up to you to follow through on your end of the boundary declaration. In the above example, you must maintain your boundary by either staying or leaving. The more you practice making boundary statements the easier it will become. Remember, healthy boundaries create healthy relationships and give you guidance and space to be your best! Let us know how you do. OK?
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.