Skip to main content

A personal note to my faithful readers: I’ve recently finished up with a couple of coaching clients and have availability in my calendar. I would love to work with anyone who wants to accelerate their results in 2023. Complimentary first session. I can be reached by email cynthia@ccbarlow.com or phone 647-544-1567.

~       ~       ~       ~       ~       ~       ~       ~

“You get what you tolerate.” – Henry Cloud

It took me a long time to figure out that boundaries are both healthy and beneficial.

When you come from a dysfunctional family system, boundaries are often in short supply, with the modeling of them non-existent.

Indeed, to set one was to risk being viewed as disloyal—a tell-tale reflection of the dysfunction itself.

So it is that many people arrive at a point in their life where their own growth depends on identifying, naming, and holding the line on some boundary.

With relatively little—or no—experience in how to do so unless they’ve engaged a therapist or coach for some objective input and guidance, they can sometimes make things worse in their efforts.

Plus, many of us established unconscious boundaries, for protection, at an age where they might have been necessary for our physical or emotional survival, and then buried them deep.  Now, as adults, they imprison rather than protect us. (An example: Always cracking a joke when topics become tense; hard to sustain a marriage, for example, without a few tense conversations.)

Since many people either don’t know what a boundary is (or how to set one) or, the flip side, they know what they feel and want but aren’t sure they have the right to want it or voice it, I thought I’d net it out.

Identify

If you feel frustrated, hurt, dismissed or disgusted, a boundary has been crossed.

If you’re outraged by something, suddenly, some boundary has been broken or some value trampled.

And if you’re also confused by your own reactions, it means you have yet to identify what that boundary is, the one that is screaming at you to be recognized.

Yet-to-be-named boundaries are common and account for most relationship communication issues.

“Boundaries were necessary for a successful relationship. Most relationships aborted in the boundary defining stage. Not because people demanded what they needed, but because they didn’t, and then got resentful about it.” – Karen Marie Moning

Back to the issue at hand—identifying boundaries, those known and unknown.

You’re upset by something… ask yourself why?

If, when you answer, you use the words should, should’ve, shouldn’t (or shouldn’t have to) you’re pointing to the boundary.

Quick example: “I shouldn’t have to (fill in the blank) around here!” or “You should have known!”

Known what? Because based on results, they didn’t know, or didn’t care enough to respect your ask, or you have not yet clearly communicated the boundary.

“Should” statements like this can help reveal where a boundary might prove helpful to either create, enforce, or dismantle.

Name

I’ll get right to the point here: Hinting and hoping won’t help. Only words will. Spoken clearly and calmly.

The thing about building a boundary is this: You must tell people where the gate is.

Perhaps an example would be helpful.

Let’s say you have a high school buddy (or colleague or family member) who has developed a drinking issue and tends to call you when inebriated. It’s a long-term relationship and used to be important to you, but now feels like a drain, a drag on your energy.

It’s time to tell him that, clearly and calmly.

“Joe, you’re my friend. I care about you and our relationship. And when you call me late at night and disturb my sleep, it’s not okay. I want you to know that in the future, I’ll be happy to take any call, anytime—when you’re sober. If you call drunk, I’ll hang up.”

Might sound a little harsh, but that’s the point; to be heard you must be clear. To be clear, use fewer words void of emotion.

To name a boundary means naming the consequence for crossing it.

Hold

This is where words won’t matter one whit if not backed up with action.

It’s critical that you follow through on the consequence, the gate you already showed them: If your friend calls when drunk, you simply restate the boundary and hang up the phone. No emotion, no explosion, just action.

“Joe, you sound as though you’ve been drinking, so I’ll be hanging up. Happy to talk tomorrow when you sober up.”

Boundaries are not about offending others but rather about respecting yourself. (And if you’re one of the ones who feels offended by someone’s stated boundaries, you’re most likely the reason for the boundary.)

Bottom-line: A boundary is like a strong fence with a well-marked gate—not a brick wall.

It’s up to you to show people where the gates are.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others. ~Brene Brown

Leave a Reply