This is the second of a two-part series on boundaries. The first part maps out what healthy boundaries look like in general. Check it out and then come back here.
In this post we are going to delve into what to do when we get stumped on how to assert healthy boundaries.
Far too often, by the time we feel the urgent need to create or assert boundaries, a line has already been crossed.
When boundaries are violated, we feel violated.
This can foster a multitude of emotions and responses. Anger, resentment, and distrust brew. We may look for someone to blame. We may seek to disperse those emotions onto another person. Or we may even use it as ammunition to further put ourselves down if that is our pattern.
When this happens, it can be hard to assert boundaries without a painful confrontation or major cutoff from the person. We may opt to avoid rather than deal with it, further worsening the relationship.
So what do we do when it’s hard to assert boundaries? Frame the whole notion of boundaries from a place of love.
I know, sounds mushy…but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s take a look at this step by step.
Boundaries as an act of love for you.
That whole “you gotta put your own life mask on before others” notion totally applies here. Throw a little love your own way first and ask yourself, “What do I need to take care of myself and my emotions right now?”
Doing this is helpful for four reasons (or perhaps more!). The first is that it gives yourself some space to feel your feelings and doing this helps to calm them down. The second is that it can help you to tune into what boundaries you are needing to ask for in the situation. Third, it validates that you are worthy of the inquiry. Finally, tapping into your inherent worthiness can give you the confidence to assert your boundaries.
Boundaries as an act of love for the other person or the relationship.
For some this may be the harder piece. Now take a look and see if you can view the relationship or other person from a place of love. Ask yourself, “From a place of love for this relationship or person, what boundaries are needed here? Why?”
The answers to this can be hard, surprising, or even relieving.
Perhaps you realize that this person can’t or won’t stop hurting you no matter what you do. From there you may get rooted in the feeling that cutting them out of your life is the most loving thing you can do. Preventing them from hurting you can be a form of protection for them too.
Or you may resolve to ask the awkward questions about money in a new romantic relationship. The love you feel for this person and your desire to protect your relationship is stronger than your nervousness.
Another example could be that you don’t want to resent your job later. Thus you make your needs clear with your bosses or colleagues to avoid any kind of future misunderstanding. Ultimately, you want to stay with them for an unforeseeable amount of time. And, part of that requires a certain amount of clarity and straightforwardness around boundaries.
Coming from a place of love can help you muster what you need to set appropriate expectations and boundaries without hard feelings. It’s a helpful frame to engage at the onset of a relationship or even once a boundary has been crossed.
It helps you avoid painting the other person with a broad stroke of negative or overly critical feelings laced with anger. It can help you find a positive backbone to lean upon and act from when asserting boundaries.
Knowing that you are coming from a place of love can help you assert boundaries when you would otherwise become avoidant.
Ok, what if we fucked up and didn’t set the right boundaries in the first place?
Own it, sister. Explain what happened, own the fact that you made a mistake in not setting clear expectations in the beginning and apologize. Clarify the boundaries you are in need of now.
Ask them if they can honor your boundaries with a willingness to hear any answer they give you. If they agree, great. And, let them know you are working on getting clearer on boundaries sooner and that you will keep them in the know.
If they say that they cannot honor your boundaries, then you have a new path to figure out. Perhaps that means negotiating to find a middle ground. Or perhaps that means you need to spend less time together.
Sometimes we don’t want to face the reality of their answer. However, we need to if we are going to create healthy relationships with mutual respect for each other’s boundaries. Being open to the responses also allows us to be realistic and choose a different path if needed. One that would ultimately allow us to live a life that honors our needs and is in alignment with our values.
Cultivating relationships with healthy boundaries may not be easy at first, but with practice, it gets easier. When this happens, we may feel set free.