What do boundaries, my mother, and Niagara Falls have in common? None of them should be crossed.
In the last article, we discussed the importance of and how to identify your boundaries.
In this article I want to talk about how to communicate and stick to those boundaries.
This becomes important because 1) you can’t expect anyone to not cross your boundaries if they don’t know what they are, and 2) you can’t expect anyone to not cross your boundaries if you don’t abide by them too.
Let’s start with communicating those boundaries.
*I’m going to make a blanket statement here about some non-negotiable boundaries that are a given…safety and personal space boundaries like appropriate language and touch. While these are not the kinds of boundaries I’m talking about here, it’s worth stating the obvious that these boundaries should be a given and you should never have to communicate them to anyone. If boundaries that make you feel safe are ever crossed, speak up loudly and immediately, don’t worry about stepping on any toes or offending anyone…you ALWAYS deserve to feel safe.*
This can be scary but when done well can also leave you feeling empowered and on top of the world.
It might be as simple as a quick statement or request like, “Please don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t eat.” Or it might require more detail and finesse, like sitting a friend down and sharing your goals and inner struggles and asking for their help by abstaining from a certain common behavior of theirs.
Each boundary and situation is going to be different. You’ll want to take some time to think about the people and situations in your life where your boundaries have been crossed. You did this in the last article when you were identifying where your boundaries need to be placed. This is taking it a step further and determining what the best course of communication will be.
When it comes to someone you are close to, show them the respect they deserve by having the boundaries conversation with them in a private setting. This gives them the opportunity to show you support and ask questions to gain clarity.
Find a partner in crime!
You may even ask some of these people to help you by supporting you if your boundaries are crossed. They could do this by either stepping in to stop the offender (“hey, please don’t tell Suzy she shouldn’t eat that.”), they could change the subject (“How about those Vikings!”), or they could help you escape the situation (“Suzy, I need to see you in the hallway for a second.”).
When it’s a general boundary for general situations and larger populations or no one person in particular, you can probably wait until the boundary has been crossed and then politely communicate your position or viewpoint…or you can choose to excuse yourself. A simple statement of, “It’s not nice to make fun of someone because of their weight, they’re people too and deserve just as much respect as anyone else.”
Honoring your boundaries can sometimes get a little sticky.
So you’ve determined where your boundaries are. You don’t want to tolerate people making fun of anyone’s weight (including yours), you don’t want anyone telling you what you should or shouldn’t be eating, and you won’t put up with the thin privileged people in the room complaining about their weight or talking about the latest diet they are on.
You have communicated your boundaries where necessary and appropriate with the people in your circle. You have a plan in place to excuse yourself from a situation or change the subject or have enlisted an accomplice for added support. Now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to actually hold true to all of this.
I chose the word honor here because I believe it sends a power message.
It says that the boundaries are of value and worthy of your time and efforts. It also says you are of value and worthy of your efforts. When you honor your boundaries, you are honoring yourself and that is the ultimate form of self-care.
Starting small is what I usually recommend. But I can tell you, it won’t take long for you to go big on honoring your boundaries. Once you get a taste of the freedom you feel when you stick to your boundaries, it gives you energy and reinforces doing it again.
How do you start small?
Start with cleaning up your social media feeds or changing the programs you watch on television or listen to on the radio or podcasts. Remove anything that crosses your boundaries. Replace them with people and programs that support your boundaries and goals and build up your determination.
Next move into your close knit circle, communicating with those you feel most comfortable first. It’s okay to go to the people you KNOW will support you to get practice with having the boundaries conversation.
Moving into more public or general settings and groups of people might feel terrifying.
If this is the case and your resolve to hold true to your boundaries feels like it’s wavering a bit, try just noticing the people and words or actions that are raising your red flags. Acknowledge to yourself that the words or actions are not okay and if you can’t find a way to excuse yourself, make a plan to either have a conversation with the offender or to not put yourself in that same situation again.
In the end, boundaries are a form of self-care. Set them. You deserve it.