I remember sitting with a friend in my home a few years back. It was a nice day, so we were using my screen door to feel the breeze. This door was the thinnest, lowest-quality barrier between the indoors and the outdoors that you could get. But it provided a way to enjoy the fresh air while doing our usual morning routine inside. But this day, a boundary was crossed. A man came up to my home, opened the creaky, worn screen door and pushed his way inside unexpectedly.
My heart jumped inside my chest, and I stepped between this stranger and my kids immediately — looking much more courageous and stronger than I felt inside. Thankfully, my friend was sitting on the couch behind me with her phone in her hand, and the man was not expecting another adult in the home as she had parked on the street. When he saw her, he lifted his arms and walked backward out of the house. “Sorry, I didn’t know anyone else was going to be here. I just wanted to talk about some help I’m needing.”
He then went into a long story about how he used to be an engineer but lost his job after being shot a number of times and he needed money to take care of his family.
Needless to say, I asked him to leave and immediately shut and locked the door.
Doors are a universal boundary, right? You come into my home unwanted, I ask you to leave and shut the door behind you. Simple. But what happens when there isn’t a physical door to close, but you still feel as though a boundary has been crossed?
This post is going to answer that question.
First, you should know that I’m naturally an all or nothing person.
This mentality has impacted my relationships in a dramatic way. I’ve had numerous “great friends” in my life who went from one extreme of talking every day and sharing our hearts to now no longer speaking. Why you might ask? Because a boundary I never actually set was crossed. I was misunderstood and attacked, or trust was broken and resentment and hurt were the immediate results. It was easier to walk away completely than to be honest about my feelings and work through setting appropriate boundaries.
But the more I’ve lost close friends, and the longer I sit around desiring deeper relationships, I’ve realized the importance of setting boundaries — the key to intimacy.
Thanks to a client who recently brought the topic of boundaries back into my life, I’ve been diving back into coaching practices surrounding this idea, and I wanted to share the basics with all of you!
When should I set a boundary?
The first thing to know is that not every disappointment or hurt is a boundary issue. Many of us want our loved ones to behave in a way that we relate to or understand. If we wouldn’t act that way, we don’t want them to either. But everyone is different, and those differences must be honored on both ends. Boundaries are put in place to protect ourselves, not to control other people.
Here is an example of a boundary issue: You are in a conversation with your dad who is not on good terms with your brother. He talks negatively about him when you are together. This is a boundary issue because you love your brother and want to protect yourself from your dad’s negativity.
Here is an example that is NOT a boundary issue: Your friend wants to go out with another friend, and you feel jealous. This is simply a preference. You wish your friend would stay with you, but he isn’t crossing a boundary by hanging out with others. To set a boundary in this circumstance is not appropriate.
Don’t set a boundary until you can do so from a place of love. It’s easy to want to manipulate behaviors or walk away completely, but change your perspective a bit. What can you learn from this person’s actions? How can you honor this individual while still protecting yourself? When you view the situation this way, then you can set a boundary from a place of honor and peace rather than frustration.
How do I effectively set a boundary?
A boundary will only work if there is an actual consequence put into place. I’m not talking about disciplining the person. I’m saying that you need to implement a response that protects yourself from the boundary that was crossed. For example, if your dad is talking negatively about your brother, you tell him, “I feel uncomfortable when you talk about my brother that way. If you do it around me, I’m going to have to walk away.” This doesn’t mean you are walking away from the relationship, it means that you are saying you will not participate in the conversation.
Remember, you MUST follow through! If you set a boundary and don’t follow through, you cannot be upset or resentful that the person has overstepped. It’s uncomfortable to follow through on a consequence, but it’s vital to maintain an authentic relationship empty of unspoken bitterness.
Don’t create unnecessary drama in your life because you aren’t able to effectively set boundaries. Don’t be like me and lose valuable relationships because it’s easier to walk away. Let’s all practice protecting ourselves and our friendships by setting better boundaries and watch our relationships strengthen and deepen.
What healthy boundaries do YOU need to set in your life?