What is it you want to change?
Making change and setting new boundaries begins with you. As much as you might want your significant other, mother, co-worker, best friend or neighbour to change, you will find it far easier to make the change begin with you. It might mean you have to step out of your comfort zone, be assertive, feel uncomfortable for a while and face your fears but without making the change to make new choices, nothing will change.
Reflect on these questions first before reading The 10 Steps to Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries
• What do you want ‘insert the name of the person here’ to stop doing?
• What would you like ‘insert the name of the person here’ to start doing?
• What do you want ‘insert the name of the person here’ to do differently?
• What are you willing to stop doing?
• What are you able to start doing?
• What can you do differently to improve your relationship?
In relationships, until we can speak up and communicate our needs clearly, assertively and respectfully, the problems, challenges and the behaviours of those we have relationships with, remain the same. When we change the way we communicate consistently, there is every possibility those around us will be influenced by the change and mirror back to us the positive communication.
10 Steps to Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries
1. Speak from the ‘I’. (‘‘I would like you to listen to what I’m about to say. I would like to make some positive changes in our relationship. I feel we would benefit from putting the past behind us. It would mean so much to me if you are able to hear what I’ve communicated and consider my requests, thank you for considering this’’) Saying thank you at the end of a statement like this voices the assumption that the other person will listen and acknowledge your proposal.
2. Keep communications in the positive and future tense (‘‘What I would like is for us to do is XYZ. I believe we would both benefit from this change’’)
3. Clearly identify your boundary. Spend time figuring out what you want before you voice your limits (Do you need your neighbour, friend, your mother to stop turning up unannounced or calling you when you’re in the middle of preparing an evening meal. Would you prefer them to call round at a specific time when you are both free?)
4. Understand why you need a boundary. What’s your motivation and reason for setting this boundary? (If it’s not convenient for your neighbour, mother or friend to turn up or call without notice, let her know you will have undivided time them if you can call at 8pm for 30 minutes once the children are in bed)
5. Make your communications clear. Be direct and assertive in your conversation (If you fear conflict or confrontation you may not say exactly what you mean, which leaves room for confusion or doubt). It might spare the person you are in conflict with feelings if you aren’t direct and to the point but how will you feel? What is the cost if you do nothing to make this change, who suffers?)
6. Don’t give long explanations or apologise (Setting boundaries isn’t something you need to say sorry for and it doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process. Short, sharp and clear communications works best. If someone is demanding of your time when it’s inconvenient you have to let them know e.g. (‘‘I would like weekends to myself, I need more time to study, thank you for understanding this. I look forward to meeting you on Wednesday afternoons to catch up’’)
7. Remain calm and polite (Boundaries are best set outside of an argument, getting into dialogue about making change in the heat of the moment when both of you are angry, neither person can really hear the other. Keep your anger in check and leave all sarcasm and condescending tone out of your communications)
8. Start with firm boundaries (It’s easier to loosen a tight boundary after it’s been set rather than trying to tighten a weak boundary. If your mother or mother in law is interfering and trying to reorganise your home, e.g., ‘‘I’d prefer it if you don’t come into my home when I’m not there. I want the way I’ve left my home to stay the same, I like it how it is.’’ It’s easier at a later date to invite her to take a mini-break in your home while you are away, on the condition she leaves things as they are, or to pop round an hour before you get home if she wants to watch something not available on her own TV package). Don’t overextend yourself or try and ‘people please’ or agree to commitments you will later have to cancel or do begrudgingly. Get clear from the start.
9. Address any breaking of boundaries early on. As soon as a boundary is broken, reset it. Remind the person concerned of your boundary. (‘‘You may have forgotten , I need the weekends to myself study, I can see you on Wednesday afternoons instead’’)
10. Don’t make it personal. Rather than tell the person you are in conflict with everything you think about them being inconsiderate of your time, your appointments and plans it is far easier to be direct. eg (‘‘I’m happy to pick you up and take you to Maggie’s, but you will need to be ready at 10 a.m’’)
It’s possible the person you wish to set boundaries with won’t welcome these changes though in order for your relationship to improve, it’s important to end the struggles you each have within your relationship and find new solutions to old problems. All it takes is one person to change and this change begins with you.
Stand up for what you want in life, agree to disagree if need be. If you don’t you are living someone elses life on their terms, not yours, and that’s not really living life at all.
If you’re in need of further support in setting healthy personal boundaries please do make contact at
www.wendyfry.com to discuss best support options.