Boundaries are essential in every relationship. They communicate to other people how you want to be treated and make expectations clear to both parties. Without boundaries, people may take advantage of you because you haven’t communicated what behavior is okay and what isn’t. Boundaries take many forms and are based on what you need and what matters most to you. Here are 5 common boundary setting mistakes and how to fix them:
1) You are trying to get other people to change their behavior: Boundaries can include a request for someone to change, but boundaries are intended to help you get your needs met, not change or control other people. Your efforts will be better spent identifying what changes you can make to meet your needs rather than trying to get others to change.
2) Setting boundaries when you’re angry: In the heat of the moment, we often overreact and say things that we don’t mean or don’t really want to follow through with. For example, during an argument you tell your partner you want to break up or file for divorce but you don’t really want to and don’t intend on following through. Or threatening to keep the children from seeing their other parent because you are angry about something they said or did. These are ultimatums or punishments, not boundaries. They are meant to punish and control someone and tend to escalate conflict. Unless you’re in immediate danger, wait until you’re calm to set boundaries. This will help you avoid ultimatums and punishments that are unwarranted, unrealistic, and harmful to your relationships.
3) You give in when there’s pushback: People may not respond well when you start setting boundaries and they will let you know directly or indirectly that they don’t respect them. This doesn’t mean that your boundaries are wrong or that you should change them. Most people will adjust to your new boundaries, but if you give in or only set boundaries when it’s easy, people will realize they can get their way by pushing back or disregarding your boundaries. Remember, your needs matter and the people that really love and respect you will respect your boundaries.
4) Being overly rigid: Boundary setting involves compromise and flexibility. The exceptions are “deal breaker” boundaries. These are boundaries that protect our health and safety, and we will not compromise on these needs. For example, deal breaker boundaries include not tolerating physical abuse or infidelity. But, many of your other boundaries can be flexible. Being flexible means you take into consideration who all is involved, the specific situation, yours and your loved ones needs. The key is to know when it makes sense to compromise or be flexible and when you need to be unwavering with your boundaries.
5) Overexplaining your boundaries: When it comes to explaining your boundaries, less is usually best, especially when dealing with someone who tends to violate your boundaries. You don’t owe people explanations for why you set boundaries and people that want to argue or disrespect your boundaries will pick apart your explanations to try to prove you are wrong. Keep it simple and resist the urge to explain your limits. You can simply say, “that doesn’t work for me” or something similar. Some boundaries don’t need to be communicated in words at all. Sometimes, the best approach is to change your behavior. If someone repeatedly disregards or disrespects your boundaries, love yourself enough to walk away and cut them out of your life.
Boundaries are complex and full of nuance. Sometimes they involve asking others to change and sometimes they involve changing yourself. Some boundaries need to be firm and at other times they need to be flexible. Remember, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to be free from all forms of abuse. Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. For an appointment, please call 256.574.5826. We also offer a 24/7 HELPline where you can speak with trained crisis counselors at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.