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     Boundaries Revisited

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Boundaries Revisited
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Rule #1: Consistency
Boundaries are often a source of confusion and stress. We know we need them and yet have a hard time making them, or holding them once we do. Our difficulties stem from how we perceive the world around us.

For some of us, the world is dangerous. Our brain’s threat model leans toward hard boundaries at a distance from our hearts.  This makes getting to know one another difficult.  Even when we think we’re all happiness and love, that subconscious threat model creates detachment and push-back we may not realize is happening.  The subconscious says if you don’t know me, you can’t hurt me.

For others, the world is all about connection, and that brings up issues around rejection. We don’t want to be rejected or reject others.  If we feel that boundaries will do this, we resist making them. Then we get hurt or walked on and suddenly make big boundaries out of nowhere. The inconsistency of this undermines those boundaries, and we’re in trouble. Ironically, boundaries can be a place of connection when they’re clearly communicated and reasonable.

The earlier you establish clear boundaries, the less conflict later on.  Another rule of thumb is “Proactive beats Retroactive.” When you’ve already allowed people in, trying to push them back afterward gets seen as rejection. After all, they were able to ask you all kinds of personal questions before. What changed? Setting an initial clear boundary, people know what to do, but with a shifting, fuzzy one, they need to keep testing to find the edge.

Analog vs. Digital or the Multiple Rooms Technique
Not to take away from consistency, but life’s complicated, and rules are a problem when they don’t allow latitude.  A technique that’s proven successful for my clients (and me) has been shifting from the all or nothing, pull up the drawbridge style boundary to a more gradient one. We aim for consistency, but boundaries don’t have to be carved in stone. As long as they’re not constantly in flux, they can be re-set periodically as needed.

You can let people in to a certain depth or closeness, depending on their proven trustworthiness.  If someone breaks that trust, you don’t have to cut them off completely, or pull up the drawbridge.  You can just move them out a layer or two away from your heart.  It’s like having guests in your house.  If they respect your belongings and don’t track in mud, you can invite them deeper into your home.  If they break things, you can shift their “security clearance” to a less vulnerable room.  If they prove themselves to be trustworthy, (consistent congruence of word and deed over time) you can invite them in closer.

Theory’s Great, but “How?”
We need to address early on, when we have the opportunity to do it right the first time, and later, when we need to fix things.  If you need to do a push-back, a great place to start is a multi-use approach.  Rather than trying to make someone “get” your experience, it’s easier for them to re-connect with their own.  See if you can increase the other person’s awareness of their own discomfort when they get pushed too far. Ask questions, and check in with them about this. Once they’re experiencing their own sense of being infringed upon, see if you can do some bonding over this shared feeling.  Then, with them in a more understanding state of mind, ask their advice on how they might make a boundary in a way that won’t come off as rejection.

Sometimes we’re not aware of needing to make a boundary, until it’s too late.  Sometimes the boundary isn’t with another person; it’s with yourself and time.  To increase your awareness, pay attention to the signals your body sends you about over-extension (emotional or otherwise). When you’re compromising yourself into a space where your stomach or back hurts, stop and take note. This is where you need to make a boundary.

The best case is at the beginning of a new relationship (personal or professional.) Just be as clear as possible up front about what they can and cannot expect of you. Let them know you don’t take business calls after 11PM, or you don’t put up with being yelled at.

A very powerful tactic is what I call the Invitational Boundary. Rather than telling them what they can’t do, tell them what they can do, right up to that boundary. Let them know they can call you up to 11PM, or you’re fine with discussing anything in a civil tone.  When communicated in positive terms, in a positive tone, this invitation won’t sound like a rejection.

There’s a positive side to making boundaries early on: it lets people know what to expect from you, and where you draw the line.  That predictability puts them at ease.  When they know where the line is, and how much they can ask of you, it removes all the testing and uncertainty.  They don’t have to figure you out. We’re doing them the favor of giving them a nice solid wall to push against, which feels more secure.

Whether boundaries are about your time, your emotions, or your physical space, they help define a path for you and those around you.  You need to know where you stand before you can let others know it, and that’s a good thing.

Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible?
 Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.

     - Ian J. Blei


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KG Stiles: "Conversations that Enlighten and Heal"
Ian Blei on Kind Ambition and the
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Kind Ambition - 2nd Edition

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