Boundaries: 6 Tips on how to set ‘em and keep ‘em

Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.” Edwin Louis Cole

Boundaries, establishing them, and keeping them is a recurring theme in my professional and personal life.  New England is my home place. We know boundaries. There are little fences all over the place, many of them stone- relics of the centuries old annual rock harvest done on many a piece of land as a prelude to planting.  “Good fences make good neighbors.” an immortal line from Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall may be among the most well known proverbs about boundaries with real truth within for our lives.

Personal boundaries are like imaginary fences created to protect your body mind and spirit. Healthy personal boundaries protect our lives and selves from the unhealthy or damaging behaviors of others. They don’t shut out everyone and everything but rather indicate what you expect and will permit. You’ll want to leave some room to raise or lower the height of your personal boundaries. Maybe some of these are set in stone, and some are more like split rail fence, just remember create them to allow for the weather of life. Well made physical walls allow for drainage, air flow and in some cases take on a glorious patina of lichen, small plants, moss or vines. They become “naturalized” integral parts of the landscape. That’s your aim too.

So let me climb down from my talking fence here and share some tips on setting and keeping personal boundaries. Expecting others and asking them to treat you appropriately is fundamental to well being.

  1. Get clear about what behaviors are not acceptable to you. At work. At home. At play. For example: People may not yell at me. Others may not automatically put their needs in front of mine. People may not call me for work related issues after hours.
  2. Inform folks about your boundaries. If people don’t know what they are they won’t be able to stay on their side of the proverbial fence. Even if you think your boundary is obvious, don’t assume others can see it. Point out what behavior is unacceptable. “Do you realize it is 8 pm on Tuesday?” But use a calm friendly but firm tone.
  3. Make a request about what is acceptable.  “It seems like this is an item that can wait until I am back at the office tomorrow. “ And you might follow up with “Unless it is an emergency like______, please don’t call me after hours.” Again, remain calm and firm in your tone.
  4. Let the person know what you will do if they continue the unacceptable behavior. You might not need to do this the first go around or with every issue that comes up but it is important be clear about what you will do if you need to. “If you continue to call me after hours I will need to speak to _____.
  5. Follow through with your stated consequence. This is not a place to cry wolf. You are responsible for your boundaries, no one else. “ I am going to set a meeting with___ so we can find a way for us to work best with each other and respect each other’s working style.
  6. 6. Let go of what happens, the outcome. Someone else’s behavior is not about you, it isn’t even if it seems like it is. You can’t control what some else does, or says, you can control what you do and say and perhaps influence what others chose to do or say.
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