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Setting Boundaries: How to Draw the Line When You Have No Idea Where to Put It

Setting Boundaries: How to Draw the Line When You Have No Idea Where to Put It

Line in the sand

    Have you ever felt at a loss when you needed to draw the line with someone?

    Have you put yourself at a disadvantage when you failed to draw the line because you couldn’t think of a way to do it ?

    Have you ever felt mistreated when someone drew a line to your disadvantage?

    Setting boundaries is one of the most important parts of relationships. It is more important to satisfactory relationships that just about everything else, since without agreeable boundaries, most relationships cannot function well. The expression, “Good fences make good neighbors,” is true.

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    At the same time we all have had experience with poor boundaries, boundaries that are too loose or too strict, boundaries that are self-serving and boundaries that feel abusive.

    So what can we do about this?

    Step 1: Know Yourself And Your Needs

    This first step in setting boundaries is to make an appointment with yourself. Make yourself comfortable with a notebook so that you can brainstorm your ideas.

    You need to create a map in your mind that enables you to confidently respond to boundary conflicts. When you have that map in your mind, you will feel more relaxed and will be able to handle conflict in a way that works for you and the other person.

    This is what you have to come to terms with:

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    1. What are my most important values? Being clear about your values helps you identify good compromises. Values are the core of your boundary strategy and what you most need to honor.
    2. What are my most important priorities? It is easier to say yes or no, when you are honoring your most important priorities.
    3. What is non-negotiable for me? Non-negotiable items are related to your values or conditions in your life like your health. It could be family time, diet requirements particularly if you are ill, or values related to doing harm to yourself or others.
    4. What can I be somewhat flexible about? Scheduling issues typically fall in this category. An example: “I can work between 7AM-6PM but have to leave no later than 6PM to pick up my children.”
    5. What can I always be flexible about? The answer could include family emergencies, activities that are important to a family member, where I jog, and where I live.
    6. How do I typically handle trade-offs? Do they usually work for me or not? There is nothing wrong with making sacrifices, but if they are too frequent they can leave you feeling resentful.

    When thinking about setting boundaries and making compromises, you are considering the totality of your values, your limits in terms of time and energy and your desire and ability to sacrifice. These are all important issues to understand. Getting a handle on them keeps you from making commitments in a soft moment when your time will not really allow it, causing you to neglect a more important priority.

    Since boundary situations are often unique and complex, it is worth purchasing some books on the subject. Here are two that can help:

    1. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and
    2. Boundaries Where You End And I Begin: How To Recognize And Set Healthy Boundaries by Anne Katherine, M.A.

    Step 2: Planning For Problem Situations

    We all have difficult boundary situations. Some will involve a bossy person, a passive person or someone who has different values. Whatever the difficult boundary problems you face, you can help yourself a lot if you plan for them. These are some planning considerations:

    1. Identify the boundary situations that are most difficult for you.
    2. For each difficult situation imagine a time when a conflict was resolved poorly and one that was resolved to your satisfaction.
    3. can you identify when conflict causes problems for you? For example: a passive person might sigh or complain as a way to get your attention and take care of their problems. If you give in to the pressure, you have taken on a problem that is not really yours to solve. Sometimes we do not see boundary issues for what they are because they come disguised as something else or because we like to be helpful.
    4. Try to identify when you start to feel manipulated. Is it when someone is unhappy? or complaining? Is it when someone makes decisions for you? or has expectations that are never discussed or explicitly agreed to? Does someone take your things without asking? These situations usually exist because someone has successfully made themselves more important than you.
    5. Identify when you are uncomfortable taking action. Is it when someone is very sarcastic, dismissive, or contemptuous? Is it when someone has power within your group or social approval for their behavior that makes them hard to challenge?
    6. Identify whether the challenging situation is one that lends itself to the direct one-on-one approach or a longer perhaps more indirect strategy where you need to have a group on your side to effect change.
    7. Identify when you need to treat yourself as important as everyone else.

    Step 3: Develop Your Strategy

    As a general rule, most people want good boundaries as much as you do. Most people are not looking for unnecessary problems.

    If you respect others and treat their concerns as valid, they will likely do the same since reciprocity is an ancient rule in human relationships. Therefore when you are willing to listen the another person, it is common courtesy that do the same. It is not unreasonable to want to be listened to as well.

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    It also helps to be in a problem solving frame of mind. If you ask questions to find out where the other person has some flexibility you can then offer solutions in the form of suggestions, alternatives or even substitutes for what is being asked of you. Since not everyone understands boundaries, you may have to be a leader on finding an agreeable solution.

    If I were to create a formula for a boundary setting process it would be:

    1. Establish a positive intent. “I love how my blouse looks on you…”
    2. State a concern. “That blouse was a gift and is important to me.”
    3. Ask questions if necessary. “We need to figure out a holiday schedule. What is your situation and do you have any ideas?”
    4. Ask for what you need in a way that respects the other person. “I like to help when I can but I need for you to ask if you want to borrow my things.”
    5. Get agreement. “Does that work for you?”

    Successful problem-solving is a combination of respect and creativity. When you combine both, your chances of a positive outcome increase.

    Step 4: The Tough Cases

    The first thing you have to do in tough cases is to give yourself permission to have the problem. If you feel bad about it you will be less effective in solving the problem.

    You also need to give yourself permission to fail, because only then will you be loose enough to come up with solutions. Not everyone is cooperative and if you can accept that with good grace, it will help you to relax about conflict. It also helps to know that walking away from a conflict is sometimes necessary and not a sign of failure.

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    When you have a difficult or stubborn situation, it can help to come up with way to change the existing dynamic.

    Here are some ideas:

    1. Change the other person’s perception of your value so that you are perceived as important to the other party.
    2. Change the social dynamic. You could refuse to interact when someone is unreasonable or use humor to loosen people up when they have dug in their heels. Charm works wonders.
    3. If necessary, throw in the towel. You may have heard the story about the villagers who caught a monkey by putting peanuts inside a coconut shell. The monkey found and grabbed the peanuts in the shell. However, he could not hold on to the peanuts and run away from the villagers at the same time. All he had to do was let go and he would have escaped. Sometime letting go is the best way to solve a problem.

    Step 5: Implementing Your Strategy

    Your experience and comfort level should guide how you decide to implement your boundary implementation strategies. You can start with minor situations with people you know or a boundary that is very important to you.

    Step 6: The Key

    I believe that the key to setting boundaries and good relationships lies in being in a constructive frame of mind. When the people around you know that you see the good in them, they will be in a positive frame of mind when working with you.

    It also helps to have a sense of humor and to be creative.

    Good relationships are challenging because we are all both alike and different at the same time. Just making the effort to work on boundaries is something for you to feel proud of. You are creating a better world with each positive step. Every time you find positive interpersonal solutions you essentially help reduce some of the fear and unhappiness in the world. That is a great gift to yourself and others.

    Photo Credit: Sourcecon.com

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    Maria Hill

    Maria Hill is the owner of Sensitive Evolution, an online platform dedicated to improving the lives of highly sensitive people.

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    Last Updated on August 12, 2020

    When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

    When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

    Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

    In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

    How to Listen to Your Gut

    The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

    Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

    1. Tune Into Your Body

    Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

    However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

    Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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    Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

    In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

    2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

    Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

    There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

    3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

    Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

    As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

    This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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    4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

    As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

    Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

    5. Challenge Your Assumptions

    When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

    In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

    A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

    6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

    Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

    There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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    Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

    Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

    Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

    We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

    The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

    We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

    7. Trust Yourself

    It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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    Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

    If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

    The Bottom Line

    The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

    Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

    More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

    Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
    [2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
    [3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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