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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 December 10, 2019

    5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

    5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

    Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

    Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

    But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

    Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

    But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

    Journal writing.

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    Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

    Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

    Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

    1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

    By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

    Consider this:

    Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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    But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

    The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

    2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

    If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

    How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

    Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

    You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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    3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

    As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

    Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

    All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

    4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

    Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

    Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

    The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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    5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

    The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

    It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

    Kickstart Journaling

    How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

    Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

    Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

    Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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