I hope I’ve convinced you by now that setting boundaries is important. But HOW you go about setting boundaries determines whether they will be helpful or not. Backtrack for other posts on setting boundaries.
Punishment does not set boundaries; consequences do. Punishment only inflames the situation.
By the time some people set boundaries they are often so mad at their offender that their “boundaries” are actually a form of punishment. Not helpful. Punishment does not set boundaries; consequences do. Punishment only inflames the situation.
Setting Boundaries is Not Punishment
For example: imagine a friend who calls you five times a day. You don’t like it but you are too afraid to say anything for fear of hurting their feelings. You tolerate them, hoping that over time they’ll stop calling without you confronting them.
But they don’t stop. They keep calling and settle into a daily pattern. Finally, you can’t take it any more. You tell them, “I’m so sick and tired of you calling. You interrupt me all the time. Don’t you have anything better to do? Please don’t call me any more!”
They get offended and you lose them as a friend. When people ask you what happened, you tell them: “I had to set some boundaries with them. They chose to end the friendship.” That’s not accurate. You are as much to blame in that scenario as they are. In reality, you were unable to confront them early on and chose to retaliate by cutting them off. You can do better than this.
Seven Factors to Consider When Setting Boundaries
Let me share seven factors to consider in setting boundaries:
- Setting boundaries comes first. When you see someone who might be a boundary breaker, it’s your responsibility to set the boundaries in the relationship. You might say that’s it’s THEIR responsibility to not invade your space. True. But you have no control over them, only yourself. So YOU should take the initiative. Using the example above, the first day your friend calls you five times, let them know you aren’t available to take their calls that often. Don’t wait. Waiting will only allow them to create a habit and habits are hard to break.
- Setting boundaries should be kind and dispassionate. Speak to the person calmly and let them know you care about them. Boundaries don’t mean you are mad or don’t like someone. They just mean you like your space and want others to know the boundaries of your space. Make your discussion about what works for you and not what you don’t like about them.
- Setting boundaries should happen without apology or feeling the need to explain. Your offender may not understand why you need different space than they do. Don’t feel obligated to fully explain your boundary or justify it. You might say, “Thanks for respecting my wishes. I really appreciate it.” The closer the relationship, the more they may deserve an explanation, i.e. I owe my wife more of an explanation than my neighbor.
- Setting boundaries is about consequences. Boundaries aren’t boundaries if there are no consequences. If your friend keeps calling and you keep answering, you have not set a boundary, only a wish. Let the person know that if you see their number come up on your phone more than once a day that you’ll let it go to voice mail.
- Follow through with consequences. It’s one thing to set a boundary; it’s another thing to follow through. People WILL test you. Expect it. Anticipate your response. Be strong.
- Follow through dispassionately. When someone crosses your boundary, simply put the consequence into action without drama. Let’s say you let the call go to voicemail. Your friend objects. You simply respond, “Oh, I’m sorry you are upset but I told you last week that I would do that. It’s nothing personal. I just don’t have time to take your calls.” Leave it at that. Many people are sucked into a needless argument. Don’t go there.
- Don’t back down. Some people enforce consequences once but can’t handle the pressure that comes from it. Repeat #5 and #6 until they believe you. In time your life will regain sanity.
I hope these steps give you some direction in your relationships. As always, invite God into the process to give you the wisdom and courage to do the right thing.