I am often asked the question in my office, “How do I have good boundaries?” I must admit, many times my clients aren’t super happy with the answer I give, and may think I’m trying to dodge the question or give them a bunch of psycho-babble. Neither is the case, but the desire for a checklist to complete in order to suddenly be good at having boundaries is not really the way to the prize.
The answer that I give to this question is that they are asking the wrong question. The correct question to be asking in this situation is not usually a “how” question. It is a “when” question. The answer is that you already know how to have good boundaries most of the time. There may be a little work to do in learning about yourself and what you will and won’t tolerate, and there may also be some work to do on helping you gain some level of healthy entitlement. Not over-entitlement, but not under-entitlement either. There is a balance between the two. So if those things need some work, we can do that.
Most of the time, however, people are pretty good at knowing what they do and don’t like in the behaviors of others toward them. They generally know when someone has hurt their feelings or done something that’s not OK with them. They are usually quite eloquent in telling me what they don’t like and how they wish things could be different in their relationships. So then, what is the hold up? If they can tell me what their boundaries are, why do they struggle so much with telling their friend, co-worker, family member, or significant other?
They struggle so much because they are not ready for the consequences of when they tell them. What will happen if you tell someone that what they are doing is not OK with you? Will they get angry? Will there be uncomfortable conflict? Will they be hurt? Might they leave you? What exactly are you afraid of?
This is why the way to have good boundaries is usually a “when” question. You will have good boundaries as soon as your are ready for what may happen when you have them. In order to become more ready for “when” to come, we have to assess exactly what your fears are telling you is the bad thing that will happen when you have a boundary, and prepare for that eventuality. Sometimes we know that the fears we have about having boundaries aren’t even all that rational. Other times, the stakes are quite real and can be exceedingly high. At that point, we have to assess whether what we need to have a boundary about is worth the price to us.
The first step to having good boundaries is to believe that you are worthy of having them. That what you need is worth fighting for because you are worth fighting for. Many times the biggest obstacle to the “when” is shame issues. When you know yourself, believe you are worth it, and are no longer afraid of the consequences, the boundaries flow from your mouth readily, appropriately, and hopefully non-reactively.
Need help getting there? Come on in and let’s chat over a cup of Chai Latte, or maybe some Wild Mountain Blueberry coffee. It’s time for what’s important to you to be heard.
Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. E-Counseling is available for residents of Indiana. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2015 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW