Spoken or unspoken, we all have physical boundaries and emotional boundaries. Have you ever made known a preference for working in your office alone or asking someone not to touch you? By every action we take, in every life situation, we're either demonstrating strong boundaries or weak ones; and weak ones always create the potential for stress, conflict and drama.
There are two types of boundaries: immediate and lasting. Immediate boundaries are those you set in real time, as a direct response to an annoying or disturbing situation. You set these immediate boundaries in the moment by taking any of these four responsible actions:
1. Speaking up
2. Making a direct request
3. Moving out of the way
4. Keeping silent
As you become more aware, you’ll start to let go of the small stuff and, at the same time, begin to discover your limits of what you’ll accept.
This process is almost like re-calibrating an electronic instrument. Imagine a faulty heat detector that rings the alarm almost all the time! What you’re doing now is, in effect, learning to re-set your response range.
However, immediate boundaries are, in the final sense, “better late than never” actions.
Lasting boundaries, on the other hand, are so strong they automatically prevent the distressing situations coming into your life. The only way to develop boundaries this strong is by becoming extremely boundary-aware, and by taking responsible actions (listed above).
The strongest, cleanest boundaries have no emotional charge. This analogy may help you understand what we mean:
If you were a non- or ex-smoker, and someone at a party innocently offered you a cigarette, would you get angry and storm out? Would you yell, or become upset and tearful? Of course not. You’d just say, “No thanks, I don’t smoke.”
In the same way, when you have clear boundaries, you’ll “decline the invitation” to drama, conflict and other toxic situations, but without reacting to it. The situation will simply hold no interest for you.
Once again, becoming aware of your real limits will bring you this kind of certainty, calm and focus. If you need to respond at all, you’ll respond with less angry charge. The situations will flow away from you.
The term “boundaries” sometimes sounds kind of strict or harsh, particularly if you’re chronically nice. The whole concept of strong boundaries may conjure an image of cold, distant people tip-toeing around each other in a state of fear and distrust.
In fact, the opposite is true.
If there are no limits to what people can do to you, and no limits to what you can do to them, you will feel constantly under attack (or will constantly be attacking others). And if you’re too nice to say ‘no,’ you will feel constant resentment, blame and confusion. Without strong boundaries, you’ll always be vaguely on your guard, ready to lash out.
Setting strong boundaries actually makes it easier, not harder, to get close to people. That’s because boundaries tell other people what’s acceptable for us and what isn’t. They create an atmosphere of honesty and openness. They allow us to be authentically ourselves. And they create a sense of mutual respect.
When you’re angry or annoyed, you’ve already tolerated too much. A boundary needs strengthening, now. Take one of the four responsible actions (Speak up, Make a direct request, Move out of the way or Keep silent).
When you set strong boundaries, your life will begin to look like this:
- The people in your life who bring you down start to leave
- Instead of cursing the crowds, you cross the street
- You speak up when people show disrespect
- You ask for what you want up-front
- You can truly “let it go, Joe.”
David Roddis, CAC is the author of Drama Clean: Eight First Steps to 100% Drama Clean Relationships. If you want your life to reflect the authentic self-confidence of someone with well-defined boundaries, visit