a boundary article for overcoming ‘boundaries are selfish’ conditioning
In environments where personal boundaries are perceived as selfish, we can find ourselves struggling to set and communicate boundaries effectively. In this article, we’ll look at one of the most common questions folks have about boundaries: How to Set a Boundary.
In this article we’ll briefly talk about the foundations that come BEFORE we get to this boundary setting process. And then we’ll dive in with:
- How to Set a Boundary
- A common (and sometimes unexpected) Boundary Hurdle
- Navigating Boundary Pushback
- And, I’ll wrap up by sharing additional boundary resources.
Before we Set a Boundary
Most of the time, when people ask the question “how do I set a boundary”, they are referring to how to communicate a functional boundary. As we talked about in Mastering Boundary Fundamentals, your functional boundaries are how you create limits. They are your boundaries in action. Functional boundaries are your boundaries around time, who you spend your time with, around your physical body, your physical spaces, around money and other resources, and so much more.
From my perspective, clean and clear boundaries start with shoring up our outer and inner boundaries first. Especially for those of us that have boundary-impaired people in our lives that will likely give us a lot of pushback.
Even though most of us hope that if we communicate the boundary well enough that we’ll only have to say it once, depending on who you’re setting the boundary with, that’s not the most likely scenario. Given that pushback is part of the process, how do we set a boundary? In my Empowered Boundaries course, I teach a 6-step process, but let’s keep it high level for this conversation and I’ll summarize it into 3 major steps.
How to Set a Boundary
The three steps are: preparation, communication, maintenance
Step One: Preparation
In STEP ONE, you’ll want to prepare yourself PRIOR to communicating the boundary. That looks like practicing what you want to say, and just as importantly, preparing yourself for the pushback you’ll likely receive.
Step Two: Communication
STEP TWO is communicating the boundary. An important part of the communication is that in addition to stating your boundary, also include what YOU will do if the boundary is crossed. Because we can’t control what others will do, we can only say what we will do if the other person continues their behavior.
Step Three: Maintenance
STEP THREE is boundary maintenance. If the other person does not honor your boundary, YOU can honor it by doing whatever it is you said you would do.
An Unexpected Boundary Hurdle
A common, and sometimes unexpected boundary hurdle, is boundary-maintenance fatigue. The boundary maintenance step can be harder than we may expect. Picture an adorable small child trying to convince you that they’d really like to go to the playground right now even though the plan is to do errands.
It’s been a long time since my own kiddos were that age, so it’s a distant memory; but we just have to see a toddler out in the world to remember that pushback is part of the conversation. We expect that from toddlers… but, we don’t always expect it from the adults in our lives. And, depending on who is pushing back on our boundaries and why, those different pushback messages may ping different members of our internal community. We’ll talk about what that means below, or you can check out min 3 of this 6-minute clip on Navigating Boundary Pushback.
Navigating Boundary Pushback
One tool for navigating boundary pushback is leaning in for the remothering moment. Those boundary pushback interactions can activate specific implicit knowings, and essentially kick-off a program. Rather than go deep on implicit knowings in this article, let’s talk about them as a personified internal community and look at an example.
Here’s an example from my own life:
Because, for the first 8-years of my children’s lives, I was a single mother… which meant provider, protector, nurturer, and all the rest, I took my home’s certainty very seriously. And having unexpected visitors was too disruptive for a multitude of reasons, so I was firm around my boundary about my mother not showing up unexpectedly.
Her response to that was not pro-boundary. Which I share in more detail in this video clip of an interview I did with Dr. Taylor Damiani for this year’s upcoming Reclaiming You Summit.
We get into more details (including a long list of pushback messages) in the the clip, but the summary is that over the years, this particular boundary required a lot of boundary maintenance. Some of the boundary pushback included quips about ‘having to make an appointment’, or comments about ‘being ridiculous’.
Each of the pushback messages pinged different members of my internal community:
- There’s the one inside me that doesn’t want to disappoint my mother
- There’s the one that says “it’s not fair”
- There was the fear/fight response as the protector of my family
- There’s the one that feels really sad that her mother doesn’t know how to show up for her
- There’s the one that still wrestles with the actual definition of selfish because she was deeply indoctrinated with a misguided definition.
And each of them gets to be seen and witnessed and loved from me to me, because I am an adult now. This can be hard because we have layers of our brain that don’t live in linear time, and they don’t always know or believe that we are adults now. That’s where the inner and outer boundary work supports us in setting healthy and aligned functional boundaries.
The Remothering Moment
The remothering moment is when we get to be there for ourselves. We get to turn within to access the nurturance, wise counsel, belonging, and all of the other mother qualities we humans naturally seek.
Bringing It All Together
Interacting with other humans can be messy. Full stop. The good news is that when we can create healthy and aligned boundaries from the inside out, we get to experience connection AND protection; authenticity AND belonging, and we get to thrive forward in self-alignment.
I’m wishing you boundaries with ease and with less guilt!!!
From my heart to yours,
More Boundary Resources
- [online, self-paced course] Empowered Boundaries
- [article] Mastering Boundary Fundamentals
- [free boundary guidebook] Language of Boundaries