Terri K. Lankford, LPCS
Enforcing Your Boundaries
Welcome to the last part in our 3 part series on boundaries! In our prior blog posts, we talked about reflecting on your values in order to determine your boundaries. We also talked about how to format boundaries as “I” statements to show how boundary breaks make us feel. Then, we talked about how we can only set actions we’ll do, instead of controlling what others may do. Now that we know we have to 1) reflect to make boundaries, and 2) communicate how actions make us feel and their consequences … what’s next?
Next is enforcing your boundaries. For many people, this is the scariest part. Enforcing your boundaries means saying “I let you know I’d do Y if X happened, now X, happened, so I’m going to do Y.” While this sounds simple, it takes a lot of courage, self-care, and determination to follow through!
When someone crosses your boundary after you’ve effectively communicated it to them, it may simply mean they forgot. It could mean they’re testing if what you’re saying is true. And at times when this happens, it’s indicative that they think their wants are more important than your needs. Regardless of the reason, following through with your consequence is essential to proving you mean what you say and holding your boundaries.
If following through with your boundaries seems daunting, check out these three tips, courtesy of Rise and Thrive Counseling!
Explain Your Boundary Again
Reiterating your boundary either before or after the consequence serves to remind others why you followed through. For example, let’s say you’ve expressed you don’t want to talk about your body size (as your family likes to comment on your weight). You’ve expressed if your family does make a comment on your body, you would kindly remind them not to. If they do it a second time, you’ll leave.
Now, let’s say your aunt says something about your weight. You nicely remind her that you’d appreciate it if your body was left out of the discussion. She counters with something like “what, I’m just concerned for your health!”. Now, it’s time to follow through - leave the room.
When you come back, be sure you once again communicate:
What behavior you will not/do not tolerate
How the behavior makes you feel
The consequence of doing that behavior
This may look like coming back and saying, “I left because I felt uncomfortable about my body being talked about, even though I had already nicely asked for my weight to not be discussed.”
Stick to Your Guns
Sometimes, others feel uncomfortable with you following through with what you say. They may be testing one of your boundaries because they think you aren’t serious about the consequences. This may lead to your friend or family member being surprised or even offended that you’d follow through. How dare you have boundaries! (sarcasm!)
Remember - if you’ve stated how an action makes you feel, and followed through on what you already mentioned you’d do, it is not your responsibility to tend to the feelings of those who are testing your boundaries. This would be like someone seeing a wet floor sign, running through the room anyway, and then being outraged that they slipped. They were warned.
If friends and family members seem to have some push back about you following through, show yourself some compassion. You aren’t mean or rude or aggressive for upholding your boundaries. Boundaries are a self-care practice that protects our peace. Cherish them and cherish yourself!
Assess the Relationship After Too Many Breaks
It is highly, highly likely someone will cross your boundary once - maybe even by mistake. There’s a less likely chance if you follow through that they’ll do it again. However, there is a chance someone will decide to disregard your boundary entirely and continuously break your boundary, regardless of the consequences.
At this point, it’s time for reflection. Ask:
Am I communicating my boundary clearly enough?
Is my consequence clear, and am I following through on it?
Do I need to rephrase my boundary to make this clear to this person?
If this all seems clear, then consider:
Is this a pattern for this person? In other words, do they tend to disregard boundaries in other contexts?
Is there some context that makes this person think breaking my boundaries is okay?
Do I need to distance myself from this person to protect my peace?
We’re not saying drop the person like a hot potato. We’re saying protect your peace. Sometimes that means ending a relationship, and sometimes that means simply having an open, honest conversation about how you feel. Know your needs and how to meet them!
We hope these tips provided you with some valuable information about navigating the holidays with your family through enforcing your boundaries! At Rise and Thrive, our holistic counselors are experts at self-care. We’d love to support you to get you ready to enforce those boundaries! Reach out today; we look forward to hearing from you!