Setting Personal Boundaries

Integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” and “the state of being whole and undivided.”  Your personal integrity stands or falls in your ability to have clearly-defined principles and expectations that describe the behavior you find acceptable in yourself and others.  Integrity is not a secret code known only to you; the rules must be public and must be consistently upheld.

You cannot have a healthy relationship with someone who has no personal boundaries or who doesn’t communicate them directly and honestly.  Learning how to set (and enforce) personal boundaries is fundamental to self-respect and self-worth.  It is your responsibility to care for yourself and to protect yourself from the behavior of others when necessary.

Many of us struggle in our relationships because we have never taken the time to really determine our personal boundaries and communicate them to others.  It’s very unfair to punish someone for crossing a boundary they never knew existed.  If you’re ready to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Mason and Mr. Dixon and set your personal boundaries, you can begin with these steps.

Do a survey

The first step in learning to set appropriate personal boundaries is deciding what you consider unacceptable.  You can do this through self-awareness: by listening to your intuition and paying attention to uncomfortable emotions when you experience them.  For example, pay close attentions to situations when you feel like you are losing energy, feel like you are avoiding someone because of their behavior, or feel like you are allowing something that you know isn’t good for you.

If it helps you, make a list on paper by completing these three sentences with as many answers as you can come up with (I’ve provided some examples to help get you started:

  1.  I will not permit others to _______.
    1. Invade my personal space
    2. Humiliate me in front of others
    3. Criticize me
    4. Make comments about my weight/style of dress/hair color
    5. Go through my personal belongings
    6. Use profanity in my presence
    7. Tell offensive/demeaning jokes in my company
    8. Gossip about others
  2. I have a right to ask for _______.
    1. More information before making a decision
    2. Time to think before giving an answer
    3. Help when I need/want it
    4. Privacy
    5. Honor and respect from others
    6. Proper notice before an event/opportunity
    7. Others to keep their commitments to me
    8. Time when I can unplug/care for myself
  3. I give myself permission to _______.
    1. Decline invitations/opportunities I don’t want to accept
    2. Change my mind
    3. Take my time in returning calls, texts or emails
    4. Ask for what I want/need
    5. Limit my exposure to certain people/events/circumstances
    6. State my beliefs and opinions in a calm and respectful manner

Publish the results

Boundaries don’t really exist until you make them public.  You must inform others that the boundary exists and let them know when they have (or are about to) cross it.  If you’re setting a new boundary, you should let others know that a new boundary has been created – in advance.  Other people cannot hope to meet your expectations if you don’t tell them what they are.

The key is to share your boundaries calmly and respectfully.  It you cover them up with extreme emotion, no one will take them seriously.  Use simple and direct language.  Be firm, but use a graceful and neutral tone.

This process may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you practice it will get easier.  Get support from a friend, family member or coach if you need it.

Enforce the consequences and provide alternatives

Personal boundaries are enforced (and re-enforced) through consequences.  How do you intend to enforce your boundaries and what consequences will you apply for those who choose to violate them?  It’s important that these be clearly communicated using simple and direct language, and then enforce them.

It’s also beneficial to provide alternatives to the behavior you consider unacceptable.  This gives the other person the option of modifying their behavior to meet your expectations.

You don’t need to defend, debate or over-explain your feelings.  When you face resistance, simply repeat your statement or request.  Be firm, gracious and direct.

Here are some great examples of how you might choose to word your boundaries, consequences and alternatives when interacting with others.

To set a boundary with an angry person:
“It’s not acceptable for you to yell at me. If you continue, I’ll leave the room/ask you to leave/hang up the phone.”

To set a boundary for inappropriate humor/language:

“I don’t find jokes about that funny.  In fact, I find them offensive, and I’ll ask you not to repeat them in front of me.”

“I find that word offensive.  Please don’t use it around me.”

To set a boundary with someone who is critical:
It’s not okay with me that you comment on my weight/hair/job/spouse/etc. I’m asking you to stop.”

To buy yourself time when making tough decisions:
“I’ll have to sleep on it. I have a policy of not making decisions right away.  I will give you my answer in (insert appropriate unit of time).”

Some final thoughts

Don’t let anyone guilt you into backing off of your personal boundaries.  You have to be ready to make some difficult decisions, but if you know your boundary is healthy for you stick to it.

Remember that setting boundaries is about you not the other person.  You can’t control anyone else.  If they choose to not respect your boundaries, you can choose to not interact with them.

Use your experiences to determine if your boundaries are service your intended purpose.  If not, you can change them whenever you wish.

If you’re going to make an exception, let the other person know it is only an exception but that your boundary hasn’t changed.

You teach other people how to treat you.  Consistency is key.


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