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Boundaries 1.0

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Boundaries can be a difficult concept. Boundaries are not there to control the behavior of other people. They should be there to tell us how to act if someone violates our space, steals our time, or wastes our energy or efforts. They do not tell others how to act to avoid bumping into our boundaries. We cannot control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others, nor should we. The good news is that other people cannot control your thoughts, feelings and actions. People can decide for themselves if changing their actions is worth avoiding whatever consequences arise from a boundary violation.

Boundaries often get confused with preferences. Unlike boundaries, preferences don’t necessarily require a response when they are not honored by others. If housemates are painting the bathroom and they each prefer a different color, no action need be taken by either person if their color isn’t chosen. However, if you meet your friend for lunch regularly and they are always late, this can be a boundary violation. If you feel that this friend is regularly invading on your time, then it’s probably time to set a boundary. The boundary may be that you will wait 15 minutes and then leave or only eat with this friend when other people are coming so their absence is less disruptive. Whatever the boundary is, it should only dictate what you will do, not the other person. Boundaries are be there to protect your space, your time, and your energy and efforts

If a person violates a boundary, don’t assume that the person is doing anything intentional, and honestly it doesn’t really matter if it’s intentional or not. You don’t have to be angry at the person nor do you need to feel any resentment. As a matter of fact, by setting up boundaries you prevent those feelings. How do you think you would feel toward the chronically late friend over time? Likely resentful, and you might find yourself avoiding spending time with them. By telling them your boundaries, you give them the option of fixing the problem.

If your “boundaries” require other people to act in a certain way, then you aren’t really creating boundaries. What you have is a manual for the other person. In that manual is a bunch of statements that go something like “When I do _____, you do _____.” These are only attempts to control or manipulate others. For example, you text a good friend with a question and they don’t get back to you for several hours. This in and of itself is not a boundary violation. They have not encroached on your space, taken up your time, or caused undue effort on your part. You may have the preference, or even an expectation, that they respond within a certain time, but this is not an issue of boundaries. However, if you asked your friend to let you know if they were coming to dinner so you could plan your grocery trip, and they never let you know, this may develop into a boundary issue. This could turn into a violation of your space, time, and effort. If they show up without ever letting you know, then this may violate the boundaries you have to protect your space. If you obtain and prepare extra food and your friend never shows, then you have expended your time and effort. If this was a one-time thing, then your likely action would be to check in with them to be sure they are okay and to express your boundaries if needed.

Enforcing your boundaries is an important skill to have. It is a skill that needs to be practiced and reviewed. Think about the boundaries you currently have. Are they actually boundaries, or are they preferences or expectations of others? If it truly is a boundary, then you should be able to state it in the following format; “If you choose to (insert boundary violation), then I will respond by (insert action) in order to protect my (space/time/effort)”. This is not a foolproof method. I have seen some expectations engineered to fit this boundary statement. For example; “If you choose not to come to my birthday party, then I will respond by not inviting you in the future in order to protect my space”. This is an attempt to manipulate the behavior of another person, possibly in order to avoid dealing with negative feelings such as rejection or sadness.

Your mental space is your job to keep clean. Keeping your mental space in order is a tremendous task and it seems more difficult when we encounter certain people and circumstances, but these are your triggers and not necessarily the problems of other people. However, you can set a boundary for yourself. For example, if your mother constantly talks negatively about your spouse, then you can tell her that you will leave (or ask her to leave) if she continues this behavior. You aren’t asking her to change her behavior, but you do not need to be subjected to her negativity either.

I could go on and on about boundaries, and I likely will in a future post. Go out into the world and love yourself and others enough to set some boundaries.

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