Setting boundaries is fundamental to building healthy relationships. We probably all agree on this but may have different ideas about what boundaries are and how to set them. This week, I want to discuss some pitfalls of setting boundaries, and then offer some alternatives and other tips.
A boundary separates one person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions from another person’s. In other words, it defines where you leave off, and I begin. Different kinds of relationships have different boundaries.
Boundaries fall along a spectrum:
Enmeshed Healthy Rigid
(too close, ill defined) (clear, appropriate, comfortable) (too far apart, inflexible)
1.Pitfall #1: Trying to change someone else’s behavior.
- In reality, we set boundaries by changing our own actions, not by coercing or manipulating others.
2.Pitfall #2: Using words to set a boundary.
- Actions set boundaries, not words. Oral demands lead to power struggles.
For example, if while playing a boardgame, a child cheats, asking the child to change her behavior crosses boundaries and doesn’t work. Instead, put the game away, and do something else.
You teach people how to treat you – with your actions (not your words).
- You are always doing this.
- It’s best to set boundaries early (the sooner, the better).
- It’s easier to relax firm boundaries then tighten flexible/unclear ones.