In Part 1 I talked about setting boundaries for yourself​ in order to be kind to yourself and live a life that is meaningful to you. Today we’re looking at how to set boundaries with ​other people​. If we could live our lives without people crossing our boundaries, that would be great, wouldn’t it? But in reality, people cross our boundaries all the time. Henry Cloud’s analogy of property lines continues to be a great visual. Where does my stuff end, and someone else’s stuff begin?

Here are some examples of common boundary crossings:

  • Another parent telling you how to raise your child without being asked for their advice.
  • A co-worker taking over a project that is your responsibility.
  • An adult child using a parent’s home as if he/she owns the place.
  • Someone telling you how to live your life.
  • Parents taking responsibility for their child when the child is old enough to be responsible for themselves (cleaning room, laundry, homework).

How to Address Boundary-Breakers

“Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 3:3

This verse is a personal favorite, especially when I’m figuring out how to address a boundary-breaker in my life. I love this advice because it reminds me to ​be kind to people​, and in our kindness, we must ​also​ ​tell the truth​. Which part is easier for you – kindness or honesty? Both are hard at times. I encourage you to consider the following when you need to talk to someone about a boundary issue.

Stay Calm

Before you talk to the person breaking the boundary, be intentional about calming your emotions. This can be very difficult. If you’re really upset, consider waiting 24 hours before speaking to them.

Once you’ve had time to calm down, think through what you want to say. As you prepare for the conversation, I recommend three things:

1. Be Clear

Sometimes the level of angst you experience is an indicator that this has happened too many times without your being able to voice how it has affected you. Getting really angry at the person may come as a surprise to them because you have never said anything to them before. Keep this in mind. ​You cannot expect them to know where the boundary is if you haven’t been clear with them when the boundary has been crossed in the past. ​You may think, “Well they should just know, I shouldn’t have to tell them.” My response to that is, healthy communication involves clearly identifying the boundary.

2. Be Kind

Kindness is powerful! People are able to respond to kindness more easily than anger or harshness. I have also found that people are typically open to respectful behavior. There is hope for real change when you ask people to respect your boundaries.

3. Be Honest

Most people have no idea that their behavior is bothering you. Take the time to explain where your boundary line is, and how you feel when that line is crossed. Recognize their good intentions, and then be honest about how their actions are affecting you.

Use “I” statements​. Instead of saying, “YOU do this, and that and this other thing,” try to say, “I feel.” For example, “I feel angry when I’m given advice I didn’t ask for. Parenting is really hard. I need more encouragement than I need advice.”

Tell the truth about how much it bothers you​. Sometimes we want to act like it’s no big deal, and that sends a confusing message. For example, “I was really upset yesterday after our staff meeting. This project is my responsibility. I felt like you were taking it over.”

Remember, ​we show people we care about the relationship​ by letting them know what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Here are a few more examples…

To the parent that is telling you how to raise your child:
“You are a really good parent and I am a really good parent, and we parent differently. Please don’t give me advice unless I ask for it first.”

To the coworker taking over your project:
“You have a lot of good ideas, but this project is my responsibility. I will let you know if I need help.”

To the adult child that is not respecting their parent’s home:
This will require a longer conversation, but that conversation needs to include an affirmation of the parents’ love and clear expectations of the parents. This needs to be followed by clear agreement from the adult child otherwise, the adult child will need to find another living arrangement.

These are just a few suggestions that I hope are helpful. I know it’s hard, but establishing healthy boundaries is worth it. Remember…
Be clear, Be kind, Be honest!

What are the scariest parts of setting boundaries for you? What kind of experiences have you had asking for a change in your relationships?

Donna Durham, MMFT

photo from Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash