What are they and why are we told we should have them? And why are they such a big deal?
Just like morals and values, boundaries are those things that are unique to each of us that we rarely think about yet we seem to instinctually know when we’ve got a problem with them. Boundaries are a big deal because increasingly people find themselves either getting angry more often over certain issues or feeling a sense of sadness, loss or frustration as others continue, in their eyes, to disrespect them.
Wikipedia defines personal boundaries as: guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits. They are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.
Makes sense, but how do we know when our boundaries are being crossed? What exactly does that look like?
You know that feeling you get in your gut when someone acts in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or like something isn’t right with the situation? Or when you feel anger bubbling up inside of you but you never say anything? That feeling in your gut is intuition and the anger is often a strong indicator that your boundaries are being crossed. The key here is to be able to articulate this without having the conversation escalate into an all out blame game/shouting match. All too often we worry that if we speak up about what is and isn’t acceptable to us that we will end up pushing someone away or that we are being too forceful.
If a friend continues to cross your boundary of asking to borrow things such as money or clothes or tools (material boundaries) and you let them, even though you are not comfortable with it, how long before you find yourself not returning that friends call or their email? How long before you simply let them fade from your life? They in turn have no idea why you have suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth. Over time what you will notice is that for some strange reason this keeps happening to you.
In coaching learning about our boundaries is one of the things we work on together. When I work with a client I help them to recognize and define their boundaries but I also help them to be able to speak them. This is part of becoming a better communicator, being able to ask for what you need and for share what you don’t want. When we say nothing, when we clam up and walk away, it is at that point that we have terminated communication and we have begun to chip away at the foundation of the relationship.
And often it is our self esteem and sense of self worth that needs to be worked on before we can recognize and maintain our own boundaries. Once we find that place in ourselves where we can stand strong, it then becomes easier to recognize, acknowledge and speak up about our crossed boundaries.
Working with a coach is a great way to begin creating awareness of those situations where something isn’t sitting right for you. Having a safe place and a non judgmental partner to listen to your stories and tell you what they are hearing; helps you learn more about what your personal boundaries are and helps you to recognize them sooner. (Kind of like when you buy a new car and all of as sudden you see that car everywhere you look) From this space you have a regular opportunity to replay the moments in your life and look at them from the perspective of, "how could this situation have been different had I recognized my boundary and asked for it to be honored?" From this place your growth begins to happen.
Pay attention this week to conversations at work or at home, see how you find yourself reacting and ask yourself, "what boundary is being crossed for me right now and do I have the courage to speak up about it?"