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Boundaries Part 2: Owning your Space

Now you understand more about boundaries. (If you haven't read Part 1, take a look before reading Part 2). It's not about judging another person's behavior or insisting on them changing. It's an invitation for that person to better understand your experience in the relationship. Also it's a clear heads-up about what you intend to do when/if they do that behavior or make the choices that hurt you. So let's move onto the tasks of identifying what boundaries you would like to set and then onto some strategies to communicate your intentions successfully.

Identifying what/when/who is the source of your pain.

Take a moment to think about the times you consistently feel triggered in relationship. If you have trouble, focus on your body and the sensations you have when interacting with that someone. What do you avoid? When do you anticipate or notice the feeling of dis-ease? Maybe you feel yourself pulling away or trying to manage/control/caretake the other to keep "it" from happening. Maybe it's the feeling of needing to urgently make a quick escape? Maybe you feel the heat in your belly and the buzzing in your head as your heart-rate rises or feel a total loss of words only to have a rush of responses wash over you in the car driving home? Some things we don't like and we can just accept and move on without suffering. If that is the case, well then you might want to consider just letting it go. Remember it's not about making other people behave"right" it's about allowing everyone their choices. However if is something you've tried and failed to accept, you agree it is not just about trying to get them to agree with you and you are suffering real pain, it is probably time to target that issue with a boundary.

Whatever "it" is, spend some time clarifying it and making it specific:

When you/this happens___________ I feel________________.

Then ask yourself what you want from the other person or what you'd like to see changed in the situation.

Remember this is not your actual motive, but it can be helpful to make clear that NOT doing so is their choice. It clarifies they do have a reasonable option or options to do differently, and if not, your boundary should be an expected consequence. It avoids the generalizations that are often used by those who don't want to change

"You just can't accept me for me"

"you are so controlling/bossy/self-centered"...

(*No you aren't and just review your message and you'll see the criticisms as simply a way to avoid change or hearing you or considering how their behavior may be hurtful)

Decide what is completely within your power to do and only chose responses on which you are fully willing to follow through.

Some ideas might be; ending the conversation, leaving the situation for time to recenter, switching the topic, not extending invitation, not lending, not giving or taking something back that is yours or privileges that you have the power to withhold. It can even be bringing in another person for support (a supervisor, a therapist, a mediator, a family member) in order to move forward if your participation is needed or discuss the situation with the other person.

Be prepared and think, based on what you know about this person or the situation, the best case/worst case/most likely case reaction. If they know your vulnerabilities, that might be the place they poke when wanting to undermine your message. Make sure you have options for what you would say and what you would do in each of these cases to give you the confidence and reassure yourself you have all the tools and words you might need.

"Geez, you are always so dramatic, I can't believe you can't just take a joke"

can be met with

"Well, I'm just letting you know what hurts me and it's up to you to hear that or not".

Now that you have the basics it just a matter of the telling. I like the sandwich strategy:

  1. Something soft: Find a connection or agreement between you or anything that refers to the positive motive of what you are trying to do. It could be "We are both working so hard to make this wedding really special for Alice" "We both agree in the importance of Tyler feeling successful at school" or "We've been friends for a long time and it means a lot to me"

  2. Something hard: The meat of the conversation. This is where you say what is happening that you do not want/like and what you will be doing when/if it happens. Keep it short and simple- do not overload the meat. Use a lighter tone even if your words are strong- think of it as holding your ideas lightly as though it is not so much your desire to feel in such a way, more that it feels as real and inevitable as the tides. (Strange but useful trick: Try gazing up and to the left when you practice saying this part as if you were looking inside of yourself and see if that helps).

  3. Something soft: End with a reminder of your positive intent or willingness to be patient for them to need time to consider (even though follow through starts NOW) or even empathy for that this might be difficult for them to hear.

Now just hold steady and keep on keeping on

After that- it's all in the action. Just do what you said you were going to do. No need for arguments as you've said what you needed and are just allowing them to make their choice. Arguments just give false impression that this is negotiable or just leads to hurtful interactions that detract from the choice they need to make or not make and expect your healthy response. Keep going. Almost always if you need to make a boundary,

The person is not likely to hear your request and agree or come around in short order. In fact it will likely get more intense. They will want things to be the way they were and will need a lot of time to accept you mean what you say. Keep steady, keep calm and just follow through and resist making exceptions. It takes time to unlearn bad habits and any deviations just delays that process significantly.

Now go forth and try. Be patient with yourself. Don't expect it to go smoothly or quickly and admire your courage and intent even if the outcome is not perfect. There are no perfect ways or perfect words to make someone hear you. Likely you did great and if you keep going, you'll do better. You'll begin to do this more readily and intuitively in everyday life, when things feel unhealthy or hurtful. Taking small steps in the present to gently confront less urgent issues, make big confrontations or conflict less likely and lead to more peaceful relationships and confidence in taking up your rightful space in this world.


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