Boundaries. This word gets thrown around a lot. Especially last month when a well-known actor’s ex- published text messages where he gave her a list of things for her to do/not-do because these were his “boundaries.” This list was not about boundaries. It was about control, and she, rightly, wasn’t having it.
Boundaries are not about the other person’s behavior. We can get caught up in thinking of it that way because it’s another person’s behavior that violates our boundaries, causing us distress. We talk about boundaries because we want them to stop this behavior. But, getting someone else to change their behavior is not how healthy boundaries work.
A healthy attitude toward boundaries is one that recognizes that we are all connected AND each of us has ownership of ourselves and our behavior. We honor that when we allow others to do, say, and be whatever it is that they want to do, say, and be.
If we do not like something that someone else is doing, saying, or being, then our responsibility is to ourselves to act in a way that protects our peace, while also respecting the autonomy of the other person.
This is easy to say. Very hard to do (but easier with practice).
Healthy Boundaries Practice:
- What’s bothering me about what’s happening right now? (My sister is commenting about my weight again and I feel angry and frustrated.)
- Let go of the urge to make the other person change. (This is where she is on her journey. I’ve asked her to stop doing this, but clearly she can’t or doesn’t want to.)
- Take responsibility for meeting your own needs, rather than wanting the other person to meet them. (What I want from her is to care about how I feel about what she is saying and to tell me that I (and her and everyone) is worthy of love and dignity at all sizes. I need to create this for myself no matter what she does or says.)
- Determine what it would look like to meet your own need. (What do I need to take care of myself around her when she starts talking like this? Can I recognize that her comments are actually about her own suffering and not about me at all?)
- Decide what your action will be. (When she starts talking like this, I will remind myself that I am worthy of love and dignity at all sizes. I will remind myself that her comments are not about me. I can change the subject. I can remind her that this is not a subject I want to talk about. I can tell her that if she continues to talk about this, I’m going to have to leave/end the conversation. I can tell her that we can’t be in connection if she is going to talk like this to me.)
In this practice, the focus is not on getting the other person to change their behavior. The focus is on our needs and taking responsibility for protecting ourselves. The other person may choose to change their behavior if they want to stay in connection with us, but this isn’t the focus.
Sometimes, people see this practice as giving ultimatums. However, an ultimatum is still focused on forcing change in the other person. Healthy boundaries honor the dignity of choice for both people. “You do what you want to do. And if that doesn’t work for me, I’m going to do what I need to do to take care of myself.” That’s it.
What is a situation where I need to have a boundary? Write through the Healthy Boundaries Practice to come up with some strategies for supporting your peace and self-care in that situation.