Boundaries: Troubleshooting Your Requests
We Grown Ass Women love our boundaries! Yet for many of us, we run into challenges when it comes to actually creating and following through with healthy boundaries. I’d like to troubleshoot two of the most frequent questions I receive from From Good Girl to Grown Ass Woman podcast listeners and coaching clients. If you haven’t read our article, “How to Have Boundaries like a Boss,” you might like to start there. If you’d rather listen to the podcast than read this article, click the link below!
Where there’s resentment, there is probably an unmet need. Where there is an unmet need, there is likely an opportunity to introduce a boundary. For instance, here is an example I hear from my executive folks All. The. Time. Let’s say you resent your team members texting me after work hours. Every time your cellphone dings, you notice feeling disrespected and pissed off. What’s the need then, that your resentment reveals? Maybe you have a need for more time with my family in the evenings. Maybe you have a need for space between work and the rest of my life. Maybe you have a need to feel respected. The boundary, then, might be communicating to your team that you are available between the hours of 9 and 6, or whatever time you choose.
But here’s the thing: communicating the boundary is only the first step. The next steps are following through with your boundary, over and over and over. Remember, if we’re defining boundaries as “how you teach people to treat you,” teaching will require repetition and reinforcement. So let’s say you’ve communicated your availability. Following through will have to include you respecting your own boundary. That means, after 6, your work phone goes to Do Not Disturb, or Off, or in another room, or whatever structure you choose to implement. That means you are not responding to non-emergency work calls. Pretty soon, folks learn either A) not to even bother reaching out to you after hours, or B) that they can reach out, but that they know not to expect a response until the next business day.
On the other hand, let’s say you communicate the boundary with your words, yet your actions don’t follow through. You continue to respond to non-urgent work requests at all hours, and continue to feel resentful about it. In this instance, you’ve actually stepped over your own boundary, and over time, this leads others to step over your boundary as well. Your team members haven’t learned yet that you’re not actually unavailable in the evenings, and so they keep reaching out. It’s probably not a conscious thing. Contrary to popular belief, most people are not consciously trying to piss you off. Probably your team members are not nefariously conspiring to block your boundary. It’s more likely that they heard you mention something in passing about refining your availability, yet notice that you still seem to respond each time they reach out, so they kind of forget about what you said, or process that you must have changed your mind. So your stepping over your own boundaries leads to a feedback loop where other people do too, and then any beliefs you might have about boundaries not actually working, or other people not respecting your boundaries— those beliefs get reinforced.
This request came up just this week from a client in one of my coaching groups. We were talking what we “get” from creating boundaries. My response was Self-Respect, and Self-Trust. And it’s true- when I am clear with myself and others around boundaries, it really does result in increased self-respect and self-trust for me, and for others I’ve worked with as well. Yet for this particular individual, their experience of boundaries is conflict. And lots of folks have this experience; it’s actually quite common. So let’s talk about it.
Here are the reasons why you might assume that boundaries equals conflict. For some folks, you may have learned through life that you have to defend yourself. And now, because of those life experiences, you anticipate conflict, and are very aware of even the slightest possibility of conflict, so that you can prepare to defend against it. Because that’s what you’ve had to do. That is such a normal and effective response, and probably served you really well at some points in life.. And yet at this phase, it may actually be getting in your way.
Another reason you may assume that boundaries equal conflict is that you may have learned that force is the only way to get your needs met. Again, that may have been true for you at some point in life, or it’s the only tool you’ve had access to in the past. If you’re open to it, maybe it’s time to add more options to your toolbox. Maybe it’s possible to learn and practice other ways of getting your needs met.
One more reason you may perceive boundaries as resulting in conflict is that you may have the impression that boundaries are a win/lose proposition. In other words, if you have a boundary, it means you win, and someone else loses. You may believe that if you get your needs met, it means someone else doesn’t get their needs met. So of course, from that stance, to have boundaries means to invite conflict.
Let’s look at how this all might show up in the previous example of implementing boundaries around your availability at work. If your perception is that your boundary will result in resistance, you’re going to show up for a fight. Let’s say your teammate calls you after your stated availability to talk about something that can definitely wait until the morning. You might respond (either to the person or in your head), in a way that is more conflictual than needed. If you’re a fighter, it might sound like: “I can’t believe you would call me after I told you I’m not available. No one on this team respects me! What do I have to do to make it clear to you?” Or if you’re an avoider, your response might look like you giving that person the cold shoulder. If you believe that your boundaries mean you win and others lose, you may be overly apologetic, or even revoke your own boundary. “I’m so sorry, I know this creates hardship for everyone. If you need me, just call me anyway, it’s really fine.”
I want to acknowledge some some folks will not like your boundaries, and will attempt, either consciously or unconsciously to do what they feel is in their best interest, regardless of what you’ve put into place. Yet, other people can only push against you as much as you push back. Another way of saying this is that conflict is only conflict if there is more than one person willing to engage. A one-sided fight is not a thing. Imagine someone running straight toward you, and you simply step out of the way. Kind of like the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon! As a refresher, the roadrunner is just running around, living its best life, and the coyote is chasing it. Sometimes the coyote is running full speed ahead toward the roadrunner, and all the roadrunner does is step out of the way, the coyote keeps going of his own momentum. Roadrunner is completely unbothered. Unbothered!
So for you, what would happen if you just stepped out of the way of any oncoming conflict regarding your boundaries, totally unbothered? You get to keep your boundary, and the other person goes on to do whatever they do. In our previous example, that might sound like: your teammate calls you after your stated work hours. It’s a non-emergency. You connect with them the next day, and say, “Hey! I noticed you called. What can I help you with?” So simple. No drama. Unbothered.
Easier said than done, I realize. And, it gets easier with practice.
Let me know your biggest takeaways! And, I’d love to hear: what are the biggest barriers you experience around creating healthy boundaries?