By Dana Borowka, MA, Ellen Borowka, MA and Nancy Croix
[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]B[/dropcaps]oundaries have an important place in our relationships, our family, the work place, and all aspects of daily life. When there is confusion over boundaries, we tend to run into many issues that need to be dealt with.
What are boundaries?
The dictionary defines boundaries as, “Something that marks or fixes a limit (as of territory)”. In essence, boundaries help us to determine where ‘I’ end and ‘you’ begin. Where are my limits? What are my needs? What are the rules or guidelines for our relationship? Some may resist the idea of guidelines… claiming that they are too rigid or stifling. Leading us to another question, why should we have boundaries?
Lack of boundaries tends to create much uncertainty and misunderstandings that can lead to chaos, anger and pain. Without boundaries, people can feel taken advantage of or invalidated or not heard by the other person. A lack of respect can grow in the relationship, and then feelings of hurt, resentment and anger can develop and fester beneath the surface. Yet, what are we really searching for? Bottom line: a relationship that is NOT based on respect and empathy is a hollow relationship. One that is without substance, depth or true love. I think we search for a place; a relationship to trust that we know will be safe, supportive and lasting. Boundaries ensure that.
What do we need for boundaries?
• Communication – Boundaries that are well communicated can set the tone for a healthy environment where everyone clearly knows where they stand. This enhances honesty, trust, and an atmosphere where issues can be worked through. Guidelines need to be negotiated and clearly communicated so everyone involved knows what is expected of them. What are the requests and concerns? What’s ok and what’s not? It’s also important to define for yourself what is acceptable or not acceptable from others. Is there a relationship or situation that you are tolerating, yet underneath you feel pain, anger, disrespect? Then you may have not defined for yourself where the limits are. What is the cutoff point? If you don’t communicate your boundaries, then you are staying in a situation that is not healthy.
We always have our options open when we communicate what we want or need. A friend told about me about a simple example. She had some friends over for a BBQ. She and another friend had set up the table inside the house. However, others wanted to eat outside. Even though my friend wanted to eat inside, she started to go along with the group until her friend mentioned that she was going to eat inside, as it was too cold outside for her. Her friend then mentioned that everyone else could eat where they would like to. That made my friend realize that just because she puts out what she wants, doesn’t mean that she’s stepping on something that someone else wants. We don’t have to give in or go along – we all have options as long as we communicate.
• Consistency – Being consistent with your boundaries is important too. If you insist on someone being respectful to you in one instance, but not in another, then you lose their respect in the end. Just as discipline for a child needs to be consistent, so too do boundaries. If there is confusion or ambiguity, then the discipline doesn’t stick. The same is true for boundaries. Another essential part of consistency is if we expect others to respect our boundaries, we need to respect theirs as well. As they say, it’s a two way street. A few months ago, we went to an Elton John/Billy Joel concert, which was great fun. Elton sang one of his old favorites, Someone Save My Life Tonight. I realized that someone has to Ask to be saved. Otherwise, we are not being respectful of the other person’s pacing, wants or needs.
• Facing reality – Part of establishing boundaries is facing the reality of your relationships. Boundaries often strengthen and enhance relationships. However, there are relationships that are not healthy and the true colors will be exposed one way or another. There comes a point where we need to be able to face the sacrifice or the potential downside of putting down limits. While in college, I was struggling to deal with family conflict. I went to a college counselor for some advice. I laid everything out that was going on in my family and wanted to be able to just let the conflict and pain roll off my back like water off a duck. He said something very helpful (though I didn’t realize it at the time), “It’s not easy to kick against the pricks and not say “Ouch!” In other words, I wanted to stay in an unhealthy situation and not feel the pain and anger. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to respect our boundaries and understand when to make changes or let go.
• Conflict – Why is it so difficult to talk about boundaries? What are we really afraid of? In a word: Conflict. It is helpful to develop some level of comfort with conflict and disagreement. Some have a need to have others see things their way. Some find it very difficult to disagree with another for fear of hurt feelings or facing their anger. Yet, we all need to be able to find some way to handle conflict. To be able to say, Ok, we don’t agree on this, but this is my boundary… my limit. Let’s find a way to work with this.
• Respect – We need to respect differences and limits. Without respect, is there a relationship? … what foundation is there without respect? A friend once told me that to expect something of someone else in a relationship that they can’t fulfill is not fair to them. I can see that could be true for many expectations, but without respect, there is no relationship and one must move on or accept that as part of an unhealthy relationship.
Putting the puzzle together
We looked at communication, consistency, reality, conflict and respect in connection to boundaries. These are all aspects needed for a relationship, and boundaries keep them from getting out of hand. We can also look at them as pieces to a puzzle. When you first start putting a puzzle together, the pieces are upside down, turned over and hidden. This can leave you feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start. Everybody has different tactics. Some like to start with the frame and then work in small portions. Others start from the center or wherever they feel comfortable. There are many ways to go about solving issues. The key is recognizing the issue, setting guidelines that are realistic and achievable, and working together to bring resolution. Boundaries help us get back on track quicker, so we can appreciate each other, learn from the experience and enjoy life together.
What boundaries would you like to set up… starting today? Now it’s your turn to create a change in your life, if you are ready for it. Or to accept that you have situations that you are comfortable with using your current boundaries. Either way you have created your own destiny. We wish you the best in discovering your boundaries, and hope that you have the courage to change those that you wish to change.
Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014 This information contained in this article is not meant to be a substitute for professional counseling.
Dana Borowka, MA, CEO, Ellen Borowka, MA, Senior Analyst and Nancy Croix, Senior Operations Administrator of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC with their organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your organization”. They do this through the use of in-depth work style assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. They also have a full service consulting division that provides domestic and international interpersonal coaching, executive onboarding, leadership training, global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training, operational productivity improvement, 360s and employee surveys as well as a variety of workshops. They have over 25 years of business and human behavioral consulting experience. They are nationally renowned speakers and radio personalities on this topic. They are the authors of the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”. To order the books, please visit www.lighthouseconsulting.com.
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