“I love people who break boundaries and always create something new and fresh,” said Randy Jackson, former American Idol judge. His reference to breaking boundaries within the music industry creates chaos when applied to human relationships.
Personal boundaries set an appropriate distance between yourself and others. They are an extension of your beliefs and dictate what you will or won’t do; what you will or will not allow, and what you will or will not tolerate from others. Boundaries separate you from other. Boundaries protect you.
I recently passed by the customer service counter at a department store where an irate woman screamed profanities at a high school sales clerk who was struggling hard not to cry. I reported the incident to a customer service representative.
“How do you typically handle customers who become verbally abusive?” I asked.
He shrugged and said, “We usually give them whatever they want.”
Public tantrums are becoming acceptable social behavior. Many reality TV stars built careers grounded in their obnoxious abilities to loudly berate and humiliate others. And that is something I believe we need to change. Now.
When we were young, we were taught to show respect. Don’t talk back. Be quiet. Listen. Don’t cry. Be a man. Act like a lady. Many people learn that “being polite” and tolerating abuse are synonymous. As a result, they lack personal boundaries and give others permission to be verbally offensive.
I used to think it was my spiritual responsibility to listen to shouters and yellers because I assumed they must be feeling upset or angry or sad. I believed, if I listened to them while they were shouting and yelling, they would feel better. I discovered I was tolerating abusive behavior and, if I wanted to end the abuse, I had to change my behavior and how I react to it.
Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, insists, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Habits learned in the past can be changed today.
Here are some simple tips that will help you establish healthy boundaries, especially when you are in a stress-filled situation with another person:
Calm down. Most circumstances do not require an immediate response. It is perfectly acceptable to postpone discussion when tempers flare until you feel comfortable to engage in conversation.
For example, if you feel uncomfortable continuing a conversation with someone, say, “I want to hear what you have to say about _____, but when I hear shouting, I feel ____ and I will _____ (i.e.: walk away, etc.).” Or “I want to hear what you have to say about _____, but I feel _____. Can we talk about this _____ (i.e.: in an hour? after I come back from class? etc.).
Invite discussion. Agree to arrange time to discuss an issue. For example, “_____ happened and I would like to talk about it. Can we arrange time for a conversation?”
Set appropriate boundaries. To ensure everyone feels safe, create an atmosphere of comfort by agreeing upon norms for the conversation that may include:
- One person speaks at a time.
- Speak with a respectful tone of voice (i.e.: no yelling, name-calling, etc.).
- Be mindful of nonverbal communication.
- Use direct eye contact throughout the conversation.
- Avoid giving advice unless advice is requested.
Use “I” statements. “You _____” statements often sound like accusations and prepare ground for battle. “I feel ____ when _____ happens” acknowledges your feelings without holding the other person responsible for your feelings.
Clearly describe the situation, how you feel, and what you need or want. For example, “When _____ happens, I feel _____. I need _____.” Or, “When I receive email filled with angry accusations, I feel attacked and hurt. I would like to discuss situations like this in person and not through email.”
Focus on the issue. Avoid rehashing issues from the past in a discussion about a present subject matter. Past issues unnecessarily create conflict. Agree to talk about past issues after you resolve the present issue.
Clarify. Ask clarifying questions such as “I heard you say _____. Is that what you meant?” or “Can you tell me more?” or “How did you feel when _____ happened? Clarifying questions let the other person know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Generate solutions. Just as there are many ways to score a touchdown, there are many ways to find solutions to problems. Consensus does not mean everyone involved will be happy with a solution; consensus means all persons involved agree to a solution that they can live with. Collaborative brainstorming moves us out of problems and into solutions.
Express appreciation. Once you reach an equitable solution, express gratitude and thank the other person for listening.
Of course, there will be times when you and another person may not find an equitable solution. In some situations, you may choose to agree to disagree. However, you can agree to mutually-respected norms of behavior when you communicate with others. Sometime you may have to leave the room if someone shouts at or threatens you. Sometimes unhealthy relationships must be severed.
Sometimes you have to burn a few bridges to blaze a new trail.
Not everyone will agree to treat you with the respect you deserve. Shouting scares me. There have been times I walked away from family members. I’ve walked out of parent-teacher conferences. I’ve walked away from heated discussions at social gatherings. I never storm out of the room without an explanation. I (1) let others know what they have to say is important to me, (2) explain what behaviors I will and will not tolerate, and (3) others continue to demonstrate abusive behavior, I leave the room.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”
You deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Your personal boundaries dictate how you feel about yourself and how you wish to be treated. It is up to you to establish those boundaries.
How can you create stronger personal boundaries?
Discover how to write positive affirmations with these suggestions from Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.
Reprogram your own thoughts with tips from Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.
Calm your mind and heart with these tips from 5 Ways to Find Peace in the Storm.
Do you struggle making decisions? Use these tips from Moral Decisions vs. Core Values and learn to trust your instincts.