Do you feel like people are constantly trying to take advantage of your good nature? Pushing your boundaries and not respecting you? Maybe you have a family member who feels the need to interfere in your relationships or child-rearing. Maybe you have a client who constantly making unreasonable demands or being a little too relaxed about payments or appointments? Or perhaps there are people in your circle of influence who only call on you when they need something but seem to have blocked out the notion of reciprocity…you know the ones!
This is why it is essential to have clear and solid boundaries in place and there are 3 principles to be aware of.
1. Enforce them or forget them.
Bottom line is that you can’t expect others to respect your boundaries if you’re not prepared to enforce your expectations.
You have to clearly articulate what your boundaries are, no assuming that they should just get it because everyone has different boundaries. Some people love surprise visits, others do not. When you clearly articulate your boundaries you can’t engage in passive aggressive nonsense, you need to politely say what you do and don’t like and be consciously aware that this is about you not them. That’s right, it’s not about them and their behaviour, it’s about you determining the course of your life.
So if someone rocks up to your house unannounced you could say something like: “Hey, I wasn’t expecting you. It’s great to see you, maybe next time flick me a text so I can be out of my PJs (or buy a pack of biscuits or what ever fits with your personality and lifestyle)”. You can still be welcoming and loving, while stating what you need from them in the future.
You will have to be prepared to do this more than once. Some people always have good reasons for pushing your boundaries. Acknowledge the reasons but reinforce your expectation.
2. Incompetence vs Conspiracy
It’s easy to get angry and resentful when we feel people are deliberately taking advantage of us, ignoring our boundaries and being disrespectful. However, most of the time it comes down to the person being thoughtless, selfish or just plain disorganised. They aren’t deliberately setting out to upset you or hurt you, they’re just being a bit hopeless.
If they are being deliberate, quite frankly you need to ask yourself what weird payoff are you getting from letting them stick around at all. Now I know this can feel particularly hard if you feel forced to be around deliberately hurtful people, like work colleagues or family members but you do still have a choice to limit your time and not accept poor behaviour.
Sadly some people seem to have awful luck and an endless supply of reasons for mucking up and transgressing your boundaries. You can still be compassionate while enforcing your boundaries. Acknowledge, reinforce, repeat.
So for example a customer keeps delaying their payment or a friend paying back a loan but they always have a good reason for why they can’t pay you. You could say something like: “I’m so sorry to hear they’ve mucked up your pay this week, I’ve got my own bills due next week, is there someone you can borrow from?” It might seem harsh but if this is the 2nd or 3rd time that they are delaying payment you need to make them aware of the impact of their actions on you.
Really, most of the time people aren’t trying to rip you off or jerk you around, they are more often than not just so caught up in themselves that they are unaware of the problems they are causing others. It’s your job to bring it into their awareness and enforce your boundary.
3. Learn the Lesson
Firstly ask yourself: When have I done this myself in some way? cancelled a payment? forgot a date? changed your mind? offered unsolicited advice?
We’re rarely perfect so be a little forgiving of the other person and use it as a wake-up call for your own behaviour.
And secondly: You keep getting the lesson until you learn the lesson. So if it keeps happening, look at what you need to tighten up your end of things. EG clearer payment plan, tighter policy or contracts, or simply more clearly articulate what you are prepared to accept.
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