Imagine a country without borders. There are no fences, no restrictions, no warning signs. Anyone can cruise through, set up camp and exploit its natural resources. If a land as this existed it would likely be trashed in a few years. No real country would allow this to happen yet we – people – permit anyone into our space to waste our time and energy. We allow others to push us around, use us, abuse us and “piss on our flowers” whenever they feel like it. Have you ever pondered why we do this ourselves? Why don’t we we have our boundaries?
Actually, we all have limits. They are those tipping points that send us over the cliff into an ocean of mental agony. Problem is, most people suffer because they have not defined their boundaries and are not even aware of them.
Historically boundaries have been very clear – you can’t just march into my village, eat my buffalo jerky, squat in my rice storage shed, and take my wife to your cave for a night. If any of these boundaries were overstepped, you can bet someone’s nut sack was being hung on the branch of a ficus tree the next morning.
Nowadays these same “threats” are still there. Some are more intricate, some are more subtle and others are just blurred outlines. You may feel your boundaries violated in a variety of ways: someone spreads divisive rumors, publicly flirts with your partner, diminishes your social status, does not respect your privacy or personal property, make decisions on your behalf without consulting, makes their problems your problems, asks you to do things that they can easily do on their own (or vice versa), gets physical in a verbal argument, etc.
Relationship between Boundaries and Anger Management
Even though the threats have evolved, our instinct to respond to them remains just as powerful as in the old ages. When someone “crosses our boundaries” we deal with it in one of the three ways:
- We immediately unleash a fury of verbal insults to “put them back in their place;” or
- We bite our tongue in order to avoid a scene and patiently wait till we can let it all rip when the party is over; or
- We stuff it all inside in order to not expose our vulnerability and give them a cold treatment; expecting them to figure out why we have a stiff lower lip.
Either way, the frustration of lack of respect for your boundaries simmers inside and builds steam, pressure cooking your internal organs with discontent and misery. It can feel as if someone robbed you of your power and dignity. Heck, you even willfully handed it over to them. Recognize the pattern? No wonder this is a spicy recipe for boundless frustration and anger.
Why People Do Not Set Boundaries?
- Fear of confrontation – we’d rather cross the street then bump into an old nemesis walking towards us on a busy boulevard. Most people would do anything to avoid even a slightly uncomfortable situation. “Oh man, I can’t believe he’s acting like this again, but if I mention something then he’ll become defensive and we’ll get into an argument, I’d rather just not say anything at all.”
- Fear of disappointing people – you might have built your image around being a perfectionist or you maybe naturally inclined to please people. Either way, these are noble character traits but a feeling of letting someone down could be your biggest nightmare. “There’s no way I can finish this in time but she wants this tomorrow. I’ve always worked fast; she’s going to wonder what happened… Oh well, I’ll just work through the night.”
- Fear of not being liked by others – believing that when you say NO to someone, they will have a strong reaction and not like you anymore. This is also tied to the fear of abandonment – being casted out of the tribe into a cold, lonely forest to live with the wolves. “What if they all go to a party and don’t invite me because I didn’t help them?”
- Self-defeatist mindset – the beliefs that other people’s needs and opinions are more important than your own. “I don’t deserve this,” “It’s not worth it,” “I never win anything,” “Others know better than I do…”
Five Reasons You should Not Live without Your Personal Boundaries
- Believing your assertiveness hurts another person can keep you from meeting your own physical and emotional needs. As a result, you may feel hurt, anxious, and bitter about life.
- You will find that none of your above fears will materialize if you assert your boundaries kindly and firmly. In fact, one of the “side effects” of boundary setting is improved relationships. Clear boundaries and a strong set of values always command more respect. (In our household we have an agreement to never argue in front of the baby – this is an absolute taboo.)
- It’s OK to disappoint people. By “disappoint” I mean – not to please them all the time, especially if it doesn’t truly benefit them long term. You will also notice that most people will get over their disappointment very quickly.
- If you don’t set and affirm your boundaries, other people will do it for you. Its not that they don’t respect you, they just test how much they can get away with for their own benefit.
- If you clearly know your boundaries you will take more steps to protect your dignity.
- You may have people in your life that manipulate you and exert their control over you without even you being aware of it. Maybe you have even turned away from your authentic identity and morphed into a person that your partner wants you to be.
The Do’s, Don’ts and How to’s of Effective Boundary Setting
Effective boundary setting can be as simple as saying “NO” but it requires a bit of finesse. To be most effective, it has to be done at the right moment and with the right tone. Below are a few guide points that maybe helpful:
- Don’t have so many personal boundaries that one would need a map to navigate this maze.
- Do be clear as to where your boundaries lay. Be it work, family, relationships, you have got to be very precise as to what your boundaries are and what behavior you are willing to put up with.
- Don’t make boundaries like the Great Wall of China. If they are too big or unreasonable they maybe impossible to respect.
- Do strategically structure your boundaries so that they can prevent a conflict but not in the way that it blocks communication.
- Don’t make your boundaries too selfish and insensitive to the basic needs of others.
- Do make sure your boundaries respect your ‘neighbor’s rights. A good litmus test would be a question whether most of your impartial friends would find this boundary as fair.
- Don’t make it sound like a complaint: “I don’t like this, or I don’t like that, I’m afraid of this or I hate when you do this…”
- Do be assertive, state it as a matter of fact and explain your motivation: “This behavior is hurtful and insults my dignity. I kindly ask not to be treated this way; I will not tolerate it.”
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity – Albert Einstein.
Borders of the country are only as solid as the border patrol that’s guarding them. Be courteously persistent protecting your boundaries and always gently remind people when they have crossed them. Be vigilant and take pre-emptive action when possible. If you see the “enemy” approaching, it is always easier the issue a warning shot than to engage into a full-on confrontation at the border line.
Your Life is in Your Hands
Setting personal boundaries is a powerful measure you can take to contain your own anger and improve your relationships. Being assertive does not dismiss or ignore the needs of others. On the contrary – it defines your space in the social environment and establishes an example of healthy set of values for everyone around you. When you do this, you should find yourself with a new sense of self-empowerment and having more control over your life as a whole. I wish you courage and success.
P.S. If you like the idea of setting your boundaries and want to learn more, check out this excellently reviewed book on Amazon called Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life.