"Boundaries" is a concept being thrown around a lot - and in some ways, that's a good thing because it shows people are learning to protect and empower themselves. However, many people are using the term improperly. Aurelian Coaching's D.A.R.T. Method® helps a person determine the best decisions for themselves, and sometimes, that means boundaries. Here, you'll learn the true definition of boundaries and get tips of setting healthy boundaries in your life as a result of good decisions you make for yourself.
What is a boundary, really?
A boundary is a line you draw to PROTECT yourself and/or those you are responsible for.
It is not:
- a strategy to get someone to do or not do something
- defining how another person should behave
- a threat
When a boundary is in play, the other person gets to choose to do, say, not do, or not say whatever they choose. A boundary is NOT about the other person.
A boundary identifies what you will do to protect yourself should the circumstances continue to be harmful.
If you're not being harmed, a boundary is not in play. You do not set a boundary because something annoys you or makes you angry or is obnoxious. You set a boundary when your mental, psychological, emotional, financial, or other type of health is at risk.
How do you set a boundary?
There are 4 steps to setting a true boundary. You must do all 4, or it's not a boundary, and you will not protect yourself.
Determine the nature of the harm. How is it affecting you? What is the negative impact that is intolerable to you?
Determine what you will do to protect yourself. It doesn't need to be extreme. "I'll leave you forever!!" might be overkill, especially when all you need to do to protect yourself from someone insulting you is simply walking away.
Communicate the boundary to the other party. You can't punish someone for their behavior if you haven't first communicated the harm you're experiencing, why that's a boundary for you, and what you will do to protect yourself (or those you're responsible for). If you don't communicate it in clear terms, it doesn't count.
Follow through on doing what you said you'd do. If the circumstance arises again, you have to actually follow through and protect yourself.
With all 4 steps, you can see that setting boundaries in your life are probably rare. Each progressive step leads to more opportunity for resolution prior to the extreme case of reaching Step #4.
What does it mean if I don't do the 4 steps?
If you can't do #1:
If you really can't define a true harm, but want to set boundaries all over the place, you might have a victim mentality to address. You can still communicate your preferences, how you want to be treated, what you want and hope for, and not invoke a full boundary.
If you can't do #2:
Start with what the minimum step is to get you out of harm's way. In the moment, that might be all you need to do. If you know what you should do but can't bring yourself to do it, you may need to explore issues of self-determination, and surfacing why you might believe you are not worth protecting.
If you can't do #3:
If you can't communicate to the other person, guess what: you're probably not truly in harm's way and you're dealing more with preferences, desires, and values than true boundaries. Yes, fulfilling this step is HARD and uncomfortable sometimes. But when you're experiencing the negative effects and they become intolerable, you will have what it takes to communicate what you need.
If you can't do #4:
Without #4, you're just issuing idle threats. You are playing the role of a liar and manipulator. Unless you can do all 4 steps including following through AFTER you've communicated your boundary, then consider that the situation is not as intolerable as you originally believed.
You can see that setting boundaries is serious business. Often, if the situation gets to #3, I have found with my clients that the other party's response is surprise and a mutual resolution that never escalates to #4. But this framework is useful to thinking through the downstream implications and really asking yourself if "setting boundaries" is really what you want to do.