Not too long ago, I was talking to a client about boundaries. He wanted to know why the boundary he set with his adult daughter wasn’t working.
I’ve discussed boundaries in this blog before, but they are such an important part of a healthy, happy, life that I think it’s worth discussing again.
An interpersonal boundary is similar to a physical boundary: it’s a request and a consequence.
In the physical world you set the boundary of your property line and if someone violates that property line (or enters your home) you will ask them to leave (or call the police.)
In your relationships, you set a boundary that allows you to feel good—for example, you might set a boundary like this: “Please call before you come over to my home.”
Part of the boundary is also stating what you will do if the boundary is violated: “If you don’t call before you come over I will not allow you into my home.”
We set interpersonal boundaries for ourselves, not against someone else. You are telling another person what you want and also what you will do if they don’t respect your boundaries so that you can feel good and live your life as you wish. It doesn’t really have anything to do with them.
After we discussed what a boundary is and isn’t, I asked my client if he had set a boundary with his daughter.
“Yes, I told her if she didn’t keep the doorway to the storeroom clear, I wouldn’t let her work in my store anymore.”
“Did she keep the storeroom doorway clear?”
“No, she piled a bunch of boxes in front of the door so I couldn’t get through.”
“And did you tell her she couldn’t work there anymore?”
“No, I need her help until I get back on my feet.”
“So you’re not ready to set a boundary with your daughter because you cannot follow through on the consequence—she violated your boundary and you didn’t do anything about it.”
If you want to set a boundary with someone, you have to be ready to follow through with the consequence. Otherwise, you are teaching the people around you that you have no boundaries.
This client was not ready to set a boundary with his daughter: Knowing this was actually a relief for him and took a lot of the frustration out of his relationship with his daughter. He decided to go with the flow as much as possible until his situation improved (which it continued to do) and felt much better in his day-to-day interactions with his daughter.
When you set a boundary with another person, you have to be willing to risk the relationship. If you are not ready to risk the relationship, you are not ready to set a boundary.
Do you set clear boundaries with the people in your life? If not, are you ready to start setting clear boundaries?