A couple days ago, we discussed what boundaries are, how they are violated, and how to create them (see The Proper Care and Feeding of Boundaries, Part 1). Today, I want to talk about enforcing boundaries and developing consequences for when they are broken.
Here's thing, if some one or some people are constantly stepping all over your boundaries, they are putting you in an unsafe position emotionally. Boundaries are meant to protect us, and when they are ignored, we feel harm. We can express our feelings in a safe and respectable way, and then it is up to us to make sure we do what we need to to restore our sense of safety. Sure, others can help, and we should let them do so in a healthy manner (i.e. one that does not create excess dependency, or giving away one's power), but ultimately, we are responsible for our own feelings. Let me say that again: Ultimately, we are responsible for our own feelings.
This is crazy for many to hear, but I know this to be true: No one is actively trying to hurt you. If someone is mean, manipulative, horrible, a cheater, whatever, it is because that person doesn't know how to deal with his or her own feelings and issues. Their mess might be seriously impacting you, but I know that it is true: "When you know better, you do better." People just don't know better in very deep, deep ways that they can't even reason out. BUT, that doesn't mean you shouldn't stand up for yourself and your boundaries. You are still responsible for taking care of your feelings. If someone's actions are trodding all over your boundaries and your feelings, you have to figure out how to make it stop.
I promised we would talk about: 1. Enforcing Boundaries and 2. Developing Consequences for when Boundaries are Violated.
Let's use our example from Part 1 of this post:
You’re in a relationship with someone and you decide you have a boundary that you aren’t comfortable with your partner spending more than $100 without talking it over first. Yet, your partner continues to do this. You keep talking about it, arguing about it, threatening to leave; yet nothing changes. You’ve established a boundary, it’s been broken, and you don’t know how to enforce it.
Challenge: Enforcing the boundary
It's clear that your partner knows that you are all talk and no action because you've made threats and have never followed through. What I have found works for me in this case is sitting down with my partner to mutually agree on a (painful) consequence that goes in to effect once the boundary is broken. We don't have to talk about it, we don't have to fight. The consequence just happens.
Incidentally, since the original agreement calls for neither partner to spend over $100 without talking it over first, there should be an equally painful consequence in place for both, regardless of who happens to be violating the boundary.
Developing the Consequence
It's important to make the consequence fit the 'crime'. It seems a little drastic to threaten to leave the relationship altogether in this situation, but if someone is going out and overspending $100 every day (maybe there's a gambling or other serious addiction going on), that can be a problem requiring drastic action. But let's say it's more benign and it happens once in a while (and once in a while is still a boundary violation).
To develop a fitting consequence:
- Consider what is most important to the other person (their cell phone? money, their car?, their Xbox?) and yourself (your laptop?, your kindle?, your hair dryer?).
- Together, agree on a negative consequence that will go in to effect once the boundary is broken.
- The Xbox is unhooked and taken to a friend's house for 2 weeks
- The cell phone is turned off for a week
Enforcing the Consequence
If this is a challenge for you, meaning you make the agreement for the consequences, but then don't follow through, you should devise ways to get help enforcing them. One thing you can do is ask a trusted family member or friend for help. So, if a boundary is broken, the friend is called and he or she comes and takes the Xbox or the hair dryer. Do things like this until you build up the discipline yourself. Getting support is a good thing if you are working towards getting emotionally healthy.
Maintaining Boundaries When You Aren't Able to Set Consequences
There are often times when people break boundaries and aren't in a relationship with them where we can set consequences. You need to be able to enforce your boundaries in these situations, too.
Example 1: Your boss starts bad-mouthing other employees to you. Some of these other employees are your friends
Strategy: This is your boss and so you obviously don't want to be rude, but you should clearly and respectfully state your position. You could say something like: "These are people I work closely with and I feel I shouldn't hear these things about them." And then, quickly follow up with a change is subject, "But, tell me, how are you doing with that garden project you were telling me about?"
Example 2: Some members of your friend circle make crude jokes that make you uncomfortable, especially after they've had alcohol.
Strategy: When the crude joking is going on, you can assert your position on how you feel and respectfully ask for a change, "I feel uncomfortable with these kinds of jokes, so can we change the subject?" Or, you if you know there is going to be alcohol and you know from previous experience that there will be crude joking, you can choose not to attend that evening. Remember, your feelings are your responsibility. The jokes might be tasteless and awful, but if you have a problem with them, then you have to do what you need to do to make sure you feel okay.
There are many, many more situations where boundary violations may occur and you may need to do something to take care of yourself. The key is to actually do something. Don't allow yourself to continue to feel badly.
If you are interested in further, very excellent reading on boundaries, I highly recommend Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO to Take Control of Your Life by Cloud and Townsend. There are some references to the Bible and Christianity, but I feel they are not done in a preachy manner, but rather serve to illustrate the examples well.
I've only given a very, very brief and shallow overview of a very, very important construct in our lives. For my part, it took the better part of two years of learning about and implementing strategies with boundaries to really get any sense that I could have and maintain healthy boundaries. And a lot of that comes with getting healthy emotionally and building self-esteem and positive core beliefs (i.e., I am worthy of respect, I deserve to be treated equally, etc.).
Are there any other boundary situations that you can think of that you are struggling with? Maybe we can brainstorm ideas as a group.