Who’s driving you crazy right now?
I can help.
If you know me, even a little, you know I’m a big fan of boundaries: the concept and the book. In fact, in this blog post I ranked Boundaries #2 on my list of all-time favorite nonfiction titles.
It was my mother who taught me this concept.
As I wrote in the above-mentioned post,
“Years ago after one of my epic clashes with my mother, I popped into a bookstore on my way home from her house and bought Boundaries. I then speed-read it in a day and came up with a boundaries-based action plan.”
Confession: Prior to reading Boundaries, I planned to tell Mom I’d gotten a full-time job, which I had not, in order to get her to leave me the heck alone.
So what is a boundary?
According to Cloud and Towsend, experts on the issue,
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins…”
What are best practices when setting limits?
Establish your boundaries — what you will and will not tolerate going forward — via:
- Face-to-face conversation
- Phone call
- Snail Mail letter
- Restraining Order — If you feel physically unsafe, this may be a step you need to take, with the help of law enforcement.
You may find some of these options cowardly — ie. all but the first and last one — but do what you need to do.
When my mother was emotionally unstable (not to mention, exceedingly unkind), there was a period of time I only wrote her letters, one of which listed several boundaries I needed to put in place.
That particular letter riled Mom up in the dreaded, “What the… How dare you, Diane Sue?!?!?” kind of way. Which honestly terrified me. I did not want to incite yet another mental health emergency.
After she cooled off though, the boundaries I set actually improved our relationship.
For the record, Mom’s reaction was not unique. If the person on the receiving end of your new requirements pushes back — relax!
Anger means the boundary is working.
The authors of Boundaries say anger in response to boundary-setting is perfectly normal.
“The most common resistance one gets from the outside is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem.” And, “Their wish is being frustrated, and they get angry because they have not learned to delay gratification or to respect others’ freedom.”
Another thing you can expect?
Testing, testing. 1, 2, 3.
You know your boundary is being tested when you hear things like:
- How could you do this after all I’ve done for you?
- You’re going to be sorry…
- If you really loved me you would…
- You are being so selfish!
When this happens, stick to your boundaries, restating them, if necessary.
Also anticipate guilt.
For a time, I felt guilty for not continuing to do everything for Mom. Then I realized saying no to many of her requests, actually allowed my aging mother to remain independent longer.
Through the years boundaries have protected me a number of times.
And not just with my mother. I’ve also set limits with:
- Other family members
- Friends (Make that, former friends)
- Toxic individuals
Boundaries can also come in handy with employers, coworkers, or former significant others.
Recently I set up yet another boundary.
With my family. My mother passed in September of 2018. Soon after, the process of settling her estate began. Within weeks, as so often happens, the bickering began. Over money. Siblings versus sibling. I’ll leave it at that.
So my words could not be used against me, I took a vow of silence in the process, telling the estate executor I’d resume contact after Mom’s affairs were settled. If anyone needed anything from me — information or a signature — they’d need to go through my husband, Tony.
There have been a few nudges on this boundary, but nothing obnoxious. Keeping out of the conversation has brought me peace.
All this to say:
Setting and maintaining boundaries becomes easier with time.
Once you see the beauty of effective boundaries in action, and the resulting cessation of individuals trying to control (manipulate, bully, intimidate…okay, I’ll stop) you, you’ll be eager to use them again and again.
To check out the book Boundaries (and perhaps purchase it with my handy-dandy affiliate link) click here.
What about you? Have you ever had to set a boundary?
For more “lessons from a life half lived,” click here.