Your palms start to sweat, your stomach does a few somersaults, and you open up your mouth to finally speak up, but moments later you’re walking away, telling yourself to let it go. If you struggle with setting boundaries, you’ve probably experienced this scenario time and time again.
You’re extremely uneasy about a situation, whether it be something that someone said to you, or someone trying to force you into circumstances or actions that you aren’t comfortable with. You want to say no, and you want to put your foot down, but you just can’t muster up the strength.
So how do we work past that anxious discomfort and the fear that keeps us from allowing others to push us past our comfort zones?
Learn How to Be Direct
When confronted with a tough situation, we often worry about how our words or actions will affect another person. We don’t want to be hurtful, and often attempt to sugarcoat or dance around the point rather than just being direct. Let’s be honest, no one wants to be the “bad guy” or the bearer of bad news.
It’s human nature to possess empathy and concern for others, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, failing to be upfront about your own needs and wishes leads to two issues. The first being that the other party or parties have not been given enough clarity or are feeling confused about exactly what the boundaries even are.
The second problem with being vague is that even after you think you’ve resolved the conflict, boundaries are continuously an issue. This leaves you frustrated; your needs still aren’t being met and now you can’t seem to get out of this pattern.
Before asserting yourself with direct action and communication, take a few moments to put away your emotions. There’s no reason to feel any fear, guilt, or anxiety; you’re simply addressing a problem and you wish to be respected just as anyone else would.
Use this formula, you can adjust as needed based on the circumstances.
“I feel [how the issue affects you] when you [crossed boundary], and I would like [the result/re-stating your boundary].” Follow up with a consequence…which is the next scariest part of forming healthy boundaries.
So, this is where it gets real. Dropping consequences feels a lot like dropping a bomb, it’s “where the rubber meets the road,” so to speak. What that means is that you can talk about your boundaries all day long. You can remind someone repeatedly where you draw the line, but unless you take action when that line is crossed, an effort to communicate your needs is futile.
Consequences don’t have to be extreme, rigorous, bridge-burning scenarios, although there will be occasions when you have to make big decisions. For example, let’s say you’re close to a parent or relative and share personal details about your life with them in a confidential discussion. You trust them not to repeat it.
Later on, you find out from another family member that details about your private talk have resurfaced in outside conversations. Allow yourself to experience whatever emotions arise, but refrain from responding until you’ve got a clear head. Collect your thoughts, then lay down the law.
Express that your boundaries aren’t being respected, and you need to put some distance between yourself and that specific individual until you feel ready to continue on as before.
You’re hurt by the betrayal of trust, a boundary has been crossed. Making your time and energy scarce is a consequence; make it known that your time and your vulnerability is to be respected.
Use Assertive Body Language
This may not always apply in person, but more often than not conflict is best-resolved face to face. For someone who has a hard time enforcing boundaries, body language is essential in conveying your message.
Your posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, and a number of other physical responses to stress and discomfort play a huge part in the way people receive and respond to your requests. Avoiding eye contact, slouching, and speaking too softly give the perception that you’re meek, or not to be taken seriously.
This is where you need to exude confidence, maintain control of your emotional responses, and be very precise about your wording. Don’t yell or allow yourself to be drawn into an argument. Your boundaries are non-negotiable, the END of the road.
While this is all easier said than done, imagine spending a lifetime of allowing yourself to operate as the world’s personal doormat. You deserve better than that, so put your chest out, thrust those shoulders back, and start letting others know exactly where you stand.
Once you find your voice, use it unapologetically, and with confidence.