Jason was at his wits end! What was up with this guy coming into his house and taking food out of his fridge? He’s friendly enough, he smiles and makes conversation on his way through the house – but really? But it seems he thinks that it’s his right to stroll in and make himself at home.
OK, it’s not just any guy, Jason knows Tim but still, surely Tim should know that he is taking advantage? The more he strolls in to help himself to his food the more Jason’s simmering resentment bubbles away. At times, Jason can hardly contain himself, his resentment turns into rage (albeit under the surface and out of sight).
Most of Jason’s friends couldn’t understand it. After all, Jason’s front door was wide open! Couldn’t he try something crazy like lock the front door or perhaps even say to Tim that the situation had changed and it was no longer working for him that Tim could come around anytime he wanted. But Jason wasn’t sure; wouldn’t that be rude and even aggressive? It felt like that scary thing called conflict.
Our personal boundaries are funny things, we can’t see them but they’re definitely there and we know when they’ve been crossed, sooner or later. Our boundaries seem a lot clearer with strangers, even someone standing in our personal space feels uncomfortable. Yet the closer someone is to us – family, partner, friends – the harder it is to be clear on where our boundaries are, and harder still to set them.
When one of our boundaries is crossed, we often feel a specific sensation in our body. This sensation connects to an emotion such as fear, resentment, anger, guilt, anxiety. These are our ‘boundary alarm bells’ which act as a warning sign that our boundaries have been crossed. Alarm bells are a huge gift if we know how to be aware of them and take advantage of them. It’s how long we take to notice our alarm bells before addressing the issue that counts towards the damage that can arise in a specific situation.
By acknowledging their existence, your boundary alarm bells/body sensations provide early warning signs for you to act on. Now you are aware of them, there are some simple and straightforward steps in recovering from any crossed boundary.
Steps to recover from a crossed boundary:
1. Hear the boundary alarm bell (specific sensations in your body).
2. Pause – breathe.
3. Identify – which of your boundaries is being crossed? Then ask:
4. How do YOU need and want to BE right now? Assertive? Professional? Confident? Courageous? Truthful?
5. What action (by you) will be appropriate to make a positive difference in this situation?
Remember, what you allow, persists.
By not taking responsibility for closing the front door, yet harbouring resentment and complaining when Tim kept crossing his boundary, was a strategy clearly not working for Jason. Being aware of where you are/are not setting boundaries will allow you more freedom and space to do the things that are truly important to you.
The good news is you can push the ‘reset button’ on any relationship pattern at any time you choose (like now). By clearly and assertively voicing what your needs are you can reset the expectations of the relationship.
Setting boundaries is like building a muscle, you need to work it. Much like any new skill, the more you practise the easier it is and the better you become at it. Try resetting a few of the smaller boundaries in your life and observe how it changes the whole dynamic of the relationship and allows you more time and energy for what you really value. For me, it has been (and still is) extremely liberating.