Drawing a line in the sand

Two people not affecting each other's personal...

Two people not affecting each other’s personal space. See also http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:PerSpa2.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Madeline Laughs

I’d like to explore the art of making and enforcing personal boundaries. This year I finally worked on some of my own. I won’t be telling you what my boundaries are, but I will talk about how I created them and the art of making them work. I think that boundaries and what they mean to you is private. Besides if everyone knows your limits then they can figure out ways around them. And who wants to put up with that kind of mess?!

First I think it’s important to define what a personal boundary is.

I was told a long time ago that I needed to make boundaries to protect myself and I thought it was the stupidest advice I ever received. But once I realized this was a way to control the amount of upset and destructive upheaval I was experiencing in my life, I got hooked on the idea.

A personal boundary is kind of like a rule you make for yourself.  

I found this great tool to use to get started on Oprah.com. It’s called Begin to Set Personal Boundaries and I’m going to paste some of the tools they share in the body of my blog to make it easy for you to get started on your own personal boundaries.

The first step is getting in tune with yourself. Knowing yourself is not as easy as it sounds and I find many people have no idea who they really are. The article gives three questions you can ask yourself in order to explore what’s in your head and your heart so you can start the process of knowing what you will and will not put up with. Ask yourself each of these questions and list at least ten answers to each question.

“1. People may not __________.

2. I have the right to ask for _________.

3. To protect my time and energy it’s okay to ________.”

That’s Step 1! How did you do? Were you able to list at least 10 answers to each question? Do you feel good about your answers? Are they realistic?

I had a chat yesterday with one of my girlfriends and we talked about some of these same tools. I told her about a recent episode where I felt I had screwed up when enforcing my boundary with someone and her questions and insight led me to an epiphany. Even though I had ruminated about my decision, it turned out I had made a correct decision without even knowing why it was correct. This happened because I had set a personal boundary and even though it felt totally wrong to enforce it at the time, by sticking to my plan I ended up saving myself a lot of future grief.

She advised me that in the future to approach situations with less emotion in some cases, more emotion in others. In time I’ll figure out my approach and soon it will become a natural response for me to make. Right now it feels uncomfortable and it almost seems easier to just slip back into my old standard way of doing things, which is to say “Oh, okay. No, no, that’s okay. I don’t mind that.” Don’t beat yourself up if you backslide, but don’t stay in a backsliding pattern. Go back again after you’ve had time to recover and stress your new personal boundary using a new approach. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to finally shed that old, itchy skin.

Step 2 is when you start to actually put your self awareness into action. From Oprah.com:

  • Be sure to have support in place before and after each conversation. If you can’t find support from a friend or family member, you may be successful finding a friend online.
  • Vent any strong emotions with your partner before having your boundary conversation.
  • Use simple, direct language.
    • To set a boundary with an angry person:
      “You may not yell at me. If you continue, I’ll have to leave the room.”
    • To set a boundary with personal phone calls at work:
      “I’ve decided to take all personal calls in the evening in order to get my work done. I will need to call you later.”
    • To say no to extra commitments:
      “Although this organization is important to me, I need to decline your request for volunteer help in order to honor my family’s needs.”
    • To set a boundary with someone who is critical:
      “It’s not okay with me that you comment on my weight. I’d like to ask you to stop.”
    • To buy yourself time when making tough decisions:
      “I’ll have to sleep on it, I have a policy of not making decisions right away.”
    • To back out of a commitment:
      “I know I agreed to head up our fundraising efforts, but after reviewing my schedule, I now realize that I won’t be able to give it my best attention. I’d like to help find a replacement by the end of next week.
    • To set a boundary with an adult child who borrows money:
      “I won’t be lending you money anymore. I love you and you need to take responsibility for yourself.”
  • When setting boundaries, there is no need to defend, debate, or over-explain your feelings. Be firm, gracious and direct. When faced with resistance, repeat your statement or request.
  • Back up your boundary with action. Stay strong. If you give in, you invite people to ignore your needs.

See how that works? It’s not easy, but it is well worth it!

My downfall was always allowing the person I’m setting a boundary with to debate the issue with me. What always happened was I felt torn asunder and they kept doing whatever they were doing that made me uncomfortable. Eventually I realized they didn’t respect me or my feelings. It took me years to realize this!

Your personal space is not up for debate! If someone wants to argue with you about what makes you uncomfortable then the simple truth is that they are not a compatible friend. Move on gracefully.

Step 3 is about strengthening your personal boundaries.

I used to take everything anyone said to me or about me personally. I don’t anymore. Usually when someone is making a rude or mean comment about you it has nothing at all to do with you, but it has everything to do with them and how they feel about themselves. Now it has become easier for me to take that step back and think about what is being said, rather than immediately reacting to it with emotion.

About five or six years ago I started being aggressive in defending myself and my friends when we were hurt by another person’s mean behavior. I pointed the mirror back at the offender because that’s where it needed to be pointed. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was something I talked about with a friend recently. I was wasting my time trying to make the offender see their transgressions when in reality they would never see their mistakes. They couldn’t see them because they have no idea that what they did was wrong. This is the way they behave and they can’t help it.

Rather than continue to waste your time trying to fix someone, spend your time moving on and away from these people because they are not compatible with you. You might love some of them to distraction, but I’m going to strongly advise you to love them from afar, or prepare yourself to be hurt over and over and over again.

From Oprah.com:

“One of the reasons that women take things personally is because they have weak “internal boundaries.” An internal boundary is like an invisible shield that prevents you from taking in a comment without checking it out first. For example, when someone accuses you of being arrogant, stop and consider the statement before taking it in.

When you use this internal shield, especially with difficult people like an ex-spouse or critical parent, it gives you time to ask yourself the following three questions:

  • How much of this is true about me?
  • How much of this is about the other person?
  • What do I need to do (if anything) to regain my personal power or stand up for myself?

This last question is very important. Too often women neglect to stand up for themselves by avoiding confrontation and end up weakening their internal shield, making it harder to set boundaries at all. So, if someone offends you, it may be necessary to let them know in order to protect and strengthen your internal boundaries.”

I’m going to end this post with Step 3 of making and enforcing personal boundaries. Step 4 is a post all to itself and one that I will explore in depth because I think out of all of the steps, it’s the one we all have the most trouble with.

So until next time, I am Madeline Laughs and I am out here on my tiny island drawing my own line in the sand for personal freedom and better mental health.


About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
This entry was posted in All kinds of Advice, Personal Boundaries Primer and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Drawing a line in the sand

  1. Glen Gaugh says:

    Practical and well-said. Thanks for linking up with my blog as well!


  2. Pingback: You’ve changed, and I don’t like it | Spread Information

  3. Pingback: What’s left to honor? | Spread Information

  4. whine-wine-whatever says:

    “When setting boundaries, there is no need to defend, debate, or over-explain your feelings. Be firm, gracious and direct.”

    “Too often women neglect to stand up for themselves by avoiding confrontation…”

    These two passages leapt off the screen at me. I am GUILTY of overexplaining my feelings. I am GUILTY of avoiding confrontation, so much so that I hold in all of my “issues” until they become a white-hot volcano, ready to erupt. And if the problem is important enough, I do erupt. It ain’t pretty and I usually hate myself afterward.

    Of course, now I live alone, so I can practice setting my personal boundaries with the cat. “You may not bite me. That includes my toes.” “You may not claw at the silk throw rug I just bought at a garage sale.”

    But seriously, this is an interesting post and I look forward to what you’ve planned to add. It’s not an easy process, I see that. It’s a lot of work, and it will take time. We become accustomed to and comfortable with our own behavior and reactions, as do others in our life. Just the process of discovering who we are and what we are willing to accept in others is a monumental task. But it’s the very foundation for the rest of it, isn’t it.

    Do you think people who haven’t seen you in, say, 10 years would notice any difference in you, MadLaff, after spending a weekend with you?


    • I like the mental picture of you setting boundaries with the little man. I just know they understand every single word we say and that nonchalance is just a front. I think that who I was 10 years ago is still very much alive and well within me. I have always been fun-loving and laughed a lot and I have always had a good sense of humor and can laugh at myself easier than most can. I have friends that have been with me and a part of my life for more than 30 years. In fact, the briefest friendships I’ve ever had in my life have been with Facebook friends and that could be the nature of the beast. Now that I am setting boundaries and getting to know myself better, I think the good friends will be the ones that rise to the top. And that’s how it should be.

      We should plan to spend a weekend together drinking wine and laughing! Regyna lives in wine country…just sayin’ 🙂


  5. whine-wine-whatever says:

    I asked about the pals from 10 years ago because I wanted your take on whether the process of setting boundaries had changed the essence of you. I’m delighted to see that it hasn’t. Looks like it’s just made you more keenly sensitive to your needs and aware of who you truly are. But self-examination is a bitch. No one wants to look inward and pick oneself apart. And objectivity is nearly impossible. You’re providing some valuable tools here, for those courageous enough to begin this process.

    As for a weekend of fun and frivolity, wines and no whines, I am so in. Just as soon as my body is sufficiently repaired. Then I can ditch the meds and drink ’til my teeth are purple. 🙂


  6. Pingback: Boundaries and Buttons | Spread Information

  7. Pingback: Beware: Falling Boundaries Ahead « WELL CALL ME CRAZY

  8. Pingback: how do you know when you have Unhealthy Boundaries? | Spread Information

  9. Pingback: Snowflake friends | Spread Information

  10. Regyna Longlank says:

    Great post! Finally getting a chance to sit down and read. Good to see you back on the job.

    My issue has been around setting internal boundaries. Mostly related to not jumping to conclusions or reading more into something than is really there.

    I’m learning to be patient, forcing myself not to react. In a few days it usually seems silly and turns out to be nothing. So I’m wasting less time on that kind of confusion, which is good.

    Still miss you.



  11. Pingback: crossing the line of healthy boundaries | Spread Information

  12. Pingback: crossing the line of healthy boundaries | Madeline Scribes

  13. Pingback: Snowflake friends | Madeline Scribes

  14. Pingback: how do you know when you have Unhealthy Boundaries? | Madeline Scribes

  15. Pingback: Boundaries and Buttons | Madeline Scribes

  16. Pingback: What’s left to honor? | Madeline Scribes

  17. Pingback: You’ve changed, and I don’t like it | Madeline Scribes

I think it's so nice to see your thoughts! Please share!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s