How to Set Boundaries – 015

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Setting boundaries is an important part of establishing your identity and defining who you are. 

Most people are confused and misinformed about what boundaries are, when they’re appropriate, and how to set them. They think of setting boundaries as a way to control someone else's behavior, rather than a way to protect themselves. 

Join me on today's episode of the podcast as I discuss exactly what boundaries are as well as when and how to set them effectively.

HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL DISCOVER:

  • Why simply saying “no” is not the same as setting a boundary
  • The purpose of a boundary (it's not what you think)
  • The difference between a threat and a boundary
  • Why healthy boundaries are an important part of self-care
  • When and how to set effective boundaries

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Transcript

You are listening to the Less Drama More Mama Podcast, episode 015: How to Set Boundaries

This is Less Drama More Mama, the podcast for moms who want to feel calm, in control, and confident about how to handle anything life throws their way. If you’re ready to go from feeling frazzled and disrespected to feeling calm and connected, this is the podcast for you. I’m your host, Pam Howard.

Hi Mama. It’s almost Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for you. This Thanksgiving actually marks the 6th anniversary of Less Drama More Mama. Which is amazing to even say that out loud. And I feel so blessed, uh, I feel blessed that you are here, taking time out of your life to listen to this podcast and allowing me to share in your parenting journey. I’ve met so many moms over the years and witnessed their transformations once they learn these life coaching tools that I teach, and it’s really been incredible. So thank you, I love you. And I’ll keep showing up here to the podcast every week as long as you keep showing up, too.

We are in our third week of NO-vember, and this week I want to talk about setting boundaries. Right? So in our first week we talked about how to say no, and last week was all about priorities. And setting boundaries might actually come in pretty handy over the holidays as you get together with extended family and in-laws. I know this time of year can bring up a whole lot of family drama.

So setting boundaries is an important part of establishing your identity and defining who you are. It’s an important part of self-care and it creates self-respect when you establish healthy boundaries around your body, your thoughts and feelings, your time. Setting boundaries is something that I’m becoming better at, I think. Uh, I used to have a hard time with it, but probably because I didn’t have a clear understanding of what boundaries even were. And I’ve come to realize that most people have no idea what boundaries are, when they’re appropriate, or how to set them. So, today I’m going to give you all of that information.

Now, because it’s NO-vember, I want to start off by clarifying that simply saying no isn’t the same as setting a boundary. You can say no any time to any request. That’s your choice and your right as a human. We discussed all about why and how to say no in episode 14. What happens for most of my clients is that when they constantly say yes when they actually want to say no, they end up feeling resentful and eventually get to a point where they think that their boundary’s been violated, but they’d actually never set one in the first place. For example, if a co-worker regularly asks to borrow money for lunch and then doesn’t pay you back, and you feel angry because she’s taking advantage of you, that’s not a boundary issue. That’s a people pleasing issue and you need to learn how to say no to that co-worker the next time she asks to borrow money. If she goes into your wallet and takes money without asking, now you have a boundary violation. See the difference?

Ok, so the easiest way to think about a boundary is to imagine a fence around your backyard. That’s a boundary that clearly defines where your property ends and your neighbor’s property begins. If your neighbor comes into your yard, he’s trespassing and violating your boundary. A personal boundary defines where you end and someone else begins. When someone comes into your space physically or emotionally, they cross your boundary. So personal boundaries help you decide what types of communication, behavior, and interactions are acceptable to you.

Most people think that setting a boundary means telling another person how you want them to behave so that they’ll change. Or they confuse it with an ultimatum, or a punishment, or a threat about what will happen if they don’t behave a certain way. It’s seen as a way to try and control another person’s behavior, basically. But a boundary is none of these things. It’s something you do for yourself out of love for yourself and the other person involved.

A boundary tells the other person how you will behave, not how they will behave. Right? If they come into your space emotionally or physically, your boundary is how you will respond. The other person might continue to do whatever it is he’s doing. Other people get to behave however they want. That’s the hardest part for most people to understand, but the sooner you do, the better off you’ll be. As humans, we have free will, right? So, people are allowed to be rude. They’re allowed to lie. They’re allowed to break the law. They’re allowed to say and do inappropriate things. It doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences, but they’re allowed to do what they want to do. Their behavior is their responsibility. What matters is how you respond to their behavior. That’s your responsibility. So it’s not about you holding them accountable, it’s about you holding yourself accountable for protecting yourself.

A boundary basically sounds like, “If you x, I will y.” For example, “If you keep yelling, I’ll hang up.” “If you hit me, I’ll call the police.” “If you text me inappropriate messages, I’ll block your number.”

It’s not a threat. A threat sounds like “If you don’t give me the money, I’m going to take the kids and leave.” That’s not a way of protecting yourself, that’s a way of threatening and attempting to manipulate someone.

So most of us are pretty clear about what we will and won’t allow as far as how and where people touch us, those are physical boundaries. But emotional boundaries are usually less clear because they’re subjective. Some people have a boundary when it comes to swearing or gossiping. They don’t want to be around it. Other people have no problem with those things. Some people have very firm boundaries around their time and others don’t. So, you need to decide — this goes back to last week’s episode about priorities, right? — what are your priorities and where do you need some boundaries to protect them?

Now sometimes you’ll want to communicate your boundaries and other times, you’ll just decide to take action without saying anything. For instance, if you’re in a group and they start making racist or sexist jokes, you might just get up and leave the room. You don’t need to say, “If you keep making those jokes, I’m going to leave.” You just do it. Or if someone is invading your personal space by standing too close to you, you might just take a couple steps back. But other times, you might want to communicate your boundary ahead of time like, “Listen, if you continue to barge into my office without knocking, I’m going to start locking my door.” or “If you don’t show up to the restaurant by 7:15, I’m going to start eating without you.”

In my role as a school counselor, I have boundaries around what I choose to share with my students about my personal life and I don’t answer emails from parents past a certain time of day that is my family time. Recently, I had a slew of middle school students stopping by my office unannounced when they were supposed to be in class, so I had to set a boundary and say, “Unless it’s an absolute emergency, I’m not going to see you without an appointment.”

So, how do you know when you need to set a boundary and what are the steps? Obviously, any time there is a clear violation. But if it isn’t clear, it’s often when you find yourself filled with resentment or you’re complaining because you’ve allowed someone to do something over and over without letting them know it’s a problem for you. That’s usually when it’s time to set a proper boundary.

Here are three steps to setting a boundary: Step one is to manage your mind. In order to set an effective boundary, it needs to come from a place of love and respect for yourself and the other person, not from anger and resentment. When I say you manage your mind, I mean that you remind yourself that your feelings come from your thoughts about the other person, not what the person is saying or doing. And this makes all the difference because then you know you have full control over how you feel, you take all of your power back. When you have a managed mind, you realize that the other person probably won’t change his behavior and you’re totally okay with that. You know and understand that other people are allowed to behave however they want and that the boundary is for you, not to control or punish them.

Step two is to decide exactly what your boundary is and be as clear as possible. So some examples could be: If you gossip or complain about a fellow co-worker, I’m leaving the room. If you smoke in my house, I’ll ask you to leave. If you stop by my house unannounced, I’m not answering the door. State your boundary calmly and firmly. There’s no need to justify it or apologize for it. You’re not responsible for the other person’s reaction. Ok, if it upsets them, that’s their problem. Some people, especially those who are accustomed to controlling or manipulating you, might test you. Plan on it, expect it, and then go to step three.

Step three is to follow through with your consequence. This is the most important step because if you set a boundary and fail to follow through on what you say you’ll do, you’ve basically just made an empty threat, and you’re not only perpetuating being disrespected by the other person, but you’re disrespecting and violating yourself.

Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time, ok? It’s a process. And enforcing them isn’t easy, because it can create a reaction in the other person, which can create fear in us because of what we’re thinking at the time. That’s why so many people don’t set them. But remember, other people’s thoughts create their feelings and actions, so keep your focus on you — your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and the result you want to create for yourself.

Here’s what I want you to ask yourself this week: What are some of your non-negotiable boundaries? Do you let people cross your boundaries too often? What are those boundaries and what needs to change? And what are the hardest boundaries for you to enforce and why? I want you to take a look at your answers, take a look at your thoughts. If you have any questions or comments about this episode you can leave them on today’s show notes at lessdramamoremama.com/015 and as always, I’d love to help you take these concepts and apply them to your own life. If you need support in establishing healthier boundaries with someone, schedule a FREE mini-session with me and let me help you. There are two spots open on my calendar right now. Go to lessdramamoremama.com/mini to grab one of them before they’re gone.

Ok, Happy Thanksgiving, mama! Go set some boundaries! Alright, I’ll talk to you next week. Bye, bye.

Thank you for listening to the Less Drama More Mama podcast. If you liked this episode, please take a moment to write a quick review on iTunes and make sure you subscribe, too, so you never miss a show. Got a question, comment, or idea for an upcoming episode? Email me at pam@lessdramamoremama.com

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As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Master Parenting Coach, and former K-8 School Counselor, I’m on a mission to empower moms to feel calmer and more connected to their kids.

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