Words Matter: 5 Tips on Setting and Enforcing Boundaries.
Have you ever said something with one intention, only to have the listener get a different perception of the message you were trying to relay?
The definition of “perception” is: a way or regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
Words matter. The words you choose to communicate your feelings, what you want or don’t want, especially when it comes to setting and enforcing your boundaries, are so important. Being clear and using words that don’t soften what you’re actually trying to say, are foundational to your personal safety.
- Set your boundaries
Do you know your own physical and emotional boundaries? We all have boundaries, but if we haven’t consciously decided where they are, we won’t be able to effectively communicate them to others.
How much space do you need between yourself and the person you are talking to, to feel comfortable? There will be a different comfort level for a person you have a good relationship with (friend or family member) and a complete stranger. Those are your physical boundaries.
Your emotional or mental boundaries are different and can be more difficult to set. Women tend to have a desire to be liked and to show kindness to others. There is nothing wrong with this, AND it’s important to maintain balance between other’s needs and our mental health.
- Enforcing your boundaries
Now that you’ve taken the time to decide where your physical and emotional boundaries lie, practice enforcing them. If a casual acquaintance is standing too close to you, how will you let them know? It doesn’t have to sound aggressive; I personally use humor to communicate my boundaries.
“I know my perfume smells good, but I don’t want you to burn your nose hairs!”
I say this while physically lifting my arms to create distance between myself and the other person.
Enforcing your mental boundaries can be more of a challenge. It’s probably why more people in today’s society prefer to text a change of plans instead of calling on the phone. If you were looking forward to a nice, relaxing evening at home and someone invites you to dinner or an event, it’s perfectly alright to say, “not tonight, thanks!”. It seems easy, but what if that person is persistent, “come on! I haven’t seen you in so long!” or “it’s going to be so much fun, I don’t want you to miss out!”. They are using a subtle guilt-trip to get you to change your mind. Context matters, this person may truly want to spend time with you, but it doesn’t mean you have to oblige them.
Knowing yourself and being cognizant of your energy levels will help you enforce your mental boundary. Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) push you past your boundaries.
- Being firm and polite
If another person discounts your “no” or “no thanks”, that says more about them and their respect (or lack of) for you. If the person is using guilt to try and push past your boundaries, call them on it.
“Why are you trying to make me feel guilty? Normally I would like to go to dinner, but I don’t feel like it tonight.”
The response you get from them after that statement will tell you a lot about their intent. Someone who truly respects you and values the relationship they have with you, will understand. They may even apologize for making you feel guilty.
If the person keeps pushing the issue and trying to get you to back down on your boundary, it’s a sign you need to re-evaluate the relationship.
- It’s not me, it’s you
In my opinion, this is where most women glitch. What do I mean by “glitch”? A glitch is an internal fork in our decision-making process. Traditionally women are raised to be kind, to be nurturers, to put the needs of others before our own. This can be a blessing and a curse. Women are excellent at taking care of those they love, but we glitch when it’s an acquaintance or stranger. In our heads, we question if we will be seen as rude or selfish if we put our needs first.
If the other person respects you, they will respect your boundaries. If they don’t respect you, letting them guilt you into doing whatever they want you to do, tells them their behavior is acceptable to you.
- Check your behaviors too
You want others to respect your boundaries. How are you at respecting their boundaries? It’s the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have done to you”. When someone tells you, “no thanks”, how do you respond? Remember, our words and actions show others how we expect to be treated.
Knowing your physical and mental boundaries BEFORE you find yourself in a situation where you need to enforce your boundaries, is key. If you haven’t set those boundaries and you glitch at the decision-making fork in the mental map, you are more likely to default to doing something you don’t really want to do.
Your physical and mental health are important. In order to function throughout your day effectively and in a positive way, you need to take care of yourself.
I want you to have the confidence to live life on your own terms, by having clear and firm boundaries. You are worth it.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”