There is something remarkable about September, a month that transitions us from the last hot, lazy, hours of summer into the orange and brown hued, pumpkin-spiced days of the fall. For lovers of tradition and holidays, this time of year promises conversation and laughter around the fire pit, spirited tailgates and comfort foods like spicy chili, creamy soups and homemade bread.
But for others, the thought of these upcoming gatherings does not always produce warm, fuzzy feelings. For those who stuck in difficult relationships or maneuvering through complicated family drama, these events can trigger anxiety, disappointment and frustration. I hear from clients over and over again that certain people know just how to “push their buttons” and at times, they feel like everyone just “walks all over them”.
But why? Why do we allow people to control our feelings, hurt us or spoil our fun?
One common culprit is a lack of relational boundaries. A relational boundary is not unlike a physical boundary in that it draws a type of line between two different people. But this invisible line also holds each person accountable for their own emotions, words and actions. When someone encroaches on our relational boundary, we have several options. We can:
• ask (politely) for that person to step back from our boundary.
• tighten or fortify our boundary.
• move or change our boundary.
• allow the other person to step over (or break through) our boundary.
For example, if I arrive at my mother’s house and she once again begins critiquing my parenting decisions, I can: request that she stop (ask), put my kids in the car and leave (tighten), ask her to only comment on life-or-death matters (move) or accept her criticism and move on (allow). This does not mean I will be completely immune to getting angry, feeling hurt or being annoyed but in time, and with practice, I will feel more confident with articulating and defining my boundaries.
But setting boundaries and sticking to them is not easy. Drawing a relational line between ourselves and other people can often be scary and no matter how prepared we are, other people’s unhappiness with our “no”, “no more” or “that will not work for me” can easily bowl us over if we are not prepared.
In fact, early this year, I conducted an informal survey of fifty professional colleagues and past and current clients to ask about their experience with setting boundaries.
Here are the three questions I asked:
1. In what relationships do you need boundaries most?
49% noted that they needed boundaries most with their romantic partner.
46% put “other family members” (parents, siblings, adult children) on their list.
Other common answers were: non-adult children, friends and colleagues.
2. How has boundary setting helped you in the above relationships?
76% said they were emotionally healthier (less anger/fear/resentment/sadness).
57% reported they have stopped obsessing over how to solved someone else’s problems.
Other common thoughts: I am spending more time on things that matter to me, feeling more serene/at peace, feel that I have more control over the future.
3. What is the most difficult thing about setting boundaries?
30% fear being seen as uncaring or mean.
27% reported that the other person will not like them.
24% noted their own inability to stick to the boundary.
One thing I know for certain is that getting support and using a few tools can be invaluable. In my Boundaries in Relationships Workshop, you will learn how to recognize unhealthy relational patterns, decide what options you have for change, and practice setting boundaries in order to protect yourself and what you care about.
Why let another holiday season leave you depleted or frustrated? Come join us and start a healthy, new tradition for yourself!