Why Not to Use the Word “Boundary” When Setting Boundaries with Others

Issue 22. May 12, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

Sometimes people get offended when you set boundaries with them because they don’t have healthy boundaries themselves. That means if you’re getting offended when other people set boundaries with you, it may be because you don’t have healthy boundaries yourself!

When we start to set boundaries with others we’ve never set them with before, there could be people who get upset. That might be because it’s new behavior and it’s difficult when we’ve known someone a long time and they suddenly change.

Often, however, people get upset when we set boundaries because they don’t have healthy boundaries themselves. To them, it might feel like you’re putting up a wall with them. Or they might think you’re being cold and bitchy because of their lack of boundaries.

That’s actually what I used to think before I had healthy boundaries – that people were assholes for setting limits. Ha!

When you set boundaries with people you’ve known a long time (esp. family that you’re enmeshed with) you’re differentiating yourself from them. It’s like you’re no longer a part of them and they’re no longer a part of you. That can be difficult in the very beginning of boundary setting because it’s so unfamiliar. Figuring out who you are (what you want, like, need and prefer) can be scary and painful.
It’s scary to be in the world in a way that’s unfamiliar. Especially if you’ve always been told by others like family, “This is what we’re like.” Maybe it’s regarding a certain hobby, sports team, career field, or types of food.  

The truth is, you can be kind and loving and have healthy boundaries. In fact, kind loving people have healthy boundaries. When people have healthy boundaries and share what they like and what their limits are, it makes them safe for us. That’s because we know who we’re getting. We know that when they say no, they mean no. That means that when they say yes, they also mean yes!
When you’re changing your behavior patterns, whether it’s starting to set boundaries or some other new behavior pattern, you don’t necessarily have to tell others, “I’m changing my ways.” But you can if you want to. It’s up to you.

What I recommend for my clients is to decide on a case-by-case basis whether they’re going to tell others they’re making some changes. You can tell some people and not others. It depends on your relationship.

One thing I strongly recommend is that you NOT use the word “boundary” when you’re setting new boundaries with people. You don’t have to say, “I have a new boundary and this is what it is” you just tell them what it is. For example, you could say something like, “I’m no longer getting in the middle of your disagreements” or “I’m going to start taking time for myself every Saturday afternoon.”

On the other hand, you could just stop getting in the middle of people’s disagreements, or you could just start taking time for yourself on Saturday afternoons. You don’t necessarily have to tell people that’s what you’re doing. That’s up to you, and it really depends on the relationship you have with that person.  

The reason for not using the word “boundary” when setting boundaries with others is that it can be counterproductive. There are a lot of myths about boundaries (e.g., they’re walls, you have to be cold and bitchy to set them). The person you’re setting boundaries with can be someone who only knows the myths about boundaries rather than the reality. And if they have poor boundaries, they probably are one of those people!

It’s also because you want them to focus on what you want, and not on the language you’re using. So don’t say, “I’m going to start setting boundaries with you, just set the boundaries.”

Things I don’t want to live without…

My Laptop

Other than my brain, my computer is my most important tool. I’ve essentially been sitting in front of a computer since 1995 when I started grad school.

I used computers before then as an undergrad, but I wasn’t parked in front of one most of the time like I have been throughout my career as a grad student, while at Yale and now as an entrepreneur.

For the record, I’m a PC user. I use a Mac for the Yale project I work on now. And I know Mac users say, “Macs as so intuitive” but that’s not true when you’ve been a PC user for decades! I love my computer and everything it does for me. Using a computer has taught me that, as long as I know something is possible, I can figure out how to do it. For example, if I know it’s possible that a particular software can do XYZ, then I know I can figure out how to make it do XYZ. That knowledge has carried to many other areas of my life.

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