How Do I Set External Boundaries?

We’ve talked about setting internal boundaries, or as I like to say, keeping our brain on a shortened leash. Now, because I know you’re going to ask … let’s talk about setting external boundaries.

When I talk to people about setting boundaries with other people, there’s the typical refrain: “I know I should, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings” or “I know it’s in my best interest BUT …” If we dive a little deeper, it’s often that the person wants to avoid feeling the discomfort that naturally comes with the inherent confrontation of telling someone we don’t like something.

Why is it so hard to state our wants and needs?

The reaction.

What if the other person is upset? What if something in the relationship changes? What if we’re left alone? For-e-ver.

Did you notice that all of these sentences start with “what if?” “What if” is our clue that worry is in the house and that we’re feeling discomfort with some kind of uncertainty. What do we need to remember when we’re worried or anxious? Don’t get sucked into the content (what we’re worrying about). Focus on the process and how you’re going to respond to it, so we don’t make it worse.

The bottom line?

Whether we’re setting boundaries with others or within ourselves, the ultimate thing that we’re avoiding is an uncomfortable internal state.

But remember, since we cannot change our internal experience, it’s all about accepting it (remember willingness?), allowing ourselves to feel however we’re feeling or thinking, and letting it be.

Now, the second part of that is communicating and acting toward that person in a way that reflects their importance to you. For example, if a friend invites you to a party, but you don’t want to go, let them know with courtesy and respect. Instead of avoiding their phone calls, try calling them to let them know that you’re not up for going but that you do want to find a time to catch up. Offer up times that work for you to make it concrete and more likely to happen

Sound hard? It can be the first couple of times. A great question to ask yourself is “how would I communicate this if I could set the kind of boundaries I wanted to in this moment?” From there, act as if you were already that person and let those behaviors guide you. Your thoughts will follow as your behavior changes. Don’t wait until your thoughts or feelings change.

Like anything in life, with practice these skills get easier. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. If you get stuck, give me a call.

(You may also be interested in this article about setting boundaries.)