Curiosity, Compassion and Boundaries Oh My!

Curiosity, Compassion and Boundaries Oh My!

One thing that seems to be a universal struggle is setting boundaries. The concept of setting boundaries can be a confusing one.  We are taught to have curiosity about other people, to be compassionate about what they are dealing with so how can we then set a boundary which feels so cold and mean.  So I want to clear up some confusion about boundaries.

Boundaries are part of a healthy relationship.  When we are able to define where we end and another person begins that is healthy.  Boundaries help us teach other people how to treat us.  They let others know when we are angry, sad, or pushed too far.  When we can communicate our boundaries and let others know they have crossed them we can make real change in a relationship.  Too often we are taught that saying no, making a request, speaking a need means we are being selfish, needy or disrespectful.  But in reality, how can someone every really get to know you if they don’t know where your edges are, what makes you hurt, and what your needs are. Boundaries allow us to fully show up as humans which naturally allows a healthy relationship to grow.

You can be curious about someone’s behavior AND set a boundary.  Let’s say for example, your friend is always running late sometimes it is 5 minutes sometimes it is 30 minutes but you can always count on them to be late. For the most part this behavior doesn’t bother you but there are times when you are left sitting at a restaurant or missed the beginning of a movie because he was late. So you might have some curiosity around this behavior and you might even come to understand that he just can’t help it, he gets caught up in activities and loses track of time.  Even though you know this about him, you understand this about him and you have compassion for him you also know that this behavior annoys you.

In all honesty, this behavior DRIVE YOU CRAZY.  And that, my friend, is completely valid.  You have every right to express that he drives you crazy being late and draw a boundary around it.  So the conversation can go like this.  You can say, “Hey Fred, I know you have a problem with running late, I get it you get caught up in doing stuff and you lose track of time. But last week when we missed the first 30 minutes of the movie I was really annoyed.” “So from now if you aren’t there within 10 minutes of the scheduled time I am moving on without you.” Boundary set.  Fred can respond however he wants to, and chances are that Fred gets it and will want to change the behavior.  But you have lovingly set the boundary.

You don’t always have to explain the boundary.  Sometimes it is necessary to set a boundary but you don’t always have to explain what you are doing.  This is handy with people, who aren’t open to your feedback or for relationships that aren’t as close.  For example, you have a co-worker, Mindy who loves to play the victim role and whenever you see her she goes on and on about how terrible her life is and yet, takes no responsibility for it.  She is always asking you to go to happy hour and inevitably you spend 3 hours hearing about how miserable her life is and it just leaves you totally drained.

If you choose, you can have a conversation with Mindy about this behavior, but chances are that Mindy won’t be able to hear you and because she is a co-worker you need to be able to work with her without animosity.  So you can set a boundary without having an explanatory conversation.   You can decide that you are  only going to go out with her over the lunch hour because the time will be limited.  Or you are only going to lunch with her if you can get other co-workers to go too.  There are a lot of creative ways you can limit your contact with her by setting a boundary without sitting her down and explaining the boundary.   Chances are if you said to her “Mindy, I get you have a crappy life and it is just hard to spend time with you because all you do is complain”. Mindy won’t be able to hear you and won’t be able to change.

Boundaries are a healthy part of life and are a definite challenge to set.  As you practice setting them they can get easier, I promise.

I would love to hear from you.  What are struggles you have with setting boundaries? What is your reaction to the term ‘setting boundaries’ does it make your skin crawl, is it something you are good at, unsure of…Comment below!

2 Comment
  • Comment by Melanie at April 2, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

    The clarity and insight of this post is so spot-on, and so what I needed today!

    I get these two types of boundary-setting mixed up all the time (and I don’t think it helps when there’s a dash of anger, annoyance and/or shame in the brew!) I was just thinking to myself on my drive home how I ought to tell the toxic person in my life what boundaries I’m setting, why I’m setting them, and what’s wrong with their behavior. I was feeling bad for quietly drawing boundaries by limiting space and details without explaining–I was even getting ready to ask myself “What’s wrong with me that I can’t stand up to this person and draw a boundary?” (Could shame be any sneakier? Seriously…) I love the distinction between the boundary with explanation and the boundary without explanation.

    • Comment by Nancy Jane at April 2, 2013 @ 7:37 pm

      Thanks Melanie! Today was one of those posts where I thought “does this even makes sense” (Ha! see we all have inner demons) So I am glad to hear it hit home for you and had such awesome timing! There is a huge distinction between the two and something that is not often talked about.

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