Enforcing Boundaries II: Attitude and Approach

The act of setting boundaries is pointless unless they are reinforced. When a person establishes conditions for which they need others to respect, then lets others continue boundary-violating behaviors, then boundaries become floors. The whole point of a boundary is to let people know these are the conditions under which a person feels comfortable having a relationship. As a form of love, they signify a desire to maintain relations under clear and concise terms, rather than unclear circumstances that others can only guess about.

overweight woman showing stop gesture in studio
Photo by SHVETS production

Your response to offenses makes all the difference. When rules get violated, one has the choice to: ignore the occurrence and stay silent to avoid creating discomfort; talk about the issue through respectful and honest communications with the individual(s); go no-contact and never speak to that person again; or make it rain passive-aggressive comments and backhanded slights to get your point across. I have formed a systematic approach to enforcing boundaries that begins with a light approach of discussion, to the most extreme. This approach also depends on the reactions of the other person(s).

In order to give the benefit of the doubt to the person I am in a relationship with, I first check my thoughts with that person. Since grade school, I have observed others use hearsay as a tool to evaluate someone’s intent or character. That does not consider the opinion of the person being gossiped about. It also does not give that person a chance to defend oneself before judgment is given, and it is harmful to their character. Gossiping does nothing to solve problems, it only adds hurt and mistrust. Unfortunately, there are several middle-aged adults that continue to use this approach for relational decision-making. Some will never grow past this.

For example, if I think a person withdraws from a friendship, I will directly ask that person why they have stopped engaging. Rather than assume selfishness or malice, I allow that person to weigh in on those concerns directly. I may get opinions from others who have had similar interactions, but I will do so with the intention of solving a mystery and being careful to respect their identity; not contriving false, conflated stories about why that person has chosen to disengage. Usually, what I think is far different from their reasons.

Friendships are two-way relationships between people that require respect and engagement at the same level to function. Without that, it becomes a using ground for personal emotional, or physical fulfillment. And when someone makes requests about the aspects of this relationship, such as open communication or honesty, and these requests are not reciprocated, too often do I see that person let such aspects slide for fear of creating discomfort for the other or becoming judged.

One can relate difficult content in a manner that respects the other person as a human being. Changing from a style of name-calling or blind accusation to that of reflection upon one’s inner experience can send unfavorable feedback to the recipient, making it land rather than causing the activation of their defense system.

Everyone violates others’ boundaries, usually unconsciously and unintentionally. We all have preferences. It is necessary to let others know those preferences and to allow room for humanness. However, when it becomes a constant pattern, difficulties arise if the situation is not addressed. Under fear for hurting the other by letting one’s needs be known, I will see a person stay silent and allow others to continue to impede on their boundaries. Under the guise of letting these acts slide, the reality is that one builds resentments internally against another. And these resentments will compile, fester, and escape in unhealthy coping mechanisms or relational patterns.

use your voice inscription on gray background
Photo by Polina Kovaleva

By establishing the boundary for coworkers to not gossip, I save myself the trouble of being put in a situation where I have to hear discrimination against another human being. By letting them know that I will not tolerate micromanaging or passive-aggressiveness, I set the tone for these relationships, respectful communications, and I transmit my needs directly. That way, if situations do arise where any of the aforementioned occurs, I am able to state my feelings about the issue, then reinforce those boundaries somehow. This may be either by having a direct and respectful conversation with said people, my first approach, or having a talk with management should the situation fail to resolve. Nevertheless, saying nothing is a choice. This is a choice to ignore one’s needs for healthy intimate connections.

Many people fear becoming disliked for speaking up about predicaments that are uncomfortable or offensive. While individuals are responsible for their reactions, people also have the choice to tolerate offensive behaviors or to address them. It is because of this fear they choose not to address difficult issues. But feelings generated from uncomfortable situations do not resolve when these events are swept under the rug. They get compartmentalized, then discharged through some other, usually unhealthy method. When a person chooses to work through problematic issues, they create space for solutions.

The current inability to find enough workers is a product of mass workplace violations of workers’ boundaries. Objectified, mere tools to complete jobs, the humanness of service workers is stripped when their rights are eroded. Forced to encounter dangerous situations, to endure denigrating environments, pushed to produce more, faster, higher, then fired once the economy dips, these workers are not perceived as people. They are delineated into numbers, mere stats that are reflected on charts that get analyzed in high-rise office buildings. How will worker 22324 feed his children? Not our problem now. Profits are down.

The public is setting boundaries for what they are willing to tolerate versus what constitutes exploitative and reproachful treatment. This has nothing to do with the masses not wanting to work and everything with service workers saying enough is enough, and I’m not willing to be taken advantage of for unlivable wages.

man wearing hard hat standing
Photo by Life Of Pix

Boundaries create impotence for change. They are the catalyst for growth within connections and systems. And when these are put into effect, relationships shift. They are a way to tell another you care enough about the person to spend time establishing rules for the connection to operate successfully upon. So when I hear a person tell me that setting boundaries will hurt others, I point out these invisible benefits of having a healthy system in place.

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