"Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act." - James Thurber
This is a daunting thing for me to even begin talking about. So, I am just going to start out by saying: for most of my life, I didn't even know that the way that I communicated wasn't healthy, AND that I had NO boundaries, which is also unhealthy. The Universe is funny. For the past few months I have really been focusing on those areas in my life, and it is CRYSTAL clear that the Universe was listening because it has been giving me so many tests.
Let me admit here that I have struggled with codependent behaviors. I am a people pleaser at heart. My intentions are good, but sometimes intentions aren't enough. I think that my issues with communication and with setting healthy boundaries and respecting other people's boundaries have a lot to do with my codependency. As soon as I started working on my self esteem, confidence, and my self value, I realized that I had a LOT of work to do in the area of communication and boundaries. I have learned that I tend to overshare because I desperately seek to connect with people, without gauging the level of trust that should be there in order for me to want to share this information, this super personal information. I am doing it right now. Most of the time, I realize I am doing it because I want the person to feel safe with me. "Look, here is all this personal stuff about me. Please love me and share with me and trust me". I have read a lot of self help books, taken a lot of psych classes, and have been and continue to be a proud therapy go-er (that's not a word, or is it?). It is important to me to be the best version of myself, and I know that that is a lifelong journey.
For the longest time, I just didn't think my feelings, my thoughts, my needs, my skills and ideas had value or deserved any kind of respect. I didn't think that because it was never communicated to me. We learn these things from our parents and the people that surround us when were children. If you share those things, and they aren't acknowledged, or you dont feel heard, then you learn that they aren't important. Just like if things tend to be unstable around you, and you never know what to expect, you learn to sort of "mind read" in order to protect yourself. You learn to expect the worst, and when it happens, you learn to deal with it because you aren't taught that is an act of ignoring your boundaries. If you aren't taught to set boundaries, then you never know what is ok and what isn't. It isn't clear what your responsibility is, or what you are expected to carry. Maybe you have experienced something similar? Of course, when you become an adult, you can't blame things on your childhood any more. It is now your responsibility to change the things that aren't serving you, or may be negatively affecting others. Of course, as you probably know, change can be difficult.
I believe the first step before communicating your boundaries is to learn to communicate in a healthy, EFFECTIVE way.
When it comes to communicating in an effective way, the goal is: to say what you need to say with the least amount of misunderstandings or mistakes. BE AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE.
Poor communication can lead to friction, resentment, or anger.
Here are my tips of what I have found to help to communicate effectively:
Be a flexible listener: Pay attention to what is said, yes, but also pay attention to the things that AREN'T being said (body language, tone, non verbal cues, etc.)
Be curious: having a natural interest in who you are talking to is so important! This helps you to build a mutual trust and respect, but also helps you to understand them and what motivates them.
Let go of your EGO: this isn't about you. Don't try to dominate the conversation. Encourage the other person to share. This should be mutual. People tend to sense ego, and no one wants to share anything with someone like that.
Avoid overloading them with information: throwing too much at a person can be extremely overwhelming. Give them time and space, otherwise they won't hear everything you need to say. It is ok for them to ask to continue to discuss another time.
Eye Contact- look them in the eyes. Don't stare, but give healthy eye contact.
Give approval/compliment/acknowledge what they are saying-THIS GOES A LONG WAY. People want to know that you have heard them. That you see them.
Request feedback: ask them what they heard you say, just to make sure they received what you were trying to relay. This will make sure there were no misunderstandings.
Stay Positive and enthusiastic: this should be a good experience! Both parties should feel content.
Mirror them: follow their lead when it comes to body language, tone, energy, etc. This establishes trust and comfort.
Practice Active Listening: be intentional with what you say and what questions you ask and how well you are listening. Basically, just pay ATTENTION. Don't interrupt, dont be distracted by outside things (like your phone).
Ask open ended questions: this allows for the other person to share more. Asking closed questions only gets yes or no's. We want to hold a space for them to share.
Be empathetic: be understanding and try to put your feet in their shoes!
I also wanted to share two acronyms that come from DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that I found to be helpful when it comes to communication skills:
G: Be Gentle:
Be considerate, no attacking, no judging, no threats.
Be open to a "no".
No "Should" or "Shouldn't"s.
No blaming or "you" statements. Use "I" statements instead.
No verbal attacks, passive aggressiveness, or condescending tone or
*People respond positively to gentleness.
I: Act Interested:
Focus on the moment; avoid thinking about what YOU'RE going to say.
Don't interrupt or talk over.
Make space for the other person.
Have patience, respect boundaries, and be understanding.
V: Validate and Acknowledge the other person's feelings, problems, desires, and opinions.
*People want to be heard and understood.
E: Use Easy manner
Have a calm tone
*This will make the experience good for both people.
DEAR MAN Skills:
(How to communicate your feelings, ask for something, or set boundaries)
D: Describe what you are reacting to (stick to facts).
E: Express how you feel using "I" statements.
A: Assert yourself and make your request or say no.
R: Reinforce-how getting what you want will be of benefit or explain consequences if boundaries are crossed.
M: Be Mindful: stay focused on your objective.
A: Appear confident: be assertive, and don't apologize for your boundaries or requests.
N: Negotiate: be willing to give to get, but know when setting boundaries, there may not be anything you are willing to negotiate.
"Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment" - Brené Brown
Now, let us move on to boundaries. I went over communication first because I think before you set boundaries, you need to know how to communicate in a healthy way. Otherwise, what you need to say might not be received the way you intended.
After you have spent some time practicing that, then I think it's safe to move on to setting boundaries. The most important thing about beginning to set boundaries is that you COMMUNICATE THEM. This is your responsibility. If you haven't set them before, like myself, it will take some practice. Of course, there are the normal fears of doing so: abandonment, judgment, feeling selfish, guilt, or shame, negative reactions, denial, etc. You are, essentially, standing up for yourself and your needs. Please know, THAT IS GOOD! I promise it is worth it. Setting boundaries is important for our health, both physically and mentally, and for our safety. It is basically how you say "hey, this is ok and this is not ok". We as people aren't mind readers (at least most of us aren't), so it is important to communicate these if we want them to be respected. The goal is for both people in the relationship (whatever that relationship is) to feel safe, respected, valued, cared for, etc. This is what supports and grows a healthy relationship.
Your body gives you signs that your boundaries are being crossed or ignored, or that you need to set boundaries: feeling tight in the chest, hot, anxious, or you just feel like things are "off". Listen to these messages. If you are feeling angry or resentment, or are complaining a lot about something, that could mean that you need to set boundaries.
Setting boundaries helps you to understand and define your identity (values, morals, needs, etc), protect yourself from people who want to violate your boundaries, protect yourself from people who want to manipulate or control you, and preserve the things that are important to you.
Key areas for setting boundaries:
Physical (touching, being close to you, your stuff, your space, etc.)
Emotional (how you feel, your values and morals, etc. )
Your ENERGY (what you decide to put your time into, and what you think about, etc. )
It took me awhile to realize that I didn't have to allow people to continue to treat me in ways that didn't feel good. I didn't have to allow people in my life that continued to disrespect my boundaries. You don't need to explain them to any one, nor justify, or apologize for having boundaries. NOPE. You are not responsible for how someone reacts to your boundaries. You are only responsible for communicating them. It was hard for me at first to gain the courage to tell the people in my life what I needed from them, and what I would no longer allow. My biggest fear was finding out that maybe they didn't really care that much about me, that they didn't really love me or respect me. Although that would be a hard truth, if it was in fact true, to find out, I would rather know and eliminate those people from my life than to keep them and in a way dishonor myself, and also disrespect myself. This is an act of self love that we are working on. That is what boundaries are.
Also, something I learned is that when you are setting boundaries for the first time with someone, there is a chance that they will try to test this new boundary. Those fears I mentioned before of what might happen if you set boundaries could, in fact, flood your mind again at this time, when they test you. DON'T GIVE IN. STAND STRONG. If you give in, on something you feel very strongly about, they will see this and know that they can probably get you to bend in other areas as well. There is a pretty good chance that this will lead to resentment. Please, don't give in. I know it can be hard. But I know you can do it, and YOU are WORTH IT.
Some of the areas in which I am setting boundaries are:
I am not a last minute person. I have communicated this. When someone asks me to do something last minute, I feel confident in knowing I can say no, and not have to explain why. My time is important. Especially my alone time. I can bend this boundary in little ways, but for the most part, I like to know about things in advance because I like to plan my days.
I do not like arguing, or feeling attacked, or made to feel small, stupid, weak, or undervalued or unimportant. My opinions, values, and feelings are important. I will state this when I am made to feel this way, and will request for things to change, or that I will have to discontinue the conversation.
Trust me, there are so many more, but I don't want to bore you while I go on and on...hahaha.
"When someone disrespects you, beware the impulse to win their respect. For disrespect is not a valuation of your worth but a signal of their character.” - Brendon Burchard
I also realize that there are ways that I cross other people's boundaries. One of those ways is something I mentioned earlier: oversharing. I am working on being able to accept and respect other people's boundaries, if they are communicated to me. I am also learning to ask more questions so that I can find boundaries that haven't been communicated to me. This is why those communication skills I mentioned earlier are so important. People usually will show you that you are crossing their boundaries: either with words or with nonverbal cues. PAY ATTENTION. I promise it will pay off!
One other thing I wanted to mention: Promises. This is an area that I think gets ignored and I want to give it the attention it deserves. When I think promises, I think pinky promises. You remember those right? I am almost positive every pinky promise was broken. But I realized when you become an adult, promises carry weight! Or they should. When someone makes a promise, and then breaks it, that hurts, right? I think so. The trust is gone. Or at least a little of it is. When this person continues to break promises over and over again, no more trust. But usually, instead, resentment. People tend to make promises because they are trying to make quick fixes of things. You forgot to do something so you promise to do it later so that person is no longer mad at you. You are trying to smooth things over. This happens a lot. I get it. But, we gotta STOP IT. Stop making promises you don't plan on keeping. Be the person people can depend on. This is where boundaries come into play. Don't make a promise you know you can't keep. If you can't do something, don't say that you will. THIS IS IMPORTANT! I am working so hard on this. I am guilty of breaking promises. Believe me, us people pleasers are the worst at that. Do what you say you're going to do, and don't commit to things you dont think you can follow through with! That is totally ok! It is 100% ok to not commit to something you dont feel 100% about!
Whew! That was a lot. These two subjects are and have been playing a BIG role in my life. This work is hard, and it takes a lot of looking at ourselves deeply. That can be painful. If you love yourself, and the people in your life, and they value you as well, this work will have such a great effect on your relationships and your mental health. The more we practice, the better we get at it! I don't know everything, and trust me when I say I will continue to make mistakes. I hope that some of this may help you to see areas that might need more work, but that you DESERVE to be treated well. YOU REALLY DO! I am on your side!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! Hope this helps! Please share with me any feedback or ways in which your implementing new boundaries or communication skills into your lives! I would love to hear from you! Newmoonwellbeing@gmail.com <3