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Approaching people about their behaviour: Stating Boundaries & Outlining Consequences

So, we’ve been focusing on classes that are basically helping you to build up your assertive skills by having ‘No’, ‘Maybe – let me think about it’ in your vocabulary so that you can be your authentic self. Having a wider vocabulary beyond automatic ‘yes’ gives you more authentic yes’s but also ensures that you have good boundaries.

I’m not looking to turn you into a ‘No Person’, which is what some people do when they discover a word that’s always existed but never been used. They get a bit over-zealous with boundaries and then feel wounded, and then begin to doubt the validity and necessity of their boundaries, claiming that it costs them their friends, family etc.

Healthy boundaries do not cost you true friends. They will ruffle the feathers of family members who as a result of you not being the ‘easy touch’ anymore or even the one who’s pawing at them for validation and approval all the time, will find that they have to make some of their own adjustments.

Many people take the reaction of family badly and don’t give it enough time. If they did, what they would see is a gradual realisation on both sides that you are finally growing up and that you’re not their kid anymore. This is a good thing. 

People who are abusive will not change who they are whether you have boundaries or not. The difference is that when you do have boundaries, you can limit their impact on you. They have to find a new target.

Boundaries do not cost you good relationships. Sometimes delivery, as in the way you approach boundaries can cause conflict but often, the reason is about incompatible values.

In this class, I want to focus on giving you tips for communicating your boundaries and, when appropriate, outlining consequences.

From the outset with boundaries, one thing must be absolutely crystal clear to you: Boundaries are primarily communicated with action.

What you do and don’t do, what you say and what remains unsaid becomes the representation of your values and your limits of acceptability.

Yes there are things you will say that communicate your boundaries but nothing says boundaries like choices and decisions that reflect those boundaries.

If you are all talk and no action, you are being passive about your boundaries and suffering with Women/Men Who Talk & Think Too Much Syndrome, using words and talking the hell out of stuff to mask your inaction. You want to talk people into making changes and doing things that will essentially make you feel better.

Good boundaries make good neighbours and will leave you feeling better not begging, pleading, discussing to the nth degree or restating your boundaries for the trillionth time.

At this point, I’m assuming that you’ve done all of the previous work and got a good sense of where you need to step up for you with boundaries.

This class builds on the Be Factual Approach and some elements of Broken Record with the unreasonable requests. For the purpose of this subject, you can also add unreasonable expectations to that – when someone indirectly or directly communicates via actions and/or words that in order for you to be on good terms with them, that you need to accept boundary busting behaviour and situations.

In the Be Factual class, I used this example:

When you shout at me and call me names, not only is this a really inappropriate means of making a point but I also feel demoralised and upset. Spot the boundary busting behaviour.

Sometimes we shout when we are angry but it’s about context. If something has escalated very quickly and disproportionately plus you feel intimidated and/or other abusive behaviour accompanies the shouting, a line is being crossed. As I said to an ex, “Raising your voice is one thing but shouting at me, throwing your weight around and calling me a ‘stupid psychotic b*tch’ is another….”

When you need to state a boundary and outline consequences, start by explaining the situation as you see it, i.e. flagging up their behaviour.

When we were arguing, it felt as if you were struggling to control your temper because you were shouting at me so intensely and [whatever was reflected in their body language]. This unnerved me but I became very concerned when you resorted to name-calling. You called me [and repeat the names].

Use the Be Factual Approach and state and summarise what they did. It’s tempting to skip to the feelings or to just stating your boundary because we tend to assume that surely a person must know that what they did was wrong or that it hurt us but take nothing for granted and approach this as a dialogue where you want to operate from a position of respectful assertiveness. It also gives it context.

If out of the blue you say, ‘I don’t like it when you shout at me and call me names’, this is a very valid complaint but some context shows them the specific behaviour and incident that’s contributed to what you’re saying.

Try not to drag in side issues unless the experience of this has given clarity to something else that they’ve done that you had not been sure about at the time. We don’t always recognise a boundary issue when it happens.

As an example, you would be bringing in a side issue if you started bringing up stuff that they’d done before and you knew it upset you at the time, but you’d stewed or you’d focused on people pleasing and now that they’ve done this particular thing, you feel that they’re showing their lack of appreciation for you allowing the previous boundary bust to slide. Their previous actions are wrong but you need to also own your part. You didn’t have to go down the pleasing route and suppress yourself. If you bring it up in this manner, you will end up distracting from the main issue and they may latch onto what you say and attack the way in which you went about things.

 

On the flipside, let’s say that one time you went out and you had a debate on something that you thought was just a conversation between the two of you but then you got the silent treatment or they were making strange remarks in the days following it, that now you put together with this incident and recognise their anger issues. That is very pertinent to the discussion.

So added together:

When we were arguing, it felt as if you were struggling to control your temper because you were shouting at me so intensely and [whatever was reflected in their body language]. This unnerved me but I became very concerned when you resorted to name-calling. You called me [and repeat the names]. It’s important for me to raise this concern with you because I found it intimidating and demoralising. I’m not comfortable with discussions or even arguments descending into this. There was that time when we went for that meal in Cafeteria and we were talking about our politics. You didn’t speak to me when we got back and you also made a couple of comments that now, coupled with this, have made me realise that we really need to address this.

Avoid assumptions and judgements including taking what they’ve done and then projecting a poor assessment of you onto them. “You’re making me feel so worthless!”

If you’re angry, upset or whatever you’re feeling, say that you are.

If I’m honest, I’m angry and upset and also very confused. We’re supposed to be in a loving relationship but I find the way you behave when you’re disagreed with very unsettling. After the name-calling, I was left feeling disliked and disrespected.

If they appear to be angry, acknowledging this may diffuse tension but don’t go off topic. “I can see that you’re angry but we really need to talk about this.” “I appreciate that it’s not easy hearing this…”

There are a few ways that you could state your boundary here:

When you shout at me and call me names, not only is this a really inappropriate means of making a point but I also feel demoralised and upset.

I really don’t appreciate you shouting at me and calling me names.

You crossed the line with me when you called me _______________.

I know that you were angry but you losing your temper in this way cannot continue.

I know that you were angry but so was I and I didn’t resort to calling you names. In future, while I appreciate that you’re going to shout at times when you’re angry, I would like you not to call me names.

Notice that at no point do you have to say, ‘My boundaries are_____________’

Stating the results along with what they did is stating the boundary. You’re saying that you don’t like it or that it’s unacceptable to you.

You’re probably wondering, What if they turn around and say that I’m making a big deal out of nothing or that it’s normal or that other people are OK with it?

You: Even if your ex was OK with shouting and calling names, I’m not. We’re not in that relationship; we’re in this one.

I appreciate that this is the way that you’re using to dealing with conflict but I’m never going to be OK with you calling me names.

Make your needs clear (if it’s that type of situation where you’re looking for mutual resolution or you just want to let them know before you opt out).

This lets them know your needs and values and why it’s important to you that this is addressed.

A relationship with mutual respect is very important to me. Much as I love and care for you, I will not be able to continue in this relationship {gives an indication of the consequences of the issue remaining} if you’re going to shout at me and name call each time we have a disagreement.

Hopefully they want to address the situation and it’s at that point that you can both discuss ways in which you can both handle conflict going forward.

The next time things are getting heated, if it’s going into that territory of what it was this time, I’m going to suggest that we both have a time out from it and come back when things have calmed down. What do you think? Or maybe when you feel yourself going that way, you could say that you need to step away.

Don’t suggest resolutions and compromises on anything that violates your rights.

For instance, you wouldn’t propose not voicing your feelings and opinions.

You wouldn’t suggest compromises for anything abusive – you’d state that it was unacceptable and opt out, or state it and then opt out next time, if the situation calls for it.

Sometimes though, certainly on anything that’s heading into code red territory, you have to keep it simple.

I’d like you to stop doing this.

Outlining consequences

Consequences need to be real, not BS ones. You must be willing to follow through on the consequence. Don’t position it as a threat. Know the consequences of your boundary being crossed.

Cutting a person off or ending things is not the only consequence available. The consequence reflects what you’re going to do in order to protect you and know your own line.

Choose consequences that reflect the boundary.

You could of course end it with someone who called you names in an argument, especially if you hardly know them or it’s accompanied by other code amber and red behaviour. That would not be a disproportionate response.

If the person genuinely acknowledges the issue and expresses remorse and wants to resolve because they accept that a relationship of this kind is unworkable for you, there are other consequences.

CONSEQUENCE: I no longer want to discuss _______ with you because when we try to talk about it, you ________.  They may agree to this.

CONSEQUENCE: The next time it comes up, I won’t be participating / I’ll go home.

These two types of consequence have worked wonders with my family. Wonders! I highly recommend them. For instance, I told my mother a few years ago, that the next time she decides that she wants to cut me off after an argument, that she’d better stay gone because it’s unfair to both me and the children who were getting old enough to recognise her absence. It stopped.

I’ve told her that I don’t want to discuss my father and his family, and some other hot button subjects because it doesn’t get anywhere, she sometimes resorts to name calling or dragging up stuff etc. I’ve stuck to my word and she’s respected it, albeit grudgingly at times. I do not feel censored in any way, nor have I censored her. I’m not saying she can’t ever talk about these things… just not with me.

There are also positive consequences that are often forgotten. It’s easy to focus on what seems like a negative consequence – that person’s name calling being curtailed or apparent censorship but the positive benefits is that you have a mutually respectful relationship plus you get to feel safe in the name calling example and that should be of greater value than free reign to call you names.

CONSEQUENCE: If we can’t find a resolution for this, we’re going to have to call it a day.

FINAL CONSEQUENCE: We’ve now had a number of discussions about you shouting at me and calling me names. You assured me that things would change but they haven’t and so I have no choice but to walk away. I meant it when I said that I could not be in a relationship that doesn’t have mutual respect. Despite me letting you know what I needed, you still need to respond in that way.

Remember that some consequences are action

If someone does something physically inappropriate, you report them and/or remove yourself out of the situation. An under-reaction would be to do nothing or to blame you.

If you’ve already said it numerous times, you opt out.

If you’re in danger, don’t negotiate – protect yourself.

If they end it with you and say that they want to be with someone else or that they don’t want a relationship and then try to poke around in your life or tap you up for sex, the consequence is that you stop engaging with them. In this case, if you did speak to them about it, you wouldn’t even need to let them know what your needs are. Just state where they’re over the line and what the result is – that you’re out.

Follow-Up Work: Write out some short scripts for dealing with some of your boundaries and see how you feel while working through them. Do you feel anxious? Reassure you. Say it in the mirror or do a role play. It’s good fun!

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