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Day 21. Stating Boundaries & Outlining Consequences Part 1

This class builds on the Be Factual Approach, empowering you to use boundaried communication to state your boundaries and outline consequences when you approach a person about unreasonable requests and behaviour. 

It’s also about addressing unreasonable expectations: when someone indirectly or directly communicates via actions and/or words that for you to be on good terms with them, you need to accept boundary-busting behaviour and situations.

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/problem.

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 you might assume that they ‘must’ know that they’ve done something wrong or hurt you. That’s an assumption, though. Approach this as a dialogue where you want to come from a place of respectful assertiveness. You’re offering context. “I don’t like it when you shout at me and call me names”, is a very valid complaint but context shows the specific behaviour and incident that’s contributed to what you’re saying.

Summary example:

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].

Try not to drag in side issues unless the experience of this gave clarity about something else that they’ve done that you had not been sure about at the time. Remember, we don’t always recognise a boundary issue when it happens. A side issue would be bringing in stuff you’ve quietly been pissed off about but haven’t addressed. On the flip side, let’s say you had a debate in the past that you thought was a conversation, but then you got the silent treatment or strange comments in the ensuing days. Put together with this incident, you’d recognise that their anger issues are very pertinent to the discussion. For example:

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]. I need 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.

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

In all honesty, I’m angry, upset and 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 felt disliked and disrespected.

If they appear to be angry, acknowledging this may defuse 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…”

Here 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.

Don’t call 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, don’t 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?

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.

I recognise that you’re comfortable with this, but that doesn’t mean that I should be.

Make your needs clear (if it’s the 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 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.

We need to agree on some ground rules for when things get heated. I suggest that when this happens, we both have time out from it and then sit down again when we’ve both gathered our thoughts. Or maybe when you feel yourself going that way, you could say that you need to step away. What do you think? Are you willing to give either of these a try?

In part two, we get to the consequences part, which isn’t just about telling people what you will do [if they don’t step up) but can also be about what is happening (i.e. what you’ve already decided to do or what you’re going to do next).

The TAKEAWAY

  • All things are possible when you can articulate an issue.
  • State an observation. E.g. “You seem to enjoy putting me down” and follow with 2-3 examples.
  • Always use examples and try to quote what they said. If they deny what was said, ask them, “Well, what did you say then?” rather than going back and forth. Denying is a way to throw the discussion.
  • In obvious instances of verbal abuse or certainly inappropriate language, do not defend or explain – stick to the facts.
  • “Don’t” might appear scary but it’s very useful. It’s better than appearing to say “do” to a don’t behaviour or issue! “Don’t call me names”, “Don’t use that tone with me”, “Don’t raise your voice at me”, “Don’t call me at 11.15pm looking to have sex with me after you’ve ignored my calls and texts for the past week.”
  • Don’t react if they say, “Or what?” They’re trying to poke you into an unboundaried reaction.
  • Humour (not sarcasm) is very effective for bringing clarity to a situation. “So let me get this right: you think I’m a ‘__________’ who is always ‘______________’ but you still want this relationship to continue?” can encourage a rational person who lost their way in the moment to see things from your perspective.
  • 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.

    JOURNALING: Imagine saying what was used as this example. Read it in your own voice – write about the feelings, thoughts and concerns that come up. Would you want to say it similarly or differently? If it’s the latter, would your response still directly convey what you wanted it to or would it be an attempt to water it down? If it’s the latter, explore your thoughts and feelings on it so that you can identify where the resistance is coming up. What are you afraid is going to happen? Remember to also think about the consequences of not saying something or watering it down to hinting. Write some words of encouragement to you so that you can continue to build up the confidence to step up for you. Remember, every baby steps build into momentum.

    TASK: Think of a recent boundary issue and using the outline above – summary, what you feel, stating your boundary, your needs/values – try writing out or role-playing an alternative, more boundaried way of addressing that issue.

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