“You can’t talk to me that way!” and other Ineffective Boundaries

So one of the things I work on a lot in counseling with folks is how to set appropriate boundaries. We talk about having respect for both yourself and the other person, being direct and clear- stuff like that. Frequently after rehearsing in session who and when they will set a boundary with they go to try it and come back to report it didn’t work.

“You can’t talk to me that way anymore because it’s my boundary.”

“Oh yeah?! I can and will and YOU can’t tell me how to talk.”

So my client will come back really discouraged and say, “This boundary thing doesn’t work.”

I thought, as it has been a struggle in my life and something I see many people work at, I’d write a little bit on how to set boundaries. Here are some guidelines:

Boundaries only control YOU- not the other person. (which is why “you can’t talk to me that way” doesn’t work. They can talk any way they want to.)

Boundaries explain what you will/will not tolerate in a relationship.

Boundaries are clear and direct- not general as in “You have to start being nicer to me”

Boundaries show respect for yourself and the other person.

Healthy boundaries honor God’s word.

This would be an example of the earlier conversation with a healthy boundary:

“When you call me names or curse at me, I feel hurt and angry. It’s ok to express your feelings but it’s not ok to be disrespectful toward me. In the future, if you begin to call names or curse, I will end the conversation and leave the room/hang up the phone.”

See the difference? The second conversation does not tell the other person what to do. It simply expresses what I will do, if they choose to behave in a way that is unacceptable to me. The other person can choose to continue the same behavior, but my response is what will be different. It was direct and clear instead of saying  something vague like “when you are so mean to me” I said “when you curse or call me names”

Hope this is helpful to those of you who, like me, have had to practice and learn this principal. I still work at it, but after 12 years of recovery work from my codependency it comes much easier! My favorite book on the topic is Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. 

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