Do you have a boundary that needs to be set? If you do, consider why you haven’t already set it.
For me, fear’s usually to blame. When it comes to setting boundaries I’m generally afraid of:
- Losing my Zen
- Upsetting others
- Facing repercussions
- Being gaslit
- Not being in control of the outcome
Do any of my fears resonate with you? If so, keep reading!
Why setting boundaries can be so damn scary
While setting boundaries is empowering and essential to living life on your terms, it can also be scary AF. Why?
Because setting boundaries challenges the status quo in a relationship.
In toxic relationships, this may result in love being withheld and relationships getting upended. The potential for retaliation is very real. Raging, manipulating, belittling, and/or gaslighting are likely. Nasty legal battles may ensue. And, integrity, core values, and motives are dissected. At least this has been my experience.
If you have a boundary that you need to set but haven’t, fear is probably to blame.
Two ways that fear disguises itself
Fear is a sneaky beast. It likes to be stealth – to fly under the radar – and so it prefers disguises. Two such disguises when it comes to boundary-setting avoidance are what I refer to as the Timing Argument and the Serenity Argument. Of course there are other ways fear can disguise itself, but these are the two that I’m most deeply familiar with.
The Timing Argument
The timing argument is all about waiting to set boundaries until circumstances are perfect.
Do you ever tell yourself that you’re waiting for the right timing to set a boundary? While there’s something to be said for timing, in my experience it’s used far too often as a crutch.
The Timing Argument is a fantastic procrastination tactic, but the longer you wait (and ruminate!), the less likely you are to set the boundary. Or if you do set the boundary, it’s watered down and/or you’re more susceptible to being gaslit. So you tell yourself that next time you’ll be more on top of things. But then next time happens and the procrastination cycle starts again.
The next time you catch yourself using the Timing Argument when a boundary needs to be set, consider diving a bit deeper as to whether this is really true. What purpose does waiting serve you? I mean, if you’re having a family dinner and the boundary is related to your spouse’s porn habit, you’re probably better off addressing it when the kids aren’t within earshot. But if you’re talking days or weeks because your spouse “has a lot going on at work,” perhaps fear is guiding your procrastination.
Can you hear what I’m saying?
The Serenity Argument
The Serenity Argument is simply about bypassing unpleasantries and is my go-to avoidance tactic.
“My serenity is too important.”
“I pick my battles carefully, and this one isn’t worth it.”
“I’d rather be happy than be right.”
Sometimes these are super legit reasons to not set a boundary. But sometimes – oftentimes – they’re lies we tell ourselves so that we can avoid dealing with the elephant in the room. And that elephant is our fear.
The next time you want to use the Serenity Argument to avoid setting a boundary, ask yourself what’s the worst case scenario that will happen if you do. If there are no real consequences to you or your wellbeing, it’s probably legit. But, if the problem has the potential to escalate because “she/he/they got away with it this time,” I’d implore you to reconsider your course of (in)action.
I actually blogged about this a while back, and in an update to that short post I re-evaluated my original position (where I was effectively using the Serenity Argument to avoid conflict). It’s amazing how we can convince ourselves that we’re coming from a place of love and light, but really we’re often just bypassing our own fear. At least that’s what I was doing.
How to be courageous, despite your fear
Identifying our boundary-setting avoidance tactics is important, but it doesn’t stop there. So if a boundary needs to be set, how do you do it, despite your fear?
While I don’t have all of the answers, below are the kinds of questions I ask myself when faced with fear-based boundary-setting avoidance:
- What’s my “why” for setting this boundary?
- What’s at stake if I both do and don’t set this boundary?
- Have I surrendered the notion that I can control either “him” or the outcome?
- How can I set this boundary from a place of compassion instead of anger, judgment, or fear?
- Am I acting from a place of deep integrity?
- Am I keeping the focus on setting the boundary or on how they’re doing it all wrong?
- Am I setting the boundary from a place of empowerment or defensiveness?
Now, let’s take a brief look into each of these questions as they pertain to you.
1. What’s your why?
Why do you need to set this boundary? This is a super important question!
Sure, something happened – a triggering event, perhaps – but why does it matter to you enough to set a boundary? Keep asking yourself “but why does this matter?” with each response until you get to the root of your “why.”
This can be an eye-opening process. I promise you that if you’re getting screwed out of $20, your “why” is probably not about keeping that $20! Maybe it has more to do with the fear of losing control of your life in some way, and your job in asking these questions is to uncover these details. And just a note that while I normally avoid going down rabbit holes, in this case exploring said rabbit holes may provide some valuable insights.
Now, remind yourself of your “why” whenever doubt creeps in.
A final note: notice if you find yourself diminishing your “why” in response to manipulation, gaslighting, or just pure exhaustion from the challenge of setting boundaries. It’s so easy to backtrack in order to get it all to stop, but these moments are often great reminders of why it’s important to stay the course.
2. What’s truly at stake?
What’s at stake if you set the boundary? What’s at stake if you don’t?
Get both superficial and deep with this question. Consider what’s at stake on the surface but also on a spiritual level. How will your day-to-day life be affected? How will your self-esteem be affected both if you set the boundary and if you don’t? What about your self-respect?
For example, if you’re getting screwed out of $20 and don’t set the boundary…on a superficial level you’ll be out $20, but on a deeper level you may lose confidence in yourself for caving yet again to that person who’s always trying to see what they can get away with. If you do set that boundary…on a superficial level you’ll probably (hopefully!) get the $20 owed to you, and on a deeper level you’ll feel empowered for interrupting the cycle of getting screwed.
3. Have you surrendered the illusion that you can control the outcome?
Do you harbor the idea that if you phrase something just right you’ll be able to get the outcome that you want?
The simple fact is that we can’t truly control a situation – we can only control our response to a situation. Any sense of control is an illusion, and yet we fight this simple truth ruthlessly.
Yes, some people use manipulation as a tactic in an attempt to get what they want and yes, sometimes it appears to work. But manipulation attempts often backfire because *drumroll* we all have free will. Either way, there are no guarantees. And, manipulation is icky AF. Please don’t go there.
Case in point. When I moved from Montana to the Chicago Area, my daughter’s father sued me for custody because the town I had just moved to wasn’t close enough for us to share 50/50 parenting responsibilities. In response to my attorney’s argument that I had just signed a 22-month lease, his attorney argued that “leases can be broken.” Tens of thousands of dollars and many months later, his attempt to control where I lived (via manipulation via his lawsuit) officially failed.
In case you’re interested, I’ve blogged about this era of my life and about how getting sued was a powerful teacher on compassion and forgiveness.
4. How can you set this boundary from a place of compassion instead of anger, judgment, or fear?
When a triggering event happens and you need to set a boundary, how are you feeling? Shitty, I’m guessing…at least on some level. Or maybe scared, angry, or judgmental (which all are pretty shitty ways to feel, right?!). After all, we don’t have much need to set boundaries when we’re being respected.
If you bring icky energy into the boundary-setting process, you’re going to internalize more drama and stress. Can you instead enter into it from a place of internal peace? That’s what setting a boundary from a place of compassion is effectively doing.
Setting boundaries from a place of compassion just means that you’re not setting the boundary from a place of anger or spite. It’s not about retaliating in any way to something that you don’t like. It’s also not about avoiding conflict.
Instead, it’s about honoring yourself. And, honoring yourself doesn’t happen when you dishonor another person because – let’s face it – disrespecting people is shitty, and your spirit knows this. When you operate from a place of true compassion, you honor your spirit.
Not only is setting boundaries from a place of compassion a self-honoring practice, it has the added benefit of functioning as a forcefield against reactionary folks who may try to gaslight you. Knowing from your heart that your motive for setting a boundary is based on honoring yourself and comes from a place of compassion is powerful medicine if accusations get leveled against you or your version of reality is questioned.
5. Are you acting from a place of deep integrity?
Are you operating from a place of deep integrity? This is critically important both when setting summoning up the courage to set boundaries.
In The Four Agreements (see Resources page for an Amazon link), Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills emphasize the importance of “being impeccable with your word.” When you’re impeccable with your word, you’re not using words as poison, you mean what you say, and you only say what’s true.
When you act from a place of integrity, you protect yourself from gaslighting because you know in your heart that what you’re saying is true. Just as you create a forcefield of sorts when you set boundaries from a place of compassion, you do the same when you’re being impeccable with your word.
It’s empowering to speak your truth.
6. Are you keeping the focus on setting the boundary or on how they’re doing it all wrong?
What are you focusing on? Both in preparation of your boundary-setting conversation and during it?
If you diligently focus on the setting the boundary, things are going to go a lot smoother than if you’re pointing fingers or defending your position.
If you begin the conversation with “I’m setting this boundary because you…,” you’re encouraging the person to defend themself. Do you want that? An alternative is to simply state, “I’m setting this boundary. I’m not interested in discussing it further.” Another alternative is to state, “I’m setting this boundary because it’s important to me that…” This keeps things about you, and that’s what boundary-setting is about anyway – it’s about honoring and respecting yourself by setting guidelines for how others will treat you.
Want my secret for staying focused during boundary-setting conversations? I refuse to defend or explain myself with people who have any history of gaslighting, belittling, raging, or trying to manipulate me.
Here’s the thing: you are under no obligation to answer their questions, nor are you under any obligation to reach consensus! And in my experience, when they tell me that they’re “just trying to understand where I’m coming from,” that’s code for them looking for ways to shred my argument. Repeat after me:
I’M UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO DEFEND MY NEED TO SET BOUNDARIES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. FURTHERMORE, I KNOW THAT THEY MAY BE UPSET WITH ME FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES, AND THIS IS OKAY. IT’S OKAY THAT THEY AREN’T ON BOARD.
I’m not going to sugarcoat anything here. This takes courage. Ironic, given that this post is about helping you gain the courage to take action, right?! But, in my experience it’s easier to muster up the courage to set a boundary when you know in advance what you’re both willing and not willing to discuss. This gives you strength.
Remember, this is a post about gaining the courage to set boundaries and complements my other posts on setting boundaries with people who have a history of manipulating, gaslighting, raging, and belittling. If you’re setting a boundary with someone who respects you – someone who you’re not in a toxic relationship with – then this may not apply to you. But, if you’re dealing with someone who’s narcissistic, I believe that it would behoove you to tread VERY carefully here.
7. Are you setting the boundary from a place of empowerment or defensiveness?
This piggy-backs off of the last point. Are you feeling empowered or defensive?
If you don’t come from a place of empowerment, it’s going to be obvious. And, you’re more likely to back down under pressure if you’re on the defense. If you aren’t feeling empowered, meditation can help. Or practicing with your bestie who has your back. Ultimately, the more you love yourself, the more empowered you’re likely going to feel, and the easier setting boundaries is going to be.
Setting boundaries can trigger all sorts of fears. Ultimately, you’ll have to work through them – there are no shortcuts or magic methods – but if you’d like help with this, consider applying for a Boundary-Setting Goddess Mentoring/Coaching session. Together, we can explore what’s holding you back from setting the boundaries that you know you must set.
Also, if you haven’t yet downloaded My Roadmap To Becoming A Boundary-Setting Goddess, click the link or image below. Psst – it’s free!
And finally, if setting boundaries is a very stressful undertaking for you, consider checking out my 7-day Get Calm & Grounded email course.
Thanks for tuning in!