Do you have problems setting boundaries? Does your desire to please or your fear of rejection stop you from speaking up, pushing back or defending yourself? The #MeToo movement sadly demonstrates how, especially in the workplace, some men (and women) abuse their power to exploit and maltreat their co-workers. Yet sexual harassment, ranging from unwanted attention to abuse and assault, is only the tip of the iceberg.
A struggling economy combined with unrealistic expectations of the shareholders has created in many companies, a high-pressure work-environment with seemingly very little room for gratitude, loyalty, and even humanity. As a result, employees feel increasingly worried and anxious about being replaceable and therefore are more willing to “shut up and put up” rather than to stand up for themselves. Setting healthy boundaries is seen as a luxury they can’t afford.
However, not only in the workplace but in our society in general, there is a worrisome trend of disrespecting the dignity of fellow citizens. Cyberbullying, road rage, domestic violence and a resurgence of Xeno- and Homophobia are just a few examples of where boundaries get aggressively broken on a daily basis.
Yet, while boundaries can obviously be ignored and breached, they are still the most effective way to protect ourselves from other people’s negativity – and to maintain our own dignity and integrity.
Here are five effective internal and external boundaries, which together can help you to feel more clear, centered and empowered while dealing with someone, who may not treat you with the respect you deserve.
Internal: Know your boundaries. The first step to creating healthy boundaries is to define them, which also means that you choose what works for you and what doesn’t. In the past, you may have wondered, if you are over-reacting because others don’t seem to be bothered. As a rule of thumb, you know that your boundaries have been broken, when somebody causes you to feel frustration, discomfort, anger, hurt or anxiety. Being aware of your boundaries means that you are honoring your past experiences, respecting your needs and taking responsibility for your safety and comfort.
External: Be assertive – or as my wife says: “No” is a full sentence. The only way to truly let others know what you accept and what you don’t is through giving yourself a voice that can’t be overheard. It can be scary to speak up on your behalf and potentially get judged and rejected for doing so. However, staying small and powerless while others are taking advantage of you – knowingly or unknowingly – is even scarier.
External: Ask for support. When your boundaries are ignored you may not only feel victimized and powerless but also ashamed and guilty. You wonder if there is something wrong with you that you don’t get treated with greater respect. Rather than reaching out for help, you hide out, kicking yourself when you are already down. Whether you are talking to a caring friend, or seeking advice from a counselor or therapist, because you know that your boundary issues reach far into your childhood, asking for support is not a sign of weakness – but proves that you care more about yourself than those, who don’t treat you with respect or kindness.
Internal: Stay in your power. Have you ever accidentally put your hand on a hot stove? While you may have touched the hot plate just for half a second, the pain afterward probably lasted for hours. Getting your boundaries breached can have the same effect. A disturbing conversation of five minutes can occupy you for weeks, as you continue to ruminate on why you have been treated so badly.
However, unlike with a physical burn, you can choose whether you want the hurt to continue. Rather than spinning your mind around somebody’s inappropriate behavior, remind yourself that every moment you are still thinking about this person, you are giving your power to him or her. To not let somebody’s negativity undermine your sense of self, imagine that you are watching the situation that bothered you like a movie on a tiny little screen, ideally in black-and-white. As you are observing what happened from a safe and neutral distance ask yourself:
Is the other person’s behavior a reflection of who I am?
Do I deserve to be treated with greater respect?
What can I do next time differently to not let my boundaries get violated?
Once you have answered each of these questions, you can turn the tiny screen off – or change the channel to something that makes you appreciate your life and yourself.
Internal: Deflect with compassion.
When your boundaries get invaded, your natural reaction may have been to either attack or avoid those, who crossed them. However, are confrontation or retreat really the best ways to strengthen your boundaries? Let’s take your health as an analogy; the most effective way to avoid getting a cold isn’t chasing bugs with disinfectants or stop leaving the house, but to strengthen your immune system. This is where creating a protective force field of compassion become the most powerful boundary.
How? Listen to this episode of Empowerment Radio and learn more about how you can create unbreakable boundaries – and how you can use compassion to build a strong protective force field.