By Molokwu Peter
We all have them – those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard you try to surround yourself with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, and berate you if you allow them to. We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them. But we can determine how we interact with them, and how we allow them to interact with us.
How can you take control of your life and stop being pushed around?
Set Clear Boundaries
Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our professional and personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from people throwing trash at us. But first, you have to understand what boundaries are and are not:
- They are firm lines
They are determined by you and should not be crossed by those around you, even your family and friends. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviour you permit. Personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. Professional boundaries (especially at work) ensure that you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.
- They communicate
Boundaries let others know that you demand respect, you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a ‘no trespassing’ sign that make it very clear when a line has been crossed. They are not threats, ultimatums, or punishments. Boundaries are meant to inform or teach.
- They do not change other people
Boundaries may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.
Now that you know what boundaries are not, how can you establish them and take control of your life?
Self-Awareness Comes First
Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are, and what healthy behaviours and relationships should look like. You are entitled to respect. You also have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Self-awareness and self-respect come first.
Clear Communication is Essential
Inform others about your expectations, as clearly and as directly as you can. It is essential to communicate what you find offensive or unacceptable if you want others to respect your boundaries. Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others. They may even be joking. You cannot expect them to read your mind, so communicate as clearly as you can.
In communicating, it’s also important not to berate, blame, or try to punish others. When you blame people or try to punish them for behaving a certain way towards you, they automatically become defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked; it’s human nature. You also don’t need to always explain or defend yourself too. In communicating, try not to sound accusatory or defensive.
Consequences Are Often Necessary
Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others. Also, follow through. Are you cutting them off? Giving them space? Limiting your interaction with them? Let them know what you’ll do if they do not respect your boundaries, and enforce it.
Standing our ground doesn’t come easily to us because we want to be nice and we want people to like us. Still, we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success. Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary, and setting boundaries is necessary if you want to protect your time, your space, your feelings and take control of your life.
Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Get support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line. Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through. The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.
Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.