To be effective, boundaries need to do three things: define your expectations, clarify your definition of acceptable behavior, and explain the consequences of disregarding your boundaries. Without consequences, people never learn boundaries. Without boundaries, people never become mature, self-reliant adults.
Here is a technique for setting boundaries called, Three Strikes, You’re Out.
The first time that someone crosses your boundary, you simply tell that person what your boundary is and ask him or her to not cross it again. Never assume that people know what your boundaries are unless you have taken the time to point out your boundaries.
The second time they cross your boundary, you simply remind them of your request and tell them the consequences of crossing your boundary one more time. Be sure that this is a consequence that you are ready to carry out. Telling people that you will leave them for the sixteenth time will only make people laugh.
The third time they cross your boundary, you follow through with your consequences.
Three strikes goes like this:
Someone swears at you.
You say, “Please don’t swear at me.”
They swear at you again.
You say, “Please don’t swear at me, or I will leave.”
They swear at you a third time.
You say, “Good bye.”
Three strikes, they’re out. You leave, and you do not come back until they have made amends. If they don’t like your rules, then they don’t have to play with you.
Now, be careful with your boundaries. You must never set a boundary for someone else that you don’t actually keep for yourself, or else they will consider your boundary a joke. In other words, don’t shriek, “stop yelling” at your screaming kids and expect them to take you seriously. More importantly, you must never let your consequences become empty threats.
What’s an empty threat? Well, do you remember the last time some kid started screaming in the middle of a store, and although the parents kept threatening to take the kid outside, they never actually took the kid outside?
You were probably less annoyed by the kid than you were by the parents because the parents were creating threats, not consequences.
A threat is when you tell someone that you’re going to do something, and then you don’t follow through. Whenever you threaten but don’t follow through, you’re basically saying, “Don’t believe me when I tell you something.” People stop listening when they don’t believe you; so never threaten a consequence that you don’t intend to carry out, or your words will be treated like jokes instead of boundaries.
By the way, consequences can also be rewards. You ask someone to do something, and then you explain the consequences of doing it. After they do it, they reap the reward. Some people call that bribery. I call it teaching people the value of free commerce and trade. What did you think a paycheck was anyway? A bribe, or the reward you get for working all week?
Once you learn to set clear and consistent boundaries for yourself and others, you’ll be rewarded with healthy relationships.
You can find more about this topic on Navigating Life’s website. Simply go to http://www.navigatinglife.org and visit the Galley for links to our full articles.
Lynn Marie Sager has toured over two-dozen countries and worked on three continents. Author of A River Worth Riding: Fourteen Rules for Navigating Life, Lynn currently lives in California; where she fills her time with private coaching, public speaking, and teaching for the LACCD and Pierce College. She runs the Navigating Life website, where she offers free assistance to readers who wish to incorporate the rules of worthwhile living into their lives. To read more about how you can use these rules to improve your life, visit Lynn’s website at http://www.navigatinglife.org
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