Set your boundaries and keep them.

We all find ourselves in difficult situations at times, for example where we disagree with someone or feel we need to confront them. Disagreements can be healthy and may provide you with an opportunity to assert yourself and stand up for something you believe in. In other cases, however, engaging in situations of conflict can have a negative impact on your sense of peace and happiness. The difference between these is very often in how they are managed according to research.

It is important to know when to engage in a difficult situation and when to walk away for your own happiness. A good strategy for deciding this is based on your personal boundaries. Personal boundaries are guidelines that you set regarding how you want to be treated and what behaviour you will allow from other people. Boundaries can be physical, emotional or psychological, intellectual, or even time-based. Often, they address more than one of these elements. The boundaries you set often help to keep relationships mutually respectful.

An important first (and pre-emptive) step in managing this situation is to ensure that you clearly communicate your boundary. If it is violated, you need to communicate clearly to that person that they have violated your boundary and determine what the consequence of that will be. Sometimes, this might be removing yourself from the situation or, in other cases, confronting the person. You need to be comfortable with your boundaries and know in what instances you will walk away from a situation, rather than engage with someone who repeatedly violates those boundaries.

When it comes to difficult situations, a boundary may be about how a person speaks to you or behaves in the discussion. For example, if someone repeatedly raises their voice, it may be necessary to state your boundary and step away from the conflict. An example of this could be, “Please do not raise your voice when you are speaking to me. If you continue to speak to me in a raised tone, I will need to leave the room until you are ready to speak to me more calmly”, and then leaving the room if it happens again.

Part of setting (and maintaining) boundaries involves choosing who we spend time with, how we spend our time, and what we do when we are faced with someone who does not respect our boundaries. One tends to assume that other people will respect one’s boundaries, but this is not always the case. It could be a stranger, friend, or family member that violates the boundary or guideline that you have established for your relationship with them or will not take ‘no’ for an answer. This in itself may become a difficult situation and you need to decide which situations are worth engaging in, and which ones you should step away from.

Remember, boundaries should be set to enhance your happiness and well-being, not to hurt others. When someone responds to your boundary (in a respectful way), it is important to hear them out and consider their perspective. If necessary, adjust your boundary – it is important to be flexible. If not, reassert your boundary and step away from the conflict. Your happiness will increase because of it.

written by Kerryn Giles, Educational Psychologist.