I ride horses. I love them. In addition to being beautiful and sensitive creatures, horses teach me so much about life. A couple weeks ago, my riding instructor was talking to my friend about her daughters' pony, who can be a bit naughty...but can also be very nice. She said, "It would be nice if horses were always the same, but they just aren't. And we have to work with that."
In an earlier post, I talked about the danger of waiting for somebody to behave a certain way to make you happy. Horses, like people, have good days and bad days. However, when horses have a "bad day," most good horse people will question what they are doing wrong or how they could improve their riding to elicit a better response from their equine partners.
We don't do this with other people very often. We go straight to blame or frustration because the other person didn't meet expectations or behave a certain way. "It's his fault that I'm upset," or "Why can't she just be more kind, responsible, organized, punctual, thoughtful, etc?"
This leads me to boundaries. Many people falsely think that effective boundaries put limits on somebody else's behavior. "You can't call after 9 pm," or "You have to treat me with more respect."
But setting a boundary with the other person as the focus is once again giving up control to somebody else. And you can't, can't, can't change somebody else's behavior.
You can set boundaries, but you have to make it about YOU and your limits, not anyone else's. This is very true in parenting. You can tell your kids to stop fighting over a toy. They might stop, or they might keep fighting. However, if you say, "If you continue to fight over the toy, I will take the toy away and give it to charity," that sends a different message. The boundary isn't defined by what they do, but how you will react to their behavior.
Let's look at the examples above. Telling somebody not to call after 9pm does not guarantee that they won't call. However, setting a boundary for yourself gives you control if you keep it about your reaction. "If you call after 9pm, my phone will be off and I will not answer it." That's a pretty simple example, so let's move on to the next one.
"You have to treat me with more respect." Do you feel this way about somebody? Have you even said it to someone? And what was the result? This is a challenging one because we have so much emotion wrapped up in the idea of respect. You can create a boundary here, but you have to clear a few things up. First of all, you have to define the behavior that you find disrespectful. Do you want this person to stop calling you names? To respect your time and communicate when plans change? To let you follow your dreams? To be faithful to you? And what boundary are you willing to set and follow through with if the disrespect continues? A boundary only works if you are committed to following through on it. For example, if I set the toy boundary with my kids, but they continue to fight, and I just roll my eyes and walk out of the room, that boundary is broken and my kids will not respect it. If I take the toy away and give it to charity, my kids will understand the boundary. They can choose to continue fighting over toys, but they know what they are risking with that choice. So when you set a boundary, you have to be willing to enforce it. What boundary are you willing to set in the face of disrespect? Are you willing to have a serious conversation? Are you willing to follow through on a consequence? Are you willing to stop seeing somebody? Go to counseling? Get a divorce? These are not easy questions, but they are important when you are dealing with a boundary issue.
With the pony at the beginning of the post, the boundary was set that the pony must behave and be safe around the little girls. When the pony fails to do this, she gets bigger, stronger riders to remind her of the expectation, thus resetting the boundary. Eventually, the little girls will learn how to set clearer boundaries for the pony so that she knows what to expect when she doesn't behave. Until then, she will continue to get those training sessions by riders who make her work harder than the little girls do.
It comes down to this: You cannot control the behavior of others. Likewise, a rider cannot control a horse that outweighs her several times over. However, like a rider can set a boundary for the horse, you CAN set clear boundaries to let people know how you will react if they do something you don't like. And in my experience, people who set clear boundaries are more confident, induce more respect, and have better relationships.
If you struggle to set boundaries or still don't know how to go about doing so, contact me to set up a session to talk about how life coaching can help.