I have a difficult time setting boundaries. As a result, I feel under-appreciated at best, and downright taken for granted at worst. Why is this so hard for me? Is it because of my birth order (youngest of three)? Is it because I like to think I’m a genuinely nice person?

In my Divorce Mediation practice, I sometimes develop a close relationship with my clients.  I try to be approachable which isn’t always a good thing.  Case in point, one Sunday during last year’s NFL playoffs, I received a text from a relatively new client asking me if I had a few minutes to “chat.”  Part of me wanted to say yes, but the other part of me, the part who considers the NFL playoffs to be a religious experience, wanted to ignore her.  I recognized that if I talked to her on a Sunday, I would be removing a boundary and maybe establishing an unwelcome precedent.  I replied to her text, telling her that I do not work on Sundays.  Then I asked her if was an emergency.  She answered, “no,” so I called her the next day.

Boundaries are important regardless of whether you’re setting them with your clients, your friends, your in-laws, or your kids.  They are necessary in order to establish healthy, balanced relationships that are respectful not only to others, but also to yourself.  While sometimes it’s obvious when people are invading our boundaries, sometimes it’s more subtle.  Consider these warning signs:

  • Sense of Entitlement.  Does your adult stepson raid your refrigerator and help himself to the leftover pizza you were saving for tomorrow’s lunch?
  • Insults.  Does your co-worker ridicule your ideas in a staff meeting?
  • Pushy Behavior.  Do your friends insist that you have one more shot of tequila, or eat dessert even though you’ve said you’re done?

Sometimes we can ignore the fact that our personal boundaries are being approached or crossed, but if it’s starting to occur more and more with the same person or people, it might be time for you to . . . wait for it . . . TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR OWN CHOICES!

If you’re wondering how, let me start by telling you to forget about changing the other person.  It’s very unlikely that you’ll succeed if you take that approach.   Instead, remember that WORDS MATTER.  Try saying something at the very moment the behavior is occurring.  When your stepson is raiding your refrigerator for the umpteenth time, it’s not too late to take the gentle approach:  “I’m not comfortable with you helping yourself to anything and everything in my refrigerator.”  Alternately, you can take the outright approach:  “Stop it!”

You can take your co-worker aside after the staff meeting and gently ask her what she was hoping to accomplish by publicly embarrassing you.  Alternately, you can tell her outright that her comments were rude and insulting.

To the extra shot of tequila – pusher, try simply saying “no thank you,” or “I’d rather not.”  If that doesn’t do the trick, simply smile and say, “Check please!”