Judging by the sheer mass of questions and discussion on this topic in my weekly men’s group (as well as my own personal experience), boundaries seem like one of the toughest concepts for Nice Guys to figure out. If you have trouble setting and enforcing boundaries, or know someone who does, read on.
What is a boundary?
By the simplest definition, a boundary is simply that which separates “you” from “not you”, and “yours” from “not yours”. An example of a physical boundary is the fence that marks the borders of your property and separates it from your neighbor’s. If your neighbor lets his dog jump over your fence and poop on your lawn, that’s a boundary violation, because he has crossed your boundary and is doing things with your property that you don’t like. Because it’s your property, you have the right to say how it will be treated by others.
Personal boundaries are harder to grasp, but they work the same way. Because you are owned by you (I hope), you have the right to say how you will be treated by others.
Some examples of typical personal boundary violations might include:
- Being hit or slapped
- Being yelled at
- Being insulted or put down
- Being manipulated or lied to
- Being obligated to things you don’t want to do
If, like many Nice Guys, you’ve allowed your boundaries to be crossed for most of your life, you might not even know where they are anymore. So the first step is to figure that out. Feeling resentment and blaming others are good indications that one of your boundaries has been crossed. When you feel that way, it’s an opportunity to stop pointing the finger at someone else and figure out what’s going on inside you.
Enforcing boundaries is a two-step process. The first step is to set the boundary. This is usually done with words, such as, “Please stop doing that. I don’t like it.” Or perhaps, “I will not be spoken to like that. Please stop.” You don’t have to yell, or even raise your voice. Just be firm and clear. You have to do this because well-meaning people will sometimes cross your boundaries because they honestly don’t realize they’re there. With those people, this first step will be enough. They’ll reply, “Oh, I didn’t realize. Sorry about that,” and that will be the end of it.
If the violations continue, the second step is to enforce the boundary by imposing a consequence. The consequence is always an action that YOU take, because you can’t control other people. Consequences almost always involve imposing additional space or time between you and the other person. For example:
- Walking out of the room, away from the conversation
- Hanging up the phone
- Refusing any contact for a period of time
- Ending a relationship
- Calling the police and getting a restraining order
Boundaries = Self-Respect
And that brings me to the key point that eludes Nice Guys: Boundaries are all about YOU. They are not about controlling other people. They are not about refusing to give to others because you’re selfish or mean. You’re not telling others what they can and can’t do with themselves. You’re telling them what they can and can’t do with YOU. And remember, you have a right to say how you get treated.
Nice Guys wrongly believe that other people should just automatically know how to treat them. When it doesn’t work that way, they balk at enforcing their boundaries because they don’t want to look like a bad guy and risk rejection. They think if they just give in one more step, the other person will be satisfied and the violations will stop. The truth is that we train others how to treat us by what we put up with. People will never change their behavior toward us unless we give them a reason to.
If you don’t respect yourself enough to stand up for yourself, how can you expect respect from others?
If your boundaries are getting crossed, it’s because you’re allowing it. You are the only one who can defend your own boundaries. Blaming others is useless and unhelpful. The only one who can change things is you.
One of the guys in my Get Your Balls Back workshop told the story of how he would do the family’s dishes every night and every morning. He works from home, and has things he needs to do, but he was sacrificing his own time and his own needs to do chores. He didn’t say anything to anyone else, and inside he was resentful that nobody would ever volunteer to help him. After the class on boundaries, he reported that he had spoken up and instituted a “dishes schedule”, where each of his kids would get the job on a rotating basis. By enforcing this boundary around his time, he was able to get his work done, and also felt more self-respect and personal power.
Boundaries Improve Relationships
A few years back, when one of my friends was in the middle of getting his balls back, he got a phone call from his wife. They were separated at the time, and this was at the end of a particularly difficult day on her part. During this phone call, she got angry over all the ways she believed he had wronged her. She started yelling at him and insulting him. For perhaps the first time in his life, he felt enough respect for himself to not put up with that kind of treatment. He hung up on her in the middle of her tirade. She immediately called back, but he didn’t answer. Later in the evening, he called her back. She was calmer, and apologized for the yelling and the insulting, and they had a much more productive conversation. He felt more empowered in that relationship than he had in years, because he finally had the balls to stand up for himself and enforce his boundaries.
Wonderful things will happen to you as well, when you start setting boundaries. There may be some initial resistance, because people will be confused by the change in you, but that will go away quickly. People will start treating you the way you want. You’ll feel better because you’ll stop holding in resentment or frustration. Your relationships will improve because you are being honest about what you feel and what you want. You’ll become more attractive to women, because setting boundaries is a demonstration of confidence and strength, and women like a strong man. I frequently say to my group members, “If you can’t stand up to your woman, how will she know you can stand up for her?”
Start today. Watch for the signs of a boundary violation, and practice the two-step process. See what happens. It might change your world in ways you never thought possible.