That’s enough! Stop right there.
Did that make you uncomfortable? When was the last time you set a clear boundary like that?
Setting limits is one of the foundations of relationships, and is the key to living a healthy life at work, with friends, with family and even with yourself, and yet… boundaries make us cringe a little…
People pleasers beware – in today’s episode, we’re diving deep into why we have a tough time setting boundaries, how this plays out in our relationships, and how to set boundaries effectively.
Mercedes: Hello Hello! Thanks for tuning in to The Everything Else. For the newbies, I’m Mer…
Vera: And I’m vera, and today we have a great show lined up for you. We are going to be discussing a topic that will resonate with many of you.. I hope you’re ready, this is the one about boundaries.
Mercedes: Hot topic! How are you doing in the boundaries section?
Vera: My first answer would be.. it depends hehe. It depends on the day, and on who, but mostly it depends on the topic. On some things I know my ground rules.. and they are super clear, and I manage to set them quite rapidly and bluntly even, but with others, especially with people, I care much about, or on things that I like… I can definitely blur those boundaries and you know… I know from experience the high cost that can have…
Mercedes: Mmm. I feel the same. there are areas where my boundaries are non-negotiable, but in general, I have trouble setting boundaries sometimes. It stresses me out, I feel uncomfortable, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how profound this went… Like I’ve got to set a deadline and I’ll be like it’s for tomorrow if that’s ok.. or the next day, you know, if you’re ok with that, if not we’ll work something out, you know what, whatever, I’ll do it, don’t worry, I’m sorry I bothered you… You know me.. my tendency to people, please…
Vera: Or this idea that being a good person means being selfless… A martyr even…
do you want to start with a definition so that we can organize this? I know you like that…
What are boundaries?
Mercedes: Boundaries are limits, dividing lines. A boundary sets a distinction between what’s possible or not, what’s cool for you and what’s not, your abilities and yourself and others, your needs and others, what you don’t want and what you do..-
In essence, maybe this is a little extreme, but I’d go as far as saying that boundaries are a distinction between where I end and the other starts, and everything that is implied in that.
Vera: Well. that escalated quickly! But well put! Discriminating yourself from others, and knowing where you have a say and where you don’t is the key to deep tolerance and co exitance.
Mercedes: In preparing for this episode I thought a lot about a conversation we had before, I think when we spoke about personal rebranding — about how my sense of self is constructed with others and how this starts so early on in life
Vera: We are not self-made people! The settings of who we become.. start at a very early age. The singularity of our personal history. Babies are not born with an awareness of their limits. So.. From day 1 mothers and primary caregivers set the first physical boundaries so that the child starts experiencing and understanding that they are two separate beings. And sometimes this can happen very harshly.. other times, let’s say very loosely.. and well.. depending on our own personal history.. these limits start being set.
We have boundaries for everything! whether we like that or not.. Because, well… you know… life gives us boundaries.
Mercedes: So. Who can we set boundaries with?
Vera: With ourselves first. With others too, at home, with my family, my friends, at work, with my co-workers, my boss, my leaders, my clients, and my suppliers. Any relationship has boundaries, and these boundaries can be strict or flexible.
Mercedes: Can I just mention here how we need to normalize that many times these things are easier to do with people who are not so close to us.. and with those closest to us it is harder?
Vera: Uff.. totally. And since we are at it.. another kind reminder that needs to be done is that the way we treat ourselves is very closely linked with how we treat others. And in this line of thought our ability to respect our boundaries, influence how we deal with other people’s boundaries. And how by doing something so lateral such as “setting healthy boundaries at work” we might be experimenting and exercising new ways of relating with our own sense of limits.
Mercedes: Can we talk a bit about why we have difficulties setting boundaries? Because we all struggle at times, but some people struggle more than others, helping us understand why this happens might help to not normalize this struggle. I understand this is a generalization but I’ve heard this tendency to not set boundaries is a learned behavior, is that right?
Vera: Yes it is!
Mercedes: A strategy you might carry from childhood even…maybe you didn’t see boundaries being set at home.. or had to minimize your needs because somebody at home had “big feelings or big issues and you had to work around.. can we call Vera the shrink?
Vera: Sure thing how we set boundaries is a learned behavior. These things are cultural, and I mean cultural in the broad sense, of worldview… So… what happens at home.. what your loved ones do, the limits they set or don’t set, how they express love… this obviously has an impact on your future.
If you lived in a home where boundaries or limits were not modeled and you didn’t see this growing up, then it’s very probable that you’ll have difficulties setting them in the future — because quite simply you don’t know what boundaries look like. And, sometimes this goes hand in hand.. if you grew up in a home with someone who was emotionally unregulated, or who had big feelings like you said, or where adults were typically the center or who could be considered high maintenance, it’s very probable that their needs took up a lot of space.. and so you might have felt there was no room for your needs, and you tried to not take up much space you know.. what was the expression — laid back low maintenance
Mercedes: Hahaha that got personal quickly… so what we’re saying is, your learned strategy to survive is basically to take up the least amount of space possible, to make sure that everyone else is happy..and so, a people pleaser is born. I’d like to mention something about this though — that being a people pleaser doesn’t actually mean you please people,
Vera: Haha good point, it’s just that you put other people’s needs firsts,
Mercedes: Or at least what you think are other people’s needs,
Vera: Right, you’re guessing. Because we are always guessing about others, right? so this mechanism (veeeeeeeeeeeery common you guys) when used as a preferred strategy can take us to a lose-lose kind of situation… because though the intentions might be great, you are assuming many things about what the other needs, therefore not necessarily meeting their needs … and at the same time you are bombarding your head about what you should do, how you should act like.. and in this process you lose touch with yourself.. not even acknowledging what your own needs are… and, in this constant know thyself,
Mercedes: Which by the way could be the name of this podcast,
Vera: The greeks knew best.. so in this process of self-awareness to live a fuller, more authentic life, we can’t get lost in what others want or expect from you (and by others I mean our closest and dearest ones or society and the system in general) …
Mercedes: Or even yourself, what you unconsciously think — and that’s what happens when you feel guilt in boundary setting because you unconsciously feel that’s not what you should be doing…
So.. what we’re saying here.. is that to live one’s life, one needs to be more attuned to what these needs are. My true needs, not social mandate, not cultural, are the needs I can identify when there is a radical acceptance of myself. And when I identify those needs, we have to establish what you have to request for those needs to be met.
Vera: Attuned it is. This is a constant dance. We don’t go doing everything we want. Life is like a constant negotiation between our desires and reality.
Mercedes: So, what’s in it for others when we set boundaries? we set ground rules, we establish our needs, and we allow others the possibility of understanding where those limits lie, I teach others how to treat me… so that the result of this negotiation looks more like a win-win.. right?
Vera: Setting boundaries, like with children, is an act of love. And this is an act of love towards myself first, which is fundamental to loving others.
Ok. So- Disclaimer here. All these situations can be taken to extremes and believe me when I say extreme life situations happen. They generate serious consequences many times: psychosis.. or psychopathy — aka perversion.
But.. let’s not go that far.
Mercedes: What? are you kidding me, you can’t mention psychopathy and then decide to talk about something else. go on.. go there. indulge me
Vera: It might be a little off-topic.
Mercedes: It’s our podcast. nothing is off-topic — there are noooo boundaries.
Vera: Spoken like a true psychopath haha.. alright.. bear with me here, please.
When we are talking about Psychosis, we are talking about someone whose psyche is structured in a way where they don’t see limits. People, when they have been structured like this, their minds see no boundaries set by reality. They really disconnect from reality for example hallucinating. So. Yeah. This can create very extreme situations with very serious consequences for the people who see the world like this, and even more so for those around them.
But I mentioned Perversion in a psychoanalytic sense.. people whose psyche is structured in this psychopathic way.. do know there are limits.. it’s just that there is a non-acceptance of limits — it’s not just that they push them.. they don’t accept them. They know that the limits are there, but they act as if they don’t exist. A person whose psyche is structured like this knows no boundaries and doesn’t understand that there are limits to what’s possible. They really feel that you can have it all.
Mercedes: But there are costs to every decision.
Vera: Aha! that is the neurotic perspective. When psyches are structured in neurosis.. (where most of us are) There is a beginning and an end to what we can do. In neurosis, we are aware, well aware, and sometimes too aware of the boundaries because we acknowledge there always are consequences and costs in all of our choices. That is why it can be such a hot topic.
Mercedes: I get why you’re always complaining about the inspirational Pinterest quote mindset that wants you to believe you can have it all, so loosely.
Vera: Exactly! I think it is quite dangerous… Because we are living in extreme times when many people with psychopathic behavior are applauded massively and put on a pedestal… and there are many messages that are very unhealthy for us because we think we can have it all and we’re exceeding the realm of reality.
Mercedes: Are you talking about Elon Musk or Kanye West? I can’t tell
Hahah, mmmmmm … both! But there are many more. Many people who are in the spotlight are having problems accepting their limits. You know… society is somehow encouraging this idea that some people have superpowers… and that can be intoxicating.
Vera: And toxic for those around them.
Mercedes: It’s fascinating though, I totally get what you mean, but at the same time people who push those boundaries, who don’t take no for an answer, are oftentimes people that change the world… I don’t know that we’d be where we are if it weren’t for those psychopaths.
Vera: I don’t know either! nobody knows.
I was watching this Netflix series The Playlist. Have you seen it?
Mercedes: No. It’s the one about the creation of Spotify, isn’t it?
Vera: There is an episode about Martin Lorentzon, the cofounder of Spotify, where he describes himself as not neurotypical. And there is this scene where he meets a VC in Silicon Valley.. and this investor, tells him in general neurodiverse people are 5% of the population, but in the tech industry that goes up to 30%.
Mercedes: But wait. neurodiverse… is that the same as psychopathic.
This is a topic for a soundbite….but before we go back to the topic, I’m gonna quote Kanye West- who said, people always want a crazy ass idea, but then they forget that crazy ass ideas, come from crazy ass people.
But what is crazy anyway, right?
Vera: Topic for another soundbite
Mercedes: Anyway, parenthesis aside.. let’s get back to a more practical side and a little less apocalyptically please, says the people pleaser –
Vera: Let’s assume then, that we are talking about neurotic people. People who know they have limits and that there are limits.
Mercedes: “Regular people”.. bah..neurotics like you and me. Because this is after all our therapy.. and we were saying that setting boundaries are good for ourselves and others.
I read once that a key characteristic of the most compassionate people was that they were able to set boundaries. It was mind-blowing at the time because I did not associate boundaries with being compassionate, at all…
Vera: Brené Brown said best:: Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. We feel we need to soften the blow, we think it’s about being kind to others but really it’s about protecting ourselves from being uncomfortable. Clear boundaries are kind.
Mercedes: We are of course talking about healthy boundaries, right, not going to extremes. Because not giving a fuck about others is not healthy, I mean, putting up boundaries so that you’re detached or not able to connect on an intimate level… and we might go back to all these behaviors that are on the psychopathic structures…
Vera: Exactly… Healthy boundaries you said… You know, the objective of therapy is to be able to establish long-lasting, intimate, and authentic relationships. We are social, emotional, and spiritual beings, wired for connection. I cannot stress this enough. And all this implies a sense of belonging to a group of other humans. We cannot explore and grow in our humanness unless we are accompanied by other humans.
Mercedes: Do you think we’ll ever normalize having conversations with others about things that upset you, or that you didn’t enjoy at work or in your family?
Vera: I hope so
Mercedes: I mean, if we want a two-way relationship then it’s necessary isn’t it — if we want to feel comfortable, if we want to feel safe, and most importantly if we want to get our needs met (and for my counterpart to meet their needs) and not fade into meh people…
Vera: Brenè talks about daring leadership. This is daring. Having these conversations requires courage. Thinking about the boundaries that you need to set takes lots of courage.
When we talk about courage here, it’s because we are aware that crossing limits has a high cost, and sometimes we are not willing to take that risk. Running the risk, and establishing that boundary requires feeling safe. Feeling safe that if you lose your job, you’ll find another one.. that if your relationship breaks, you can still feed your kids, that if your couple breaks up with you, life can still happen. That if your client doesn’t accept it, you’ll get others who will. This is freedom. and this is a privilege. It’s healthy self-esteem…
Mercedes: I love what you just said. Because ultimately boundaries are about establishing and believing in your self-worth. You get to decide how you will be treated, and you deserve a life well lived according to your standards. That we are not fucking cameos in a movie, we are the not supporting actors
Vera: But you work for these conditions too.
Mercedes: Yes.. now.. we can work on making these conditions for ourselves, in our personal relationships, but as leaders and in a work setting it’s also our job to make these safe conditions happen so that people feel safe setting those boundaries. In a time when we’re talking about quiet quitting and completely rethinking their relationship with work, it’s important that we allow these limits to be established so that we don’t perpetuate old schemes or traditional, outdated employee-employer power dynamics.
If you don’t establish (respectfully, obviously) healthy boundaries at work, then there is no change. Paradigm shifts come out of these uncomfortable conversions happening across the board. And they are uncomfortable, let’s be honest, the first time somebody at work set a clear boundary for me I sort of gasped.. what? did she just say no? ah the nerve… but then I thought, OMG, she’s right, and that’s how change comes about in organizations, in finding common ground where others can thrive
Vera: I feel we are revisiting here an all-time favorite concept from this podcast: the third culture.
Mercedes: Ahhh. love that. And there are obviously power dynamics at play here, and it’s important to acknowledge them so we can build this third culture — and this is not only for classic boss employees — but we’re also talking about clients for example — we shouldn’t be afraid to set some boundaries there too so that those relationships can thrive. This is not easy when we come from the “customer is always right” type of mindset. But we’ve all had those clients that drive us crazy, and if boundaries are not set, then
Vera: Boom.. because you might say yes, neglecting your needs until something triggers you and you can’t take it anymore and you explode.. and it feels like a complete overreaction.. because it’s not aimed at that person, but the response comes from an accumulation…
Mercedes: Exactly, at some point, there’s burnout or bad service, or it just all goes pear-shaped. you mentioned martyrs before- there is always an implosion or explosion
So. we talked a bit about setting boundaries with others but I’d like to get into setting boundaries with ourselves, which is often overlooked but it’s a place to start, right? Boundaries are a way of reclaiming your life, by paying attention to your needs and setting your own boundaries, you sort of reclaim ownership of what’s possible for you and what isn’t.
Vera: Yes, and the truth is, reality won’t ever satisfy all your needs, let alone your expectations.
Mercedes: Especially when many expectations are completely aspirational.
Vera: Yet, many people sometimes interpret these expectations as a “to-do” list and you know, that is where boundaries come in handy too. Knowing that we cannot do it all.
Knowing we cannot be everything. Knowing we cannot be liked by everybody. Accepting that we might want something really bad. Wanting something can move me, can be a great engine, a true motivator.. but that doesn’t mean that I can do everything I want
Mercedes: Unless you want to be a psychopath, that’s always an option.
Vera: I could discuss if it’s an option.. hehe. but.. let’s say it’s not all about willpower. That is called magic. You know, hope can sometimes be way more harmful than accepting reality, harsh as it may be. Because once you accept the limit. the reality, you can take action.
I remember during my fertility treatment.. the moment we were diagnosed. It was really hard. We were being confirmed that there was something wrong with our ability to have babies. But… my therapist said something I will never forget: Reality is limited. Fantasy is unlimited.
And that meant that the path to explore was much clearer. It wasn’t from one day to the other. But it was the limit that gave us an alternate path. Quick disclaimer… This might sound for some people mediocre. But it is not. It’s about living a life adjusted. Keeping boundaries takes care of yourself and others.
Mercedes: I guess it’s also important to know that when we accept or set certain boundaries or make certain choices, there are consequences, and we sort of give up on the chance of that other thing happening. like a little death of that other possibility, don’t you think? Like if I chose to set a boundary on the amount of time I’m going to be working because I want to be there for my kids, then there’s a little death of super successful billionaire, president of the world me.
Vera: Yeah.. because boundaries always have a cost, so there is definitely grief involved. Accepting that if we choose this, we are saying no to that.
Mercedes: Alright, so, how does all of this theory play out in practice? Should I be explicit in all the nos? should I approach relationships with a rider with all my needs and boundaries upfront
Vera: This is a very defensive way of thinking. Very explicit. High-context disclaimers. Typically the US. You read so many disclaimers that you don’t want to play with the toy. You can die in so many ways. I find that terribly demotivating and to make it worse… you feel in the end they don’t care if your kid choked.
Mercedes: haha, well, I don’t think they care!
I read a distinction that I liked — walls vs. boundaries, seems like walls are a bomb in our connection bridge… boundaries shouldn’t act as walls, because we’re assuming here that we’re interested in building this relationship that it’s not just about me — that we care if the kid choked.
Vera: And yet there are certain ground rules, that are personal that are not to be crossed. Some people don’t mind being called mean words, or having others smoke near and for others, it is completely unacceptable.
Mercedes: That’s the trick though isn’t it?.. how do you know what they are if they’re so personal?
Vera: Well.. this requires having open channels of communication,
Mercedes: At the end of the day, boundaries are built on clear, honest communication.
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
Vera: Yes, of being able to express clearly asking the other as you go.. please, I don’t like this. Please next time, I prefer that you do this. This works for work relationships and in any relationship that you want to care for. And this takes time, it might not work.. but when it does, it gets better with time. Because all this accumulative knowledge of what is important for the other person makes things way easier, and past experiences help us build trust that it can happen again.
Mercedes: And when you don’t communicate when your needs are consistently unmet when your boundaries are consistently crossed, there’s resentment, so much resentment. This is why not setting those boundaries is always a lose-lose — you’re not getting what you want and you’re building a ticking time bomb for that bridge you’re desperately trying to keep safe…
Vera: When you see the complexity of it, it’s clear why it’s such a hot topic. In large companies or groups, doesn’t it feel like you need to be setting boundaries all the time? Because we are also setting new boundaries. Since 2020 I feel I have been constantly setting new boundaries for situations I had never imagined. I feel I always arrive late.
Mercedes: Maybe it’s because we’re living in a revolutionary time, and personal and work boundaries are becoming blurred… or maybe people have forgotten how to behave socially. I feel that technology has allowed for boundaries to be crossed in an easier manner, people feel like they can talk shit to their boss on slack like they’re on Twitter.. and you have to remind them that, this is not acceptable. They would never have done that if it was in person and you had to say it to someone’s face, don’t you think?
Vera: So .. let’s get to the hacks.
- The first step is to establish where you’re at boundaries, take stock of what boundaries you establish with yourself and others, and which ones you need to establish in order to get your needs met. This may imply paying closer attention to how you feel in certain situations so that you can identify where those boundaries have to be drawn.
2If you have a tough time setting a boundary, think about what would happen if you didn’t set it. What does the future look like, if that boundary is not set? how long before burnout, depression, or a bomb on the bridge?
3. Setting healthy boundaries is trial and error. Practice your flexibility and explore your tolerance — there is a misconception that having a wide range of tolerance means you don’t have boundaries, but this is not necessarily true.
And remember: boundaries are not set in stone. They can change. What one day you can be totally ok with.. another day you might not. And that too is OK.
4Practice establishing boundaries in a non-violent way — sort of like the feedback framework, avoid getting into the subjective space of judgment — situation, impact, and then petition or boundary: when you make those jokes about my voice, my accent, my clothes, my religion (insert whatever) I feel really uncomfortable and upset, so I’m going to ask you to please stop making them. I can’t concentrate when your music is on the speaker — it makes me nervous because i have a deadline and i need to be focused, i need you to turn it off or or put headphones on. Clear, concise, no name-calling. keep it simple.
5. What do you do when somebody crosses the line? Give room to your emotions. Not necessarily acting them.. giving room to them doesn’t necessarily mean setting the bridge on fire. But the only way to repair the bridge is to acknowledge it needs repair. And when your boundaries are not respected, and you cannot just leave the situation
6Find a way to set boundaries that you feel comfortable with and that you can apply — can you do it better in writing, than do it in writing at first. And if you doubt, find a mantra that can help you. Ask yourself — what’s the worst that can happen?, or tell yourself: I get to decide how to live my life, find self-talk that will boost your confidence to set the boundary.
7. Listen! listen attentively to others as they establish boundaries with you. they might not be clear, so listen hard And Remember the other person’s otherness. A very important part of accepting boundaries, is recognizing that no matter what you do or say.. all your inner work, the other person is another person.. accept the limitations of what he or she can do with it at that moment.
so.. let’s put an end to this.
There you go! Another ongoing process in this adventure of focusing on the everything else!.
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