Healthy Personal Boundaries: 18 Ideas for Conditions of Entry to Your Tribe

Healthy Personal Boundaries: 18 Ways to Set and Protect (Image Credit: Unsplash S Zolkin)

The only criteria for joining the human race is birth. Pity. Because with a few tweaks to the membership rules – like, say, the existence of said rules – the human race would be extraordinary. Parts of it already are of course, but parts of it suck. Perhaps there is a more eloquent description but that word rolls from me like marbles across glass and it’s not rolling back. So that’s the word it is.

[bctt tweet=”We can’t influence who joins the human tribe but we can influence who joins ours…”]

We can’t influence who joins the human tribe but we can influence which humans join ours. Here are some rules to think about for setting healthy personal boundaries. They’re more a guideline than a set of rules because like any rules, some of them can handle being bent a little, some a lot and some of them snap beyond repair at the slightest hint of infraction:

  1. Don’t compare me.

    Parts of me will be better, the same or worse than anyone else you know, but the combination of those parts, as with everyone else on the planet, will be unique. I fight against my own temptation to compare. I don’t want to have to fight against yours. 

  1. Don’t try to change me.

    The person I am is a collection of dismal falls, extraordinary flights and everything in between. I’m so far from perfect I can’t even see the directions from here, but at any time I’m the best I can be. I love when that’s enough for you – love it – but if you don’t like who I am you are under no obligation to stay. I won’t judge you for leaving but I will judge you for staying in the hope that you can make me into something else.

  2. Don’t judge me.

    There will be times I disappoint you. Sometimes because I’m wrong and sometimes because we disagree on what’s right. Then there will be those times that you disappoint me. None of us are perfect. Don’t judge me because my shortfalls are different to yours.

  3. Be crazy honest with me.

    There are so many different versions of the truth and it makes my world breathe that you you trust me with yours. If it should one day get to the point where you don’t believe what you’re telling me, then the truth is you’re wasting my time.

  4. Listen to me. 

    I don’t need your undivided attention all the time. I don’t even need it most of the time. But but when it’s important, listen. Put down your phone and turn towards me. Listen and ask me questions. Notice me. Of course, there’ll be times I just ramble about nothing in particular – ramble with me or just sit beside me. Those ones are up to you. It will just be good to have you around, happy with me being me.

  5. Be genuine.

    It’s the real you I opened the door to. Trust me enough to be yourself when you’re around me. If you need to be anything else, then you probably need to leave. Pretending will drain both of us soon enough.

  1. Share our emotional resources.

    Because sometimes it will be about you. Sometimes it will be about me. Sometimes you’ll need to talk. Sometimes you’ll need to listen. Sometimes I’ll want you to smother my insecurities with affection. And sometimes I’ll want to do the same for you.

  2. Appreciate me. And let me know if I miss a beat. 

    Understand that I give what I give and do what I do because I want to, not because you’re entitled to it. If you’re feeling unappreciated by me, let me know so I can put it right. Sometimes I might take you for granted. Not because it’s how I feel but because sometimes life gets in the way of me appreciating what’s important. I can be ‘not-great’ like that, but if you’re part of my tribe then you matter and I’ll do whatever I need to do to turn it around. 

  3. Don’t criticise me. Because it will never be ‘constructive’.

    Criticism is criticism. Fullstop. Of course, if I ask you for your honest opinion then go for it. Otherwise, it’s just fuel for a long-burning fire. I know my flaws. I’ve been living with them for a while. I have my insecurities under control but I’m only human and the right amount of criticism will always be able to fuel that fire. Let me know if something I do hurts you, otherwise, leave it alone.  

  4. Celebrate my wins.

    It will mean the world to me. There are plenty of people who find it easier to be a hero in someone else’s tragedy than to cheer when someone is soaring. Don’t be one of them. And when you’re flying higher than the flock, I’ll be your biggest fan.

  5. It’s okay to disagree.

    We don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, your spirit will be one of the things I admire. Trust that I’ll cope without your constant approval. Honestly. I’ll be fine.

  6. Be loyal.

    Don’t gossip about me and know how to keep my secrets. If I’m sharing them with you, it’s because I trust you – you’re one of the chosen few.

  7. Know how to apologise. And how to accept mine.

    Forgive me when I get it wrong – which I will sometimes – and know that I will always do my best to put it right. Letting it go means you would rather stay connected with me than score points over me. And that’s why you’re part of my tribe.  

  8. Keep your promises.

    If you can’t keep them. Don’t make them. It’s really that simple.

  9. Talk to me.

    About all sorts of things but especially about the things that matter. If I’m going to be in this, I’m in it at the deep end. Talk to me about what’s keeping you up at night and about what’s lighting the fire in your soul. Not everything we talk about needs to be deep, but know that I can only talk to you about the weather for so long before it feels like we’re only pretending.

  10. Be curious.

    Don’t be afraid to want to know more. Be curious about my day, my week, my life and me. It will mean something to me that you care enough to ask.

  11. Sometimes silence is perfect. 

    We don’t always have to talk If you can talk with me as easily as you can sit in silence with me, you’re a keeper.

  12. Laugh with me.

    Because I’ve never met a laugh I didn’t like.

These rules don’t exist as a numbered checklist to be whipped out just after the first ‘hello’. (If only it was as easy as that!) They’re the rules – before now unwritten – that I use for setting boundaries so I can be more deliberate about those I spend time with. 

I want people who I can be myself around and who can be themselves around me.  That doesn’t mean I’ll be close to everyone I meet – far from it – but there are too many amazing people in this world to spend time with those who dampen. Boundaries set the benchmark, and make way for more deliberate decisions about the cherished part of the circle – because we all deserve to be with those who give us flight.

What are the rules you set your boundaries by? There are no right or wrong ones and we’d love to hear about yours.

(Image Credit: Unsplash. S Zolkin)

2 Comments

Rick

There’s a quote somewhere: “Truth without compassion is cruelty.” Feedback is an important learning tool, and the time, place, way, and relationship all affect the receptivity of the feedback. Who’s needs are being worked on?

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Mike Mckay

I liked most of this but some of the boundaries blur quite severely

“a judgement” is also an opinion, its also a criticism, its often also constructive because people CANT always see their own poor habits clearly, thats why they keep doing them over and over and they are also going to be crazy honest too

Its this kind of “do what I want when i want it” confusion that stops people from communicating effectively

Either you want the truth or you dont

Sometimes the truth will “feel” judgmental, but thats a total misnomer and almost a passive aggressive statement anyway

Saying someone looks beautiful is being “judgemental”, every opinion, view and outlook about someone is a judgement its just word play where people selectively use ones like judgemental when its stuff they dont want to hear, and rarely is connected to whether or not its true

I used to say as a throw away one line

“Other people are judgemental, but I just have opinions”

But sadly the irony in that used to go over a lot of peoples heads

But obviously none of this is a judgement or constructive criticism I am just sharing an opinion lol

Its easy to overthink things and subdivide things to the point where your own rules for discerning them are so complex even you struggle to categorise things never mind anyone else being able to segregate them

Truth is truth, sometimes it hurts, sometimes we arent ready to hear it, sometimes it will be just what we want to hear

but thats on us, not the person saying it

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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