Boundaries: An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

Sarah and I, predictably, have been talking about boundaries.

Even though it’s an important topic, like most things, I’m not very black and white about it. And I think that’s how most things in life should be: principle-based, but flexible enough to cope with the messiness that is life.

I realize this is not the most helpful advice. It’s not The Rules, for chrissakes. And it’s not that my boundaries are bulletproof and I never get hurt. It’s just that the worst risks are neutralized and the rest are mitigated. The risk level is acceptable to me.

I play the game by my own rules

I have a couple of rules of thumb:

  • never attribute to malice what can equally be attributed to ignorance,
  • my way is not the way, and
  • fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I also have clear understanding of my deal breakers. It doesn’t matter what mitigating circumstances there are, or how innocent the other person may be, if my hard lines are crossed, I’m gone.

This includes but is not limited to:

  • Making me feel unsafe
  • Gaslighting me
  • Repeated incidence of playing the victim or any type of persistent negativity
  • Bring more drama or stress into my life than they do joy
  • Being an energy vampire or a user
  • Refusal to learn from their mistakes
  • Being flaky and undependable

These hard barriers are zero-tolerance. There is no acceptable risk level on these— any incidence whatsoever makes me stressed, anxious and fearful, and I just won’t allow it.

It really is that easy.

The surprising effect of having these kinds of zero-tolerance policies in place is that I’m inclined to be gracious the rest of the time because I never get to the point where my sovereignty is being threatened.

I tend to appear cheerful and understanding because it really isn’t a problem. Why? Because I already know exactly how far they are from my boundaries.

When it does start to make me feel stressed or anxious, I carefully track the issue, ensure my reaction isn’t simply the result of a bad day or cumulative stress. Then I bring the issue up. In general, I’ll bring it up twice. If that doesn’t fix the problem I accept that it won’t change and decide whether to continue the relationship.

It’s really that cut and dried. I know a lot of people feel that it’s ‘mean’ or somehow indefensible to hold the people around you to your standards, but it’s really never been a problem. There’s no drama, nobody ‘hates’ me.

It’s not like I’m snubbing people– I just don’t hang out with them. I don’t work with them, I don’t call them, and if they initiate contact, I just communicate my needs clearly.

The Real Secret of Good Boundaries

It’s not hard to teach someone how to build boundaries. What’s hard to teach is the attitude around boundaries. Can you accept this thought? “Sure, she probably does need help. But she doesn’t necessarily need my help. And it will probably ‘stick’ better if she has to find her own solution to the problem.”

Some people can’t. It starts this huge, irrational panic in them. OMGOMG, what will happen to her?

At least half of having good boundaries is giving up your savior complex.

Are boundaries something you need to work on? Check out this free class for more strategies.


11 thoughts on “Boundaries: An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove”

  1. I’m excited for this class. I’m not good at boundaries, nor have I considered all the different kinds of boundaries I probably (should) have. Also, I hear the metaphors are great… ūüėČ

      1. ¬†@Shanna Mann Definitely! I think metaphors are awesome learning/teaching tools, both because they’re fun and because they make abstract ideas concrete. I’m not so good at coming up with them, but I love hearing them!

        1. ¬†@remadebyhand I’m definitely learning new phrases around here. “An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove”, “gaslighting”, and more. Can we all just agree that Shanna’s use of the English language is cool, fun, and educational?

        2. ¬†@joeyjoejoe¬†¬†@remadebyhand¬†I’m actually flabbergasted to hear you say that; since my brain injury I’ve been most¬†displeased with my skill with words. Thanks!

        3. ¬†@Shanna Mann No way, Shanna, I love your writing. I realize I don’t actually know you, but from what I can tell, the you who is writing comes across really well in your posts. Always informative, nicely written, no BS, makes me think. Really ūüôā

        4.  @Shanna Mann YehBUT ~~~
          That was 7 years ago, and you were only in high-school. You’ve gotten a whole lot more of Life under your hat since then, and your writing has steadily improved!
          Your auto-didact function didn’t turn off, yaknow! ūüėČ

  2. Lookee what I just found, over at Fishing Buddha (thanks for that inadvertent connection, Erin!):
    Shanna, meet Amit. Amit’s been here already, this morning, ‘cuz I told him about this post sometime in the middle of the night ūüėȬ†
    Kharmin the inveterate connector
    (Ooops, I go by Karen, here, don’t I?)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *