I am a certified holistic relationship coach working with LGBT+ women and our allies, and one topic that shows up for most of my clients is boundaries.
Boundaries are needs focused. They relate to your yes, maybe, and no. They are set and upheld by you, and can relate to physical, mental, emotional areas. They hold us accountable for our own needs, such as setting healthy expectations. Holding your boundaries is a form of self-care.
Rules are outcome focused. They can feel limiting, imposing, punitive, non-negotiable.
Agreements have a collaborative focus. They act like a code of conduct, allow negotiation and re-negotiation, feel spacious, and involve requests.
“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” ~ Prentis Hemphill.
“Boundaries are a prerequisite for compassion and empathy. We can’t connect with someone unless we’re clear about where we end and they begin. If there’s no autonomy between people, then there’s no compassion or empathy, just enmeshment.” ~ Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown.
“Love thrives when boundaries are consciously negotiated and renegotiated in the imperfect and dynamic flow of questions and curiosity and trying again.” ~ Loving Bravely, Alexandra H Solomon.
“Porous Boundaries: connected but not protected.
Rigid Boundaries: protected but not connected.
Healthy Boundaries: connected and protected.”
~ Loving Bravely, by Alexandra H. Solomon.
Some of us have been conditioned to not state our needs, because it doesn’t please others, so we need help practicing them. Useful guidelines include,
- Check in with yourself that it feels psychologically and physically safe to set a boundary
- Make sure you are resourced after setting the boundary, such as have a phone call planned with a trusted friend
- Decide on your intention for setting this boundary. Think about what you would like to feel after setting it (e.g., feel seen), and what you would like the recipient to feel (e.g., feel considered), and combine them to create an intention (e.g., I approach the conversation with compassion)
- Be clear and succinct on what you want or need
- Ensure your actions are aligned with your words
- Decide on how you will uphold the boundary if it is not followed
If you get a negative response to setting a boundary, accept that they are simply processing this new situation. The key part is how they choose to act afterwards. If they uphold your boundary, then that’s fantastic. If they choose to go against it then try again in a slightly different way, because if you set it again in the same way you will likely get the same outcome.
When preparing to set a boundary it can be useful to journal around:
- What is the worst outcome of setting this boundary?
- What is the best outcome?
- Decide which answer above is your driver for setting the boundary
- Explore ways of reminding yourself of this valuable driver
We tend to focus mostly on how to set the boundary and forget to prepare for how to uphold it. Make the “boundary-sustaining” planning as important as the “boundary setting” preparation.
Building boundaries is a great way to develop a sense of personal safety, and safety facilitates connection with others.
Setting and maintaining boundaries is an ongoing journey. Many of us imagine into situations where we expect the worst. For example, setting a boundary will alienate my client and lead to their anger. This may or may not be the case. Can you approach the situation expecting a positive outcome, while also resourcing yourself if their response doesn’t feel comfortable?
There were incidents where my clients tested the terms and conditions of my business, not through malice but either though missing vital information, or being under pressure and forgetting the T&Cs. At times I have initially imagined the worst when re-setting a boundary. But in every situation the client was grateful for me maintaining the boundaries, and even thanked me for my consistency and professionalism. I noticed that those requiring assistance with their boundary work in our coaching container are often the ones that inadvertently push boundaries! This makes it paramount that you do role model your business boundaries.
Confidentiality also comes under this topic. Because I work within minority groups, the community can be insular. At times I have concurrently coached friends or ex-lovers. From the start I instill my values around confidentiality, and do not mention to anyone who my clients are. Even when a client references talking to their friend (who is also a client of mine) about our sessions, I will give an enigmatic smile and wait for them to finish, before moving to a new subject.
Check out the blog on Three Surprising Things Being a Coach Taught Me where I talk about how my coaching has improved my own boundary setting.
As coaches it is paramount we live our life purpose. Our clients seek inspiration from having a coach who is authentic and driven. In order to be the best coach I can, I have to be clear and open on my yes and no in all of my relationships. I also need to know my limits and whether a situation feels safe.
Recently I wanted to educate a family member about a microaggression relating to my sexual orientation. But this was measured against how safe I felt to challenge them. This raised internal incongruence. I knew from their demeanour they had wanted to make a joke about my sexuality, and that it came from their (albeit clunky) journey of acceptance. I felt annoyed at the time but was unable to set a boundary as I knew the response would be that I am oversensitive or making a “thing” of it. Essentially my experience would be gaslit and they would hold their discomfort above my own.
All of this was pitted against the fact I am an inclusion trainer and run courses for the wellness industry. I should be setting boundaries left, right, and center! But I didn’t feel safe. Context is everything. In that moment I knew I had to focus on the family member’s joy at (their perceived) “support” of my sexuality.
Afterwards I had a coaching session and felt a sense of release as the situation was given airtime and a fresh medium in which to be examined. During my session I remembered that it is ok to be perfectly imperfect, and that having misaligned thoughts, feelings and actions makes me human. And this connects me to humanity. I am a big fan of coaches having coaches!
Coaching Questions to Solidify a Boundary
- How will you feel when you uphold your boundary?
- What do you need to maintain your boundary?
- When will you review how well this boundary is working?
- How will you celebrate setting and maintaining this boundary?
- BOOK: Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, by Nedra Glover Tawwab
- COACHING: Want help? Ali offers a Spotlight Coaching Individual Workshop and Coaching on Boundaries for LGBT+ women and allies Spotlight Coaching Sessions – Ali Hendry