Have you ever heard a parent say “I’m going to count to three” to their child and there’s an immediate shift away from undesirable behaviour or towards preparing for the desired outcome? In that instance, the child understands that there will be consequences for not stopping whatever it is or that adjusting helps them pay attention or get ready for something they do want. 

But sometimes we count to three or five or ten, and nothing changes, so we count all over again. Rather than create the consequences we said would happen, we give the person more chances to do what we want. Unfortunately, we also create the impression that we are not a person of our word. We’re unclear, so our boundaries (and theirs) aren’t clear either.

We say that being in a mutually fulfilling relationship is essential to us and that we won’t tolerate [whatever they’re doing], and then tolerate it. 

Much of our resistance to creating healthy boundaries and being clear on what does and doesn’t work for us or what is and isn’t permissible is fear of ‘hurting feelings’ and causing conflict. Instead, we hope that people will feel guilty or worried enough to toe the line. Or we keep doing a Boris Johnson and saying that we’re trusting in people to do the right thing. Of course, everyone’s idea of the ‘right thing’ (or common sense, for that matter) or what makes them feel guilty or worried (and how they respond to that) varies significantly. 

What humans love, even if we moan about it or appear to be pissed off, sulking, or whatever initially, is clarity. Humans like to know where they stand. Otherwise, we’ll make it up as we go along and do what suits us. 

And that makes sense given that every last thing we do is about meeting needs. This means that depending on our awareness of them and ourselves, we may or may not have the healthiest or conscientious approach to doing so. 

We have a societal problem with boundaries. Our fear of being disliked, our desire to be popular, wanted, to not be responsible for outcomes if we follow through on who we say we are or on a decision, means that we’re sometimes wishy-washy about our boundaries. We’re constantly counting to three, five or ten, and not realising that we’re not only losing credibility but that we’re breaking our own heart (and sometimes other people’s).

And the truth is, we’re dodging responsibility when we dodge creating boundaries. We’re passing the buck and then getting mad at people for not respecting boundaries we didn’t even want to stand by. 

 We all like to know where we stand. 

Yes, it is often uncomfortable to be absolutely clear, to create consequences that reflect our values and boundaries simply by living these. But on the other side are better relationships, experiences and humans.

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