Boundaries help preserve mental health, but they are poorly understood. A boundary is something YOU will do to protect yourself when someone else enters your no-fly zone. Boundaries create authentic connection and are always executed from a space of wanting to do the most loving thing possible for everyone involved. A boundary is never used to manipulate or to get someone else to change. My mentor, Brooke Castillo, says that they are "for me," but never "against them." Boundaries are not a way to control other people, a method of punishment, or an ultimatum.
We all have at least a few boundaries, whether or not we think of them with that label, and they are important to have in our relationships. One boundary I've decided to set with my family members is that if someone raises their voice, I will leave the room. If necessary, I may even leave the house until the situation cools. If other people are yelling at each other, I don't even communicate this boundary; I just exit when yelling starts. I'm not trying to control others or make them stop yelling, I'm protecting myself. No one else ever has to "honor" my boundary. I honor my boundary.
If someone raises their voice to me, I simply state, "If you yell at me again, I am going to leave until you are able to speak calmly." If the yelling continues, I don't get angry, I just leave. If I am followed, I pick up my keys, get in the car, and run an errand until everyone has had a chance to calm down.
For me, this boundary has been instrumental in increasing love and connection with my family. Here's why:
People mirror each other, and when one person is yelling, usually the other party joins in. Brains go into fight or flight, and all we can do is attack and defend. We cannot access the problem-solving areas of our brains.
It's much easier to keep my thoughts in the loving zone when I am not being screamed at. The more loving thoughts I can think, the more my brain relaxes into the creative space that can solve problems and access compassion.
Exiting the situation stops criticism, contention and contempt in their tracks. When these things are allowed to fester unchecked, they result in disconnection and damaged relationships.
Over time, people learn that yelling goes nowhere with me, and tempers tend to stay more controlled in the first place.
Other examples of boundaries you could set: If you drink tonight, I will take a cab home. After I go to bed, I only respond to my children if there's an emergency. I put my phone on do not disturb while I am sleeping. I don't take personal calls during work hours. I don't answer calls from my boss during family time. If my child spends more than her allowance on the credit card, I turn off the credit card so she no longer has access.
Notice, in each one of these situations, I am the one taking action. I am never controlling others or expecting that they will behave in any particular way.
Examples of things that aren't boundaries: "I want you to consult me before you spend more than $500." This is a request, not a boundary. "If you don't get an 80 on this test, you are grounded." This is a punishment, not a boundary. "If go play basketball with your friends tonight, you can forget having sex for a month." That's a threat, not a boundary.
Think about where implementing boundaries might help you. Where could they increase love and connection? Where could they help you let go of resentment? Where could they increase your health or quality of life? Boundaries, properly set, can be pure magic.