Good Fences – Managing Fence Jumpers

One thing you can be certain of on your journey to better boundary setting…fence jumpers! Some people in your life will decide (and it is a decision) that your boundaries are not real and are not meant for them. Many of these people do not have bad intentions, they are just not yet accustomed to your new skill in declaring what you will and will not do.

Just because they aren’t used to it, doesn’t mean you don’t enforce it. On the contrary, enforcement is even more important. 

First let’s get real. Setting boundaries comes with its fair share of challenges, especially for those new to the practice. Recognizing these challenges and finding ways to overcome them is key to your growth:

  • Guilt and Fear – Feeling guilty or fearing conflict is common when asserting boundaries. Remember that setting boundaries is a healthy act of self-care, and your needs matter. Embrace self-compassion as you navigate these emotions.
  • Negative Reactions – Some people may resist or react negatively when you establish boundaries. Stay firm and consistent, reminding yourself that healthy relationships thrive on mutual respect and understanding.
  • Internal Resistance and Self-Doubt –  It’s natural to question your boundaries or worry about being perceived as selfish. Trust yourself and the importance of your well-being. Surround yourself with supportive individuals who respect and encourage your growth.

Expressing your boundaries to others can feel daunting at first, but it’s a vital step towards establishing healthy dynamics and clear expectations. As a reminder…

Clearly communicate your boundaries. Be specific and use easy to understand language that includes “I” statements without blame or criticism of others. Be willing to have an open dialogue and practice active listening (paraphrase or repeat back what you hear) to ensure mutual understanding and respectful communication. Consider using assertiveness techniques:

  • The “Broken Record” technique is a communication strategy used to assertively express boundaries and reinforce your position. With it, you calmly and consistently repeat your boundary or request, regardless of any attempts to challenge or dismiss it. The goal of the Broken Record technique is to maintain your stance without engaging in arguments or getting sidetracked. Steps include:
    • State your boundary or request clearly and concisely.
    • If the other person challenges or tries to negotiate your boundary, calmly restate your boundary using the same or similar wording.
    • Repeat this process as many times as necessary, remaining calm and composed.
    • Avoid getting drawn into arguments, justifications, or explanations. Stay focused on restating your boundary firmly and respectfully.
  • “Fogging” is an assertiveness technique used in communication to handle criticism, disagreements, or negative feedback in a constructive and non-confrontational manner. It acknowledges the validity of the other person’s perspective without agreeing or becoming defensive. The goal of fogging is to maintain composure, diffuse tension, and avoid escalating conflicts. Here’s how fogging works:
    • Listen attentively to the criticism or negative feedback.
    • Remain calm and composed, avoiding defensive or emotional reactions.
    • Acknowledge the validity of the other person’s perspective by using phrases like:
      • “I can understand why you might feel that way.”
      • “I see your point of view.”
      • “You have a valid concern.”
    • Refrain from engaging in an argument or attempting to prove the other person wrong.
    • Instead of defending or justifying yourself, redirect the focus to finding a solution or common ground.
    • Use a neutral and non-confrontational tone throughout the conversation.
  • “Negative Inquiry” helps us to not assume the other person’s intentions, but instead ask questions to gain insight.
    • Instead of “You are being rude”, try “Help me understand why you said that?” 
    • Instead of “You just want things your way!” try “What do you suggest would be a compromise between what we both need or want?”  never listen to me,” try “Why is my boundary difficult for you to hear?” 

With any and all of these techniques you should also use what is commonly called “The Assertive Pause”. The assertive pause creates a moment of reflection before responding to a situation or statement. It involves recognizing the need for a pause, taking a deep breath, gathering your thoughts, and then speaking…all the while ensuring you maintain an assertive body posture (eye contact, shoulders up, spine straight). 

Remember…these are PRACTICES. Meaning you likely won’t nail them the first time. But as you incorporate them into your boundary setting, you will begin to see that others take you more seriously and that you are able to set, communicate, and maintain the fences you build.

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