It is human nature to want to change other people. Clients frequently come in seeking advice about how to get another person to change. They either complain that their loved one’s behavior has changed for the worse or that they had hoped their behavior WOULD change and it has not. The naïve part of them believed that they could get them to change. If you are faced with this dilemma you have two choices—either you need to accept them exactly as they are, or YOU do the changing yourself.
Reinhold Niebuhr says it best in The Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This saying is a guideline for improving the quality of your relationships with others. Stated simply, we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves. The easiest way to do that is to work on our own personal sense of boundaries.
Boundaries are important. They help you define who you are by setting limits. They help you to determine what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable. You may not be able to control the behavior, but you can control how you handle a situation. It empowers you to teach others what you will tolerate or accept in their behavior. Invariably, when I help people to establish better boundaries they are less affected by others. They handle situations better and feel a greater sense of control.
People come into the office with common problems that require a shift in their boundaries:
- A woman’s boyfriend is dependent on her. She supports him financially and pays for their apartment, their utilities, and all of their meals. She can’t make him get a better job or get him to offer to pay for dinner, but she can tell him that she is no longer going to be his bank and from now on he will be expected to contribute a weekly sum to their apartment and utilities or he will have to leave.
- A parent describes a teen that is disrespectful, sneaks out of the house and takes money from his parents. This parent can set consequences; call the authorities, walk away, stop providing privileges.
- The boss expects you to work 80 hours per week to compensate for the shortage of staff or the increased workload. The employee can discuss with the boss the need for more manpower or request that work be delegated to others. If the requests are ignored, the employee can either begin to go home at the appropriate times and create his own boundaries or look for a new job.
As you can see, the consequences don’t mean that you get the outcome that you want; it just means that you have set guidelines for yourself to be respected.
When people get good at setting healthy boundaries they begin to see that others respond to them with a new sense of respect. Inevitably, when you change your behavior it does change the situation. Healthy boundaries keep you from doing too much or from being mistreated.
What boundaries need adjusting in your life? Do you have a particular situation that causes you great discomfort? Make a list of healthy versus unhealthy behaviors that you need to work on. And then decide how you can change your behavior. The quality of your life depends on it!