Personal Boundaries

Quick story…

Today at work, we were installing a roof.  Mid morning, Tim  barked at me, “Throw me a tape measure!” 

(Keep in mind, I am the boss).

I looked at Tim and said, “What’s the magic word?”


I turned to look at Jason (another crew member) on the ground who was smirking and rolling his eyes at the exchange.

“If the people who work at McDonald’s can say please and thank you, so can we.”  😉   Just because some construction crews can’t talk nice to each other, doesn’t mean this one won’t!”

I said all of this in a light-hearted fashion, but meant every word of it.

Tim started working for me a month ago.  On his last job he was a foreman so he is used to ordering people around.

The second week with me, he decided to tag me with the nick name “Smiley.”   Two weeks later, he was using it several times a day, and I told my wife one evening I was going to have to say something, because it wasn’t just the name, but how he said it.  I felt like he was mocking me.   I could feel a low-grade anger starting to build.  Well before I could have that conversation,  Tim said “Hey Smiley” one too many times.  We did have a conversation.  It lasted about 15 seconds, and he is no longer calling me “smiley”.

What I have been doing in all of this is establishing boundaries. Boundaries as in what I will and will not tolerate in how someone treats me.  This is all relatively new territory for me as a person.  Until  10 years ago, I would never have had either one of those interactions with Tim.

I was a people pleaser.

People pleaser: The intense need to please other people that is usually deeply rooted in a fear of rejection.

What happened?

I raised four kids into adulthood.

Does it still happen? (People pleasing.)

Sure, but not to the same degree.


Talking to my wife about this topic I observed personality types definitely come into play here.  I know a guy who serves on his city counsel.  He doesn’t care if the whole town is against him on an issue.  It’s not even on his radar.  His battles are in other areas.

I shared the following quote on Facebook recently:

Boundary issues. Some of us have people in our lives who  do not respect our boundaries. They talk down to us, treat us with disrespect, there are dozens of ways this can play itself out. You may even be related to them…

I’ve mentioned boundaries a lot, how important they are, and the necessity of having healthy limits. I didn’t always have an accurate understanding of what healthy boundaries are. That’s the unfortunate result of the way most of us learned to cope as children. If we didn’t see boundaries modeled, chances are we don’t have any, or we put up walls instead.
Boundaries are limits or boarders that outline a person’s ownership and responsibility. Imagine a garden full of vegetables and flowers. The gardener works on her flower and vegetable beds- planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting. As she labors, visitors stop by. Some are welcome; some are unwelcome. The welcome visitors respect the garden bed – they’re careful not to tread on plants, they ask relevant questions about the flowers and vegetables, they may even identify and pull out a weed or two while they chat. The unwelcome visitors are careless about where they step; they pluck flowers without asking; they point out that the tomatoes look small.
To keep the unwelcome visitors out of the garden, the gardener needs a fence, a boundary. The fence needs a gate to let in the welcome visitors, and the gate needs to have a lock on the inside to keep out those who do not respect the garden and the crops. Notice that the gardener doesn’t build a wall. Unwelcome visitors may stop by and look at the flowers and vegetables, but the boundaries keep the beds from being trampled and the flowers from being taken. The gardener decides who can join her in the garden, who must stay outside, and whom to share her flowers and vegetables with. With the boundary, her space is protected and she’s in control of it. As she shares and chats with her welcome visitors, they both benefit.


Thoughts, comments, questions?

Do you have any difficult people in your life that violate your boundaries  on occasion?  What does that look like? DM

fencebuilding7-16-2010 001

Picture of me setting another kind of boundary.



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11 Responses to Personal Boundaries

  1. Boundaries. Here in the UK to break them is tantamount to job suicide as there are at least 10 cheaper to employ migrant workers just itching to replace you.

    Bosses know this and some revel in that knowledge.
    Boundaries and the setting and resetting of them are getting to be a tool of aggressive control.

    It’s seldom about respect for and from the workforce, now it’s fear at losing your job.
    That’s led to a culture of mistrust.
    For the most part no one thinks about job security or employer loyalty anymore.
    Thus with a loss of trust there is a lessening of respect or employer loyalty.
    After all what’s the point in kowtowing to a boss when he could lay you off any day for any reason confident that by the end of play, he’ll have agencies smashing his door down with cheaper probably better qualified, more subservient workers.

    AS for experience of that?
    A boss man tried that on me, the “Call me Sir as I’m in charge”.
    Sniveling little weasel he was too.
    I told him that his title was Mister at best and that respect is earned.
    Then I walked out the door.
    7 years into a job which should have seen me to retirement.
    Did I regret it? Hell yes, but only till I started a new job just 48 hours later.
    Sounds like a pressure cooker environment to work in…and I completely agree with you…respect is an earned thing. Good to hear from you. DM

  2. emjayandthem says:

    I loved this, DM. I’ve had to work hard at boundary setting, especially as a woman. It’s taken time and, with some people, repeated efforts to educate them. I have tried the “treat others as you wish to be treated” approach but it doesn’t always work. Bullies are bullies and they’ll see that politeness as weakness.

    I recently had to go a round with someone I work with – he’s dismissive and rude, often makes snide comments and remarks – I called him out on all of his nonsense – and by the end of the conversation he was crying … sniveling and crying and telling me how much he valued me. Really? I asked “You sure have a funny way of showing it.” It was exhausting to do it but, in the end, our rapport is a smidge better now. Either that or he’s afraid of little old me. Whatever, don’t care, and not going to continue to be disrespected and dismissed.

    Great post!
    Thanks MJ! It is exhausting work to have those kind of conversations and having to deal with a couple of bullies myself in the past 5 years, I know what you mean…kindness does not seem to work on them in the same way a firm rebuke. DM

  3. I’ve been working on boundary issues ever since I was a child and mine were violated in a number of ways. If you don’t learn boundary setting as a child, it’s a lifelong quest. But thankfully I have learned something…no one makes snide remarks, no one is sending their children to my house uninvited so mom can have peace, no one is borrowing garden tools and not returning them, no one is calling me and talking for hours unless I allow it, and no employer will ever talk down to me again, partly because I’m self-employed and co-owner of a business with my husband who doesn’t talk down to me. However….the neighbors four dogs bark at me constantly at the fence when I’m working in the garden. I have found no way to stop them. We tried to talk to the owner but his hostile response was, “It’s the country.” I got a migraine over the confrontation. So, obviously I still have work to do on boundary setting…not only with the neighbor, but with the dogs.
    Martha, 4 barking dogs and an unsympathetic neighbor..I don’t know what to tell you on that one. Sounds like you’ve made some hard won progress in the area of boundaries yourself. Thanks for your comment! DM

  4. micey says:

    I’m slowly replacing my wall with a fence. I like this a lot. I like what this post has taught me. I like you and I like your lovely wife. Thanks for being my friend! 🙂
    Michelle, Thank you for your kind words and for coming to visit us earlier this Fall! I will pass your greetings on to Mrs DM.

  5. You seem to always have great timing with what is going on in our life. I too have been working on boundaries. I need to be better at setting the standards and keeping to them. I too am a people pleaser and it is exhausting work if I let it become that. I have some difficult decisions ahead and just need to make the best for me as a person as well as our family. And it might mean I need to take some me time doing something I love.
    Nicole, I know you are a reader…if you haven’t read it already, a great book on this whole area of life is called “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. DM

  6. shoreacres says:

    That book by Cloud is a good one.

    There have been times in my life when I would have been much better off had I been able to walk away from toxic situations or relationships. I often think, “If I’d been the person then that I am now, that never would have happened.” Of course, the truth is that all of “those” experiences also helped to shape me into who I am, so that’s at least some kind of positive.

    It is interesting to me that we almost always think of boundary setting as a way of keeping someone from impinging on our territory. But there’s another kind of boundary, equally important — the ones we set for ourselves, to keep ourselves under control. I see this with social media all the time. It seems as though social media has become the land with no boundaries. Even reading Twitter, I’ll find myself occasionally jumping to add a comment or observation that really doesn’t need to be there. In those cases, I have to take myself firmly in hand, and remind myself that getting pulled into a nasty and inevitably useless exchange just isn’t worth it — and I stay in my own yard, behind the fence I put up!
    You’ve read the Boundary book too. Awesome! thanks for stopping by. Wishing you a Merry Christmas Linda! DM

  7. shoreacres says:

    Oh — and then there’s this, from the 38th chapter of Job:

    “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
    while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

    “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
    when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
    when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
    when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?”

    Shoot. If boundary-setting’s good enough for God, I guess it ought to be good enough for us. 🙂
    Now that was deep! 😉 (and you are so right about God having boundaries…wife said the same thing to me this morning…not in relationship to this passage from Job, but as she continues to read the book Boundaries herself. DM

  8. Great post. This is so very true, and it really need to be established early otherwise people seem to think they can keep pushing it! I have patients who cross boundaries regularly and I found that retreating back to pure professionalism without being cold often put them back in their place.
    Thanks Tiffany! I’m still learning this boundary thing 😉 thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. DM

  9. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Sad to say, but just as ShoreAcres said, being forced into places we don’t want to go are part of life’s up and downs. How else can we appreciate the good times if we have no experience of the bad?
    On pushing back, as Newton said, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
    The more the potter works the clay; shaping and reshaping to compress and align its molecules, the stronger the finished piece will be; )

  10. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Ugh, setting boundaries. I love the fence versus a wall analogy.

    As shoreacres stated, our past experiences help shape who we are today.
    My ex-husband doesn’t understand boundaries. I was once a “people pleaser”, and avoided conflict at all costs. At least now I have a better understanding of my personal boundaries, and the courage to stand up for myself. Anger can be a positive emotion – if it causes us to act.

    I am grateful for the relationship I had and currently have with my ex – it made me a stronger person.

  11. brittany220 says:

    Yeah I’m working on getting better at setting boundaries too and addressing conflict earlier than later. So this was a helpful post for me to read! Like you said it usually doesn’t take very long to have a conversation with that person, and if it stops the behavior it stops you a lot of unnecessary stress/ annoyed feelings. Glad to read one of your experiences on this!
    Good to hear from you Brittany, Glad you are on the rebound! DM

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