There are two helpful questions to ask oneself in the development of boundaries. The first involves asking yourself what you need to find safety and serenity. The second involves asking yourself what kind of person you want to be.
The question, “what kind of a person do you want to be?” is referenced in boundary literature. “I am a person who_____.” The answer could be “I am a person who deserves to be treated well.” “I am a person who is worth having a marriage of fidelity.” These questions give your boundaries direction. If that statement is truth, then what do you need to implement to create that? If you are a person who deserves to be treated well, what do you do to create that if you cannot control other people? If you deserve a marriage of fidelity but you do not have it, what do you do to stand in the space of deserving that?
This brings us to another wonderful process in the development of boundaries that I love to use as I work with people (I can’t accept credit for the concept, but I don’t remember where it came from). “Spitballing” is my name for it, from the Mission Impossible movie where they’re trying to figure out what to do and Simon Pegg’s character says “I’m just spitballing, it’s not all going to be gold!” The idea is that it is very common to get stuck trying to figure out what to do. You literally can’t see options because your brain has shut down and is in trauma. (Therefore, another person is very helpful in this process).
To begin, you begin by finding the extreme options to handle the situation. The extreme options are always way further than you’d ever go, and are clearly unbalanced for the situation. Once you have those extremes then you can see to begin to fill in dozens of options in between. So for example the extreme options I often offer others include: do nothing on one hand, and killing someone on the other. This usually produces a laugh and then we get down to business—finding myriad options in the balanced middle ground, one (or a few) of which usually feels good.
For those still struggling, let’s consider the truths above and walk them through a boundary setting scenario:
“I’m a person who deserves to be treated well.” What do I do then if I’m in a situation where I am being treated poorly? First your extremes: allow yourself to be walked on, or kill the person treating you poorly (haha). Clearly these are actually two options I have (so now I know I do have options), but I don’t want to do either. So what are some middle ground balanced options? I can leave the situation. I can stop the person speaking poorly to me with a phrase such as (I credit a good friend for this one), “I’m not accepting commentary on that,” or a version of this phrase I helped someone develop, “I’m willing to accept/consider commentary on my life that is delivered kindly.” Another option is to leave the relationship (if it’s with the checker at Wal-Mart this may be a decently viable option—you don’t ever have to see them again). There are dozens of others we could come up with as we “spitball.” One will feel like a good option and I can start there.
“I’m a person that deserves to live in a relationship of fidelity.” So what options do I have if this isn’t the case in my life and I can’t control whether someone else chooses to be loyal? Extremes: I can allow no fidelity, or I can kill the person I’m in the relationship with. Again, both are options I could choose, but may not choose based on the consequences (I’m not a fan of being in prison). So what are more balanced options? I can divorce immediately. I can choose to only be in a relationship with someone in recovery from sexual addiction (so if they choose not to recover, then I pursue further action). I can choose to allow certain actions that may be more acceptable than divorce—pornography or masturbation. I can choose to separate and gather more information about what my partner plans to choose in the future. That separation can be in-home, in-neighborhood, or across country (more choices). I can choose to ask my partner to leave, or to leave myself (if I ask my partner to leave and they say no, that is also helpful information for me in terms of where they are in our relationship). Again, we could come up with many more options, and one will feel like a good place to start.