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Protect yourself from people who offer ‘helpful’ criticism and invade your emotional or physical space. Here's how to set boundaries.

The best way to get your needs met is to be very specific and clear about what you want others to do and say and to put firm boundaries in place to make sure you are treated with respect. Without sufficient boundaries, you have no chance of fulfilling your needs permanently.

The first step is to realise that whenever someone crosses one of your boundaries, you’ve allowed him or her to do so. If you want the behaviour to change, you need to let that person know about it. The following four-step communication model that comes from my book The Secret Laws of Attraction (McGraw-Hill Publishers) shows how to stop the irritating or undesirable behaviour in a graceful and effective manner.

1. Inform: For example, “Do you realise that you are yelling?” Or, “Do you realise that comment hurt me?” Or, “I didn’t ask for your feedback.” If the person continues with the unwanted behaviour, take it to step 2, but only after you’ve tried step 1.

2. Request: Ask the person to stop. For example, “I ask that you stop yelling at me now.” Or, “I ask that you only give me constructive feedback.” If he or she still doesn’t get it and the behaviour continues, try step 3.

3. Demand or insist: “I insist that you stop yelling at me now.” If he or she still persists, take it to the next step.

4. Leave (without any snappy comebacks or remarks): “I can’t continue this conversation while you are yelling at me. I am going to leave the room.”

The key to success with these four steps is to say them in a neutral tone of voice. Do not raise or lower the volume of your voice. You know when you’ve got a little fire or judgement in your tone. Remember, you are informing the other person, so keep it calm. Think of going through the four steps in the same way you’d say, “The sky is blue.”

Be gracious

People often make the mistake – especially women, since we have been raised to think we are being nice by not addressing something on the spot – of letting an infraction pass the first time. You might think. “Oh, this is just the first time,” or, “It’s just a small thing, so I won’t make a fuss.” In fact, this is precisely the time to inform. You might say, “This is our first appointment, so you had no way of knowing how important punctuality is to me.” Or more simply, “I’d appreciate it if you show up on time.” If you address the behaviour immediately it is easier to do it in a neutral tone of voice without anger, resentment, or judgement. It is when we wait that all the anger builds and gets in the way of our ability to enjoy the relationship.

People treat you the way they do because you have allowed them to do so, and you must take responsibility for how you have trained and educated people. Make it easy on yourself and give others, especially the ones you love, a chance to change their behaviour. Inform and request a couple of times with friends and family before you move on to demand and insist.

Set standards

The flip side of boundaries is standards, the conduct we hold ourselves to. It isn’t appropriate to have the boundary, “You can’t yell at me” if you are yelling at others. Expanding your boundaries may have the benefit that you will also need to raise your own personal standard of conduct.

One client of mine was very demanding of her boyfriends and had a very hot temper. She used to yell at her boyfriends and expected them to put up with her bad behaviour. Finally, one boyfriend had strong enough boundaries and said it wasn’t OK for her to yell at him for any reason. He wouldn’t be in a relationship with anyone who treated him so badly. If she raised her voice, he immediately informed her in a gentle but firm tone. She got the message, respected him for it, and learned how to control her temper. His boundary required her to raise her own standard of conduct. She is no longer with this man for other reasons, but she is grateful for the lessons she learned from him.

Setting bigger boundaries is a stretch, but well worth the effort because of the rich reward: people will respect you. We respect people who have big boundaries and we do not respect those who don’t. Indeed, we are often tempted to abuse those without boundaries. Perhaps it is part of the survival of the fittest concept – animals casting out the weak and sick so the stronger members can thrive. Like animals, we can sense boundaries immediately. This is good news. Often the moment you install a new boundary, such as, “People can’t criticise me,” you’ll either be tested right away or no one will criticise you. People instinctively sense your new boundaries and don’t go there. It is a powerful new aura that you’ll be projecting.

Stay safe

I am often asked, “Don’t boundaries keep people at a distance and shut them out?” Here we must make an important distinction. Boundaries are permeable and allow us to let the ‘good guy’ over the moat and into the castle. It is walls that keep everyone out. If you don’t have sufficient boundaries, you’ll get burned and will eventually put up walls to protect yourself.

Boundaries enable us to really open up and be intimate because we feel safe. The bigger your boundaries, the safer and more relaxed you’ll feel and the easier it will be to deeply connect with other people. This is especially true in love relationships. It is essential to have clearly defined boundaries with your partner and your loved ones.

A boundary is something that no one may do to you or around you. You can make up and have any boundaries you wish. The bigger they are, the better. Here are some basic and typical examples to get you started:
• People can’t hit me.
• People can’t yell at me.
• People can’t give me unsolicited criticism.
• People can’t argue or fight in my presence.
• People can’t be crabby or grumpy around me.
• People can’t interrupt me.
• People can’t make rude or derogatory remarks or jokes about me or those around me.
• People can’t gossip around me.
• People can’t take advantage of me in any way.
• People can’t make racial jokes in my presence.
• People can’t waste my time.
• People can’t use my things without my permission.
• People can’t lie to me.
• People can’t use foul language in my presence.
• People can’t be mean to me.
• People can’t smoke in my home or around me.
• People can’t say things to me that make me feel stupid.
• People can’t belittle me or dismiss my remarks or opinions.
• People can’t give me work they should do themselves.
• People can’t snap at me.
• People can’t take out on me feelings/issues that they have with other people.
You can choose any boundaries you like from this list and then add your own. Now, tke a moment to write down the 10 key boundaries you want in your life!

Talane Miedaner is a Master Certified Coach of the International Coach Federation and the owner and founder of www.LifeCoach.com; she is also the author of The Secret Laws of Attraction (McGraw-Hill Publishers), available at all good bookstores, from which this extract is reproduced with permission. Visit Talane at http://www.secretlawsofattraction.com/.