The Boundaries Expert Needs a Reset

I got the dreaded email this morning. You know the one I mean, right? The one where you hear all about how you dropped the ball, how you’ve let someone down, how disappointed and angry they are with you.


My first reaction was to get defensive, of course. Don’t they know how hard I work? And didn’t I tell them over and over again that I didn’t have the time they needed for this project, but they wouldn’t listen?  

Second reaction…our old friend SHAME. What’s wrong with me? How can I coach other people on time management (or anything) when I can’t even do it myself?

Any of this sound familiar?

Here’s what I know by now, after years of work with shame, resilience and boundaries: When I have that particular reaction of defensiveness that moves quickly into shame, something is up with my boundaries and I need to pay attention.

So I’m going to walk you through my process with this situation using my FOUR PILLARS OF BOUNDARIES:

1) Self-Worth: Do I feel worth it? Do I respect myself? 

When I checked in on this one, it was a resounding yes, absolutely. My self-worth is high enough and I respect myself enough to exit this situation that is so clearly not good for me or the other person involved. 

2) Self-Knowledge: What do I want?  What do I NOT want?

I know I want to let go of this project and transition it to someone else. I do NOT want to take on projects based on guilt or ego. I only want to work with projects and people that align with my values and that I get excited about.

3) Self-Responsibility: What is mine to own?

I knew this wasn’t a good idea, I even named it to the person, and yet I agreed to it anyway. Having named that explicitly does NOT give me a free pass. It was up to me to allow the other person to feel hurt and disappointed on the front end (by me saying no), rather than have it come up repeatedly on the backend (FAR more painful for all involved).

4) Communication: Verbalize and take action

Having gone through the first three steps, I was ready to respond. 

What if I had skipped the first three steps and gone straight into response?  I might have stayed defensive and responded in a way I wasn’t proud of. Or I might have gone into conflict avoidance mode. Going through those first three steps allowed me the space to process what I was experiencing and slow down before responding. 

And here’s how I responded: I acknowledged their anger and disappointment, I apologized for my part, and I let them know what ways I was willing to move forward in our arrangement (either immediate termination of the arrangement, or short term work focused on transition).

Much like in the past, they stated they only wanted to continue working with me–but because I worked through those four pillars, I was prepared to hold my boundary.

I tell this to clients just about every day, and here’s a prime example of it: you will spend so much MORE time and energy avoiding setting boundaries and FAR LESS if you just go ahead and do it.

And I got the message, loud and clear–it’s time for me to not only deal with this particular situation (and I’m so glad I did!), but also take a step back and look at my boundaries in general. 

It’s imperative that we do this periodically; let’s call it a boundaries audit. Where in your life are the boundaries too loose? Too rigid? If there are problem areas, is it worth it to you to address them directly? Or would you rather work towards letting it go? (The third option that is NOT an option is resentment and complaining).

Won’t you join me?