Setting Boundaries — A Fresh Look

Photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani / Foter / CC BY


With the holiday season upon us, it’s a good time to revisit this piece on boundaries from the Morsels of Change newsletter. If you’re needing a coaching session to balance your way through the holiday season, please be in touch — I’ll be in the office up until Dec.21 before taking some time off.

Here’s something I’ve noticed about coaching clients who talk about wanting to learn to set better boundaries:

When the conversation heads in this direction, all the energy drains out.

From my vantage point, it seems that the very words “setting boundaries” carry a whole bunch of dread (at least for some people).

And as any good coach knows, when a client starts talking about a goal that they dread, things are going nowhere fast.

So whenever the conversation turns to setting boundaries, I look for the reframe that inspires and excites rather than drains and depletes.


Here are two reframes I’ve found helpful:

1. Rather than concentrating on what boundaries need to go up, I ask what boundaries need to come down.


Imagine someone who always says yes when someone asks for help. This person knows this pattern needs to change for his/her own well-being. He/she says, “I need to set better boundaries!”

Reframe (they type of question I might ask in a coaching conversation): 

What boundary do you have that prevents you from saying no when someone asks for help?

(Often this will be a internal boundary about what the client deserves or how the client treats him/herself (e.g. “I don’t deserve time to relax”)).

I find that reframing the conversation from erecting boundaries to smashing boundaries immediately adds energy and possibility.


2. Instead of talking about relationships governed by rules, I talk about relationships that are designed.

“Setting boundaries” has a tight, rigid feel to it. Making and enforcing rules can take a lot of energy, especially for someone who already feels weak in the boundaries department.

But revisiting the same relationship in terms of “design” brings in fluidity, openness, and empowerment.

In coach training, we talked about “designing alliances” with coaching clients — having honest conversations about what we are both bringing to the relationship, what we need from the relationship, how we want to be with each other in the relationship, and how we will address challenges in the relationship.

The designed alliance idea turns out to be useful in all relationships, not just coach-client alliances.

(You can read more about designed alliances here, on the website of The Coaches Training Institute).


Morsels of Change questions to ponder:

What internal boundaries would you like to smash?

What relationship in your life is calling out for a conscious design?