Types of Boundary Violations - and healthy boundaries

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sKePTiKal:
Recognizing Boundary Issues

Individuals with boundary issues will create problems for you or conflict with the project team. Recognizing these boundary issues is the first step toward managing them to prevent conflict. What follows are six different types of boundary issues and how project managers can recognize them.

1. Being Too Responsible for Others

This plays out in the project environment by a very responsible team member stepping in to help another or just pitching in on things that no one else seems to be handling. What seems like a positive thing can actually become a negative one. The responsible team member usually has the best of intentions. But soon, they may become resentful because they are the only one staying late to proof read, type up scripts, fix code, or whatever else needs to be done.

Project managers might recognize this behavior when they hear, “there was no one else that could do it”, or, “if I didn’t do it, no one would have”. The responsible individual can only keep this up so long before they become angry and resentful.

I had a developer working for me named Jeremy who was fast and efficient. He was a great technical leader because he understood the big picture and where the gaps were. He often pitched in beyond his areas of responsibility because if he didn’t, he knew things wouldn’t get done. Jeremy spent his normal work day helping his co-workers and his evenings and early mornings doing his own work or answering calls from end users. At one point, he was working 80-100 hours a week. He was totally burned out and eventually he abruptly quit the company. Jeremy’s helpfulness and responsibility become a liability when he could not set boundaries.

2. Taking the Moods & Feelings of Others

Have you ever heard anyone say that they "were in a good mood until you ruined it"? They are implying that they are powerless to control their own moods and that somehow you have power over how they feel. Some individuals with boundary issues take on the moods and feelings of others. Their lack of boundaries prevents them from seeing themselves as distinct and separate from others.

A variation of this is when they are nice to others out of fear of how the other will respond. They might “walk on eggshells” around others.

Taken to an extreme, they may also become so bothered by the moods and feelings of others that they try to "fix" the other so that they can feel better. They may take care of others, or try to make the other feel OK so that they can be OK. They may do all kinds of actions to cheer up or calm down another so that they can feel better.

I remember well a guy named Don who I worked with early in my career. Don was known to be a hothead so everyone pretty much avoided him or walked on eggshells around him. I can remember doing that myself until one day when I needed something from him and I knew he would blow up if I discussed it. I went ahead with my request anyway and, true to form, he exploded. I remained calm and simply stayed the course and got what I wanted. From that small interaction, I learned that I should not let the moods of others prevent me from asking for what I needed.

3. Pleasing Others & Being a Victim

Those with boundary issues will often sacrifice themselves to please others. They forego their own choices or needs. Some individuals will go along with a choice they did not want (and may even hate) just to fit in and please others or not rock the boat.

Pleasing others can be taken to the extreme of becoming a victim. Individuals with boundary issues often find that they go along with things to please others and they end up resenting others and feeling victimized. The reality is that they allow others to take advantage of them.

4. Saying Yes

A variation of pleasing others is when people say yes when they really should say no. They give of their time, energy, or talents in order to be liked or valued, or out of fear of reprisal from saying no.

Many times these individuals say yes and then later resent it. They stay late to work on a last minute project for the boss or come in on a Saturday and then resent the boss or others who didn’t do the same. They may quietly sabotage the effort or become passive aggressive and not follow through even though they said they would.

Project managers should be on the alert for team members who cannot say no; otherwise, the resentment will be directed at the PM. “I really had no choice” or “she made me do it” might be the anthem of this group.

5. Difficulty Expressing Wants and Needs

Individuals with boundary issues often are unable to express their own wants and needs. They either are totally unaware of what they want or need, or they are afraid to ask for it. They may believe that asking for what they want is selfish. Ironically, though they will not express what they want and need, they often mistakenly believe others should anticipate those unstated wants and needs and fulfill them. They expect others to read their minds.

Some people do favors for others, hoping that the others will “get the hint” and do the same for them in return. For example, they might take the other out to lunch for their birthday, expecting the same in return, without telling the other of their expectation. They are giving with a price tag; with an unstated expectation. They do this because they are uncomfortable or unwilling to ask for what they want.

Project managers may recognize these unstated expectations when they hear “he should have known” or “anyone could have seen”. In those cases, we need to encourage team members to ask directly for what it is that they want or need.

I once had a team lead working for me who could not express his needs. He was unpredictable and would often fly into a rage about some injustice done to him. He was keeping some type of score and only he could see the full extent of the wrongs that were done to him. It was all about his inability to ask for what he wanted or needed from others.

6. Overstepping Boundaries

This type of boundary issue results in one person overstepping the boundaries of another. Some individuals may ask for or manipulate to get others to do their work for them, may violate personal boundaries, or take unfair advantage of others.

A great example of this from the movies is Bob Wiley, from “What About Bob?” Bob was a psychiatric patient that was emotionally attached to his psychiatrist. He tracked his psychiatrist down on vacation and then would not leave him alone, violating doctor-patient boundaries and personal boundaries.

In the project context, this might look like a project manager calling a team member at home on a weekend, demanding excessive overtime or other unpaid work, invading a team member’s personal life, or being verbally abusive.

Overstepping involves two people. One person oversteps and the other allows it to happen by not setting limits or consequences. People may be prone to do one or the other. Project managers should be careful to not do either.

If someone oversteps our boundaries, we need to set limits and consequences. As an example, if your manager or a project sponsor is prone to verbal abuse, you might say “if you yell at me again, I am going to report it to HR.”

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I think I am prone to ALL these, depending on the circumstances.... and this on-going issue with my emotional boundaries is responsible for one of my PTSD symptoms - lack of a feeling of safety. It's come up again in this phase of re-integration with the feelings that were split off... as if there is a wide-open door to all those emotions... and anything/everything is emotional.

I am trying to deal with these emotions DIFFERENTLY - use different coping skills - than smoking, withdrawing, etc.

sKePTiKal:
How Project Managers can Establish Healthy Boundaries

Project managers need to lead by establishing healthy emotional boundaries in the project environment. Here are some ways that we can respect our own emotional boundaries as well as the boundaries of others.

1. Assess and Improve Your Own Boundaries

Project Managers can use this mini-quiz to evaluate areas where they may have boundary issues. A yes response to any of these indicates an area where you can improve your boundaries.


Does it make you so uncomfortable when others are angry or sad that you do something to cheer them up or put them in a good mood?
Do you do things to please others even when it means sacrificing yourself?
Do you walk on eggshells around others either at home or at work?
Do you say yes to requests for time, money, energy or other things that you really should say no to, out of fear that you won’t be liked, valued, or needed?
Do you find it difficult to ask directly for what you want?
Do you feel afraid, guilty, or selfish when you say no?
Do you feel responsible for people or things that are outside your control?
Do you often feel there are things that you should do or should be doing?
Do you ever feel pressured or manipulated into saying yes only to regret and resent it later?
Do you do favors to others, hoping they will do the same for you, so that you don’t have to ask directly for what you want?

2. Respond Appropriately to Others

How we respond to the emotions of others is a key part of emotional self-management. While we want to be empathetic to others, we need to be careful not to become "hooked in" to the emotions they are experiencing. We need to choose our responses carefully.

For example, we can often diffuse the anger of others by remaining calm and steadfast. We don't need match the anger of the other person. Instead, we can remain centered and objective to help them to deal with their own feelings. We can respond with something like “that sounds tough” or, “I can see you are really frustrated.”

3. Take Responsibility for Our Own Emotions

Taking responsibility for our own feelings is a basic tenet of emotional intelligence. Others don’t cause us to feel a certain way. We need to recognize that we have a choice about how we feel.

This could be as simple as saying "I feel angry when you come late to the weekly status meeting,” instead of "you made me angry." That is the difference between being responsible for our feelings and being a victim of others.

4. Let Others Have their Reaction

The flip-side of our responsibility for our own emotions is to let others be responsible for their feelings. We cannot control others. Often we need to simply let them have their reaction to our words or actions.

This can be tricky for project managers. We want to be empathetic toward others. We want to understand the impact of our actions, emotions, and decisions on our teams. But we should not necessarily change just because someone is going to get angry or sad. We need to let them have their reaction.

I recall an incident a few years ago where I had a team member who thought he should be promoted to team lead. I remember the angst that I felt since I knew he wasn't the best person for the job. I put off announcing the decision because I knew he would be angry if I didn’t pick him. Afraid of his reaction, I didn’t announce it for nearly a month. I lacked the courage to simply let that individual have their reaction to the decision.

If you can learn to let others have their reaction to what you say and do, you will free yourself. If you don’t, you will be at the mercy of other people's emotions. You will be continually looking outside yourself for validation and playing it safe. Others will pick up on your lack of courage and may use it against you.

5. Ask Directly For What You Want

One way to improve our emotional communications and keep clear boundaries is to ask directly for what you want. A technique that has been helpful to me is to tell the other person how their actions affected me and to ask directly for what I want from them in the future. There are four distinct parts to this communication and they look like this:
"when you do... __________" (some behavior or action),
"I feel..._________" (an emotion, such as sad or angry)
"because...____________" (the reason)
"I want...______________" (here is what I want in the future).

This may seem stiff or awkward at first but communicating in this way can help us to clearly articulate what it is we need from others.

6. Get Support

Whether you are dealing with a boundary issue of your own or supporting a team member, you may want to get some help. Seek out the support of your manager, a mentor, or the HR group in your company. You might also find it helpful to see a coach or take a course in emotional intelligence....

EDIT from Amber: ... or a VESMB member!  :D

sKePTiKal:
I do not need to feel any shame, humiliation, anger, or sadness at the NEED to set a boundary.

I NEED boundaries to be my OWN SELF, and it is not "bad" to do this. If other people have emotional reactions to my boundaries - it is not my problem and I don't need to do anything about it. I can't please 'em all.

It is my RIGHT as a human being to determine "who I am" - and if I choose to not be limited by events and abuse in my past - I am free to do so.

It is my right to choose as I please - without self-abuse, self-sabotage, and self-denial from my unconscious self, who may still be hurting and HEALING. I will of course, try my best, to not make my unconscious self miserable or intolerably overwhelmed by "too much, too fast". I will ALWAYS protect my unconscious self from triggered emotions... and old habits of abusive lack of self-worth. I do need some boundaries between my unconscious self - and those old emotions - and my nascent "whole" self.

We can't always get what we want; but sometimes we get what we need.

sKePTiKal:
AHa!

And sometimes, we need boundaries WITH ourselves. Conscious choices and decisions about our behavior. Eating broccoli instead of french fries...

... when we're not allowed boundaries for ourselves from other people, we never learn to set boundaries WITH ourselves.

Bingo... as Hops would say.

sKePTiKal:
And boundaries aren't seamless, continuous walls... they need to have "points of entry" where certain safe, trusted people are allowed "in"...

otherwise it gets pretty lonely, being "safe"... and one is tempted to let all the boundaries crumble... just to have some company.

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