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15 September 2020

Creating Boundaries-Interview with Michelle Zelli

Jairek Robbins

Michelle Zelli came from an abusive background and suffered until about 20 years ago when her own personal development journey started. While working with one of her coaches, she learned about boundaries and up until that time, she didn’t even know what boundaries were! Today, she speaks and coaches about the importance of having boundaries.

Can’t Watch? No Problem. Below we cover the highlights of her discussion with Jairek Robbins on this topic.

Q: What are boundaries?

While I cannot remember the definition I was given 20 years ago, it is important to note that I practice having boundaries. Boundaries are like a muscle, you’ve got to use it if you want it to grow strong.

To me, boundaries are how we show up to the world and how we want our needs, our wants and our beliefs to be met by other people and the world at large. 

An example I like to use is that we keep our side of the street clean using boundaries, and if somebody is on the other side chucking junk into our side of the street, we go out with our tools to put a stop to that. 

Q: How do you know you have healthy boundaries in your life?

If your life is full of drama, if you are resentful, if you say yes when you mean no, if you are scared of how saying no will impact your relationship with the other person, then you don’t have healthy boundaries. Boundaries are key to having healthy, functional relationships with the people around us.

Related: TIME: How It Can Completely Rock or Ruin Your Business and Relationships

Q: What types of boundaries exist?

Let me split these into two. The first category are the boundaries around the life you live. These include things like sexual boundaries, relational boundaries, physical boundaries, financial boundaries, promotional boundaries, and so on.

Regarding the types of boundaries, there are rigid boundaries, soft boundaries and there are flexible boundaries. There could be a few others, but I will just stay with those three. 

When somebody has rigid boundaries, chances are they push people away. If they have soft boundaries, they are like a doormat and let people do whatever they want with them. Such people can get resentful, but as long as they don’t take responsibility for what is happening, then they will remain with soft boundaries.

At the other end of the spectrum is the diva personality that rigidly enforces their boundaries (it’s either my way or the highway) but then they don’t respect the boundaries of others. 

We want to be at a flexible 5 or 6 out of 10, and that’s called a flexible boundary. Here, you know what you want, you know what you need and you show up in the world with these clear in your mind. You also know what your deal breakers are, but the problem is that a lot of people don’t even know how they feel about different situations. That is where one has to go back to the basics and learn who they are and what they stand for.

Q: What should boundaries feel like?

Rather than set boundaries when we are angry or pissed off, we should set boundaries while we are calm, respectful and honest so that the boundaries reflect those attributes. 

Q: What tips can help one set their boundaries?

First, figure out how you feel about something. For example, if you feel ashamed, it probably means that you crossed your own boundary.

Be curious and get specific about why you are feeling the way you are. Usually, you are angry because your needs aren’t being met, so start by identifying the specific need that isn’t being met, and how you want it met. Get the need met by communicating kindly, calmly and respectfully.

As you examine how you feel, don’t judge yourself because this will block honest inquiry into what’s going on.

Don’t expect to be brilliant at setting and maintaining boundaries. Rehearse them and keep fine-tuning. You may be required to compromise at some point or even pivot, but maintain the general course you have set.

Pay attention to tonality while communicating your boundaries. For example, don’t sound irritated or commanding while telling your spouse to pick up their socks. Instead, speak politely and let them know it would mean a lot to you if they picked up their socks so that the space is tidy and organized.

Q: Why are boundaries within a family setting so hard to implement?

True, boundaries within a family setting can be so challenging because there is a kind of blueprint that you have grown up with (this is how we operate around here). However, you have to be kind, calm and reasonable while insisting that the personal boundaries have to be respected regardless.

Q: Talk about internal boundaries?

I have coached tens of thousands of people, and in that time, I am yet to find someone who is good at maintaining external boundaries while being poor at internal or self-boundaries.

So, the first thing that we need to do is show up for ourselves by setting internal boundaries. How much can I spend on a night out? What is the maximum amount of money I can lend a friend? Who can I lend my car and under what conditions? How much time do I allow myself to entertain negative thoughts? 

Ultimately, internal boundaries are about self-discipline. You are showing up with integrity for yourself. For example, many people make sure they keep their promises to others, but they forget to keep their own promises to themselves. That’s not self-discipline.

Q: Where does one start on the journey to having boundaries?

That’s hard to say, because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. However, a good place to start would be to find out what aspects of your life you are resentful or angry about, especially with yourself. 

Start interrogating why you feel that way and identify what boundaries you can establish in order to turn things around. For example, if you feel resentful because you keep accepting to help others and you end up with your own tasks undone, then set boundaries to limit how often you say yes.

Q: How do you set boundaries when your partner is having an affair and you want them back? Won’t the boundaries push them away?

That is a serious dilemma right there. But, a starting point to look at the situation is that the other person hasn’t put in the effort to uphold your boundaries and you now have a big decision to make on whether you will stand up for your values or set them aside and support the values of the other person. 

The fear of losing that person is eroding your self-esteem and your sense of self-confidence, your self-love and self-care. It would be helpful if you reaffirmed your boundaries and decided to take care of yourself, because ultimately, if the person stays and doesn’t respect your boundaries then you will feel a lot worse than if the person were not there.

Q: If a boundary is crossed, should people have a pre-arranged way of how to react or respond to such an “infraction”?

First of all, I recommend putting your cards on the table by letting the other person know what is important to you. Get clear about what the deal-breakers are. Now we talked about flexibility, and there is room for it once you think a boundary has been crossed. For example, it may be okay for you to change a specific boundary in that moment if the circumstances under which it was crossed are understandable.

Q:You mentioned that there’s a lot of videos you’ve put up on YouTube for people to learn about this. Where else can they engage with you?

They can obviously find me on Instagram (@michellezelli). You can also find me on Facebook where I have a personal page and a coaching page. Like the coaching page (Michelle Zelli) and you’ll find lots of stuff you can learn from. 

Q: What are your closing remarks in terms of what people can do to start moving in the right direction on the subject of boundaries?

Right now, what is that one relationship that you feel angry or resentful about in this moment? Pick just one and then get clear on where your needs aren’t being met in that relationship. Thereafter, start to work out how you can put in place some boundaries so that your needs can start being met. Communicate in a kind, honest way with an open body posture so that your message will be well received. Do the same for your internal boundaries and as you get better at respecting your self-boundaries, you will find it easier to implement boundaries in your interactions with others.

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins



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