Boundaries are a loaded topic for me. Like many INFJs it’s hard for me to say “No” to someone I care about, and I have the tendency to want to look to others to for happiness. It takes work for me to get clear about how far I’m willing to go in some situations and to communicate that to others.
I didn’t learn much about healthy boundaries when I was growing up, so I’ve turned to the experts. What follows is the information I found on how to figure out what’s right for me.
Rights of the Assertive Person
One of our basic rights is the right to say “no” when we don’t want to do something. David Richo in his “Rights of the Assertive Person” from his book How to Be an Adult elaborates further:
Richo’s list of rights:
- To ask for 100% of what you want from 100% of the people in your life, 100% of the time.
- To enjoy emotional and physical safety. No one has the right to hurt you, even if she loves you.
- To change your mind or make mistakes.
- To decide when and whether or not you are responsible for (a) finding solutions to others’ problems or (b) taking care of their needs.
- To say No or Maybe without pressure to decide in accord with someone else’s timing.
- To be illogical in making decisions.
- To have secrets, to decide how much of yourself or your life you choose to reveal.
- To be free to explain your choices or not (includes not having to make excuses or give reasons when you say No).
- To be non-assertive when you see that as appropriate.
- To maintain the same principles, skills and rights of assertiveness with your partner, parents, children or friends.
Visible and Invisible Boundaries
This is a list I’ve extracted from Anne Katherine’s terrific book Boundaries: Where You and I Begin. She describes how she sets boundaries:
- I set my physical boundary by choosing who can touch me and how and where I am touched. I decide how close I’ll let people come to me.
- I set my emotional boundary by choosing how I’ll let people treat me. One way I do this is by setting limits on what people can say to me.
- Healthy, safe expressions of anger by people I’m close to are acceptable. In appropriate anger from an inappropriate person [e.g. strangers] is not.
- Setting emotional boundaries includes deciding what relationships I’ll foster and continue and what people I’ll back away from because I can’t trust them.
Katherine also provides a list of what’s appropriate based on orientation:
- If you’re looking up to a person for guidance, supervision or parenting, you are not his peer. If he’s your dad, minister, therapist, or boss, you are not required to parent or counsel him.
- If you’re looking down to a person because she’s a child, a client, or a subordinate, she is not your peer. She should not be counseling you. And you should not give her inappropriate personal information.
- If you’re looking across to a person, she’s your peer. You support each other. You confide in each other. Giving goes both ways.
- If you’re doing peer things with someone you look up or down to, something’s wrong. A boundary is being crossed.
- If you’re looking down or up at someone who’s a peer, something’s wrong. A wife is not a subordinate. A husband is not a boss.
Exercise: Define Your Boundaries
As you read the lists above you might notice that adhering to them requires lots of decisions. How much do you want to reveal? Is that person a peer or subordinate? It’s helpful to explore your answers ahead of time so that as situations occur you’ve already figured out where your boundary is.
Create a Will/Won’t List – This exercise is designed to identify your boundaries with the people in your life. I use Will/Won’t Lists anytime I find myself struggling with not wanting to hurt someone or feeling like I’m being asked for more than I want to give.
- On a piece of paper or Word document create three columns. At the top of the first column put “Who” and the other two columns are “What I Will Do” and “What I Won’t Do” (see sample below)
- In the “Who” column list the significant people in your life or someone who you’re having difficulty setting boundaries with.
- In the next two columns list what’s ok and what’s not. In the sample below I’ve listed my boundaries for my family and in general.
What I Will Do
What I Won’t Do
| My Family
- Understand and accept that they are different from me
- Be as kind as possible
- Be respectful
- Recognize Xmas and birthdays
- Be kindly honest
- Respond when they reach out to me
- Be submissive
- Feel guilty
- Engage in games
- Respond to disrespectful communications
- Attend family gatherings when I don’t want to
- Tell them what they want to hear just to keep the peace
| Others in General
- Be as honest and straightforward as possible
- Be vulnerable
- Be proud of my coaching career
- Extend myself for others when appropriate and to an appropriate degree
- Be submissive
- Do things I don’t want to do just to be nice
- Give unsolicited advice
- Agree just to be nice
- Be ashamed of things I like (like watching TV)
Exercise: Practice “No” Sandwiches
As INFJs we can have trouble saying “No.” We don’t want to hurt feelings or create disharmony. But in order to observe our boundaries we need to get good at saying no. The No Sandwich is a great way to do it.
The components of a No Sandwich:
[Statement of regret or acknowledgement] [Straightforward No] [Positive follow up]
Statement of regret or acknowledgement – This is an honest, but positive, statement either expressing real regret or an acknowledgement of the other person’s position. A statement of regret can be simply “I’d love to go but …”, “I’d really like to help but…” The key here is, again, honesty. If you say you’d love to go you will be invited again, so don’t say it if you don’t mean it.
If you really don’t feel regret, the first part of your statement can be just an acknowledgement of the other person. Examples are “I appreciate you including me but…” or “I know that this is important to you but…”
Straightforward No – Keep your “no” simple. You don’t need to give a reason (which can imply that negotiation is possible) you just need to say no thanks.
Positive follow up – This is just a respectful and kind statement to cement your “no” and take the sting out of it. They are statements such as ” thanks so much “, “maybe next time” (but only if you mean it), “good luck” or “have fun.”
Here are some examples of a No Sandwhich:
“I love that you want to include me, but I can’t make it. Have a great time, the weather should be beautiful!”
“I can see that you’ve put a lot of thought into this, but I’m going to do it the way I originally planned. I appreciate your effort, though.”
“That looks delicious, but no thanks. How about giving some to Grandpa? He loves cookies.”
“I know that this is important to the school district, but I won’t be able to run the book drive. Why don’t you sign me up to help collect books?”
If you want to include a reason, by all means do, but don’t argue about it if the other person pushes back. Consider a statement of “That looks delicious but I’m watching my weight” as an absolute, and if the other person says “Oh, just one won’t hurt,” smile and move away. You’ve said no.
The truth is, though, that no matter how gentle we are, sometimes people still won’t like our answer, which can be painful for an INFJ. Our desire for harmony and our concern about hurting others can feel overwhelming when we say “no”. However, it’s part of life and being an adult to set limits and accept the fact that others won’t always agree with our decisions.
This is the fourth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ. For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.