Setting Boundaries or Delivering Ultimatums?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: glockkid

What's the difference between setting boundaries and giving ultimatums?

Often we believe that setting boundaries requires ultimatums. In reality, ultimatums are most often about wanting (or feeling the need) to control someone else's behavior or attitude, often, “for their own good.”

Setting boundaries, on the other hand, is about taking care of ourselves. Our job is to clarify one from the other.

Before we can set the first boundary we must be clear about what we are responsible for and what we are not responsible for. If we are living with an alcoholic spouse, our job is not to get them to stop drinking. That is their business. Our job is to take care of ourself. In analyzing what taking care of ourselves means, we may see the need to leave the situation, or ask them to leave. We then set the boundary – not by threatening or demanding, but by clearly and concisely stating our intentions.
Personally I do not see a need for ultimatums because, as I said, they often come across as a threat, and end up being an empty threat when we don't deliver. Ultimatums often require that we deliver consequences we are not really prepared to deliver. For this reason, and others, they rarely work. Even when ultimatums give the appearance of working, they may be being used as a deceptive maneuver to get us off their back.

What does work is knowing what our business is and attending to that. We are not responsible for delivering our family members to safe and happy lives; We are not responsible for their health; We are not responsible for what they do or don't do. Trying to get them to be or do something we think they should be or do only prevents us from being able to tend to our own life.

When we have clear boundaries, we are responsible for our own safety, happiness, and health. We don't need others to change for us to take care of ourselves. We just decide what we need to do to take care of ourselves and then proceed to do it. We may inform our loved ones of our intentions and needs, but we do so without blaming them or demanding that they change so we can feel better. We let the outcomes of their lives be theirs to decide, while we steer our own ships in the direction that we want to go in.

By staying clear about what our business is vs what their business is, we not only feel better all round, we are nicer to be around. No matter what they are doing, because we are taking care of ourselves, we are able to deal with it.

5 Responses

  1. Great article.

    There is yet another difference between ultimatums and setting boundaries.

    Ultimatums often introduce an instance of the fallacy of “false dilemma.” Either (you must do the attempted outcome of the ultimatum) or (threatened consequences).

    Whereas, boundaries can be established via requests which can allow for an infinitude of solutions which meet he needs of the parties involved.

  2. Rahul, I was thinking about you this morning on my morning walk – Even tho I’ve never met you in person, I have been able to share a bit of your journey through this blog and I am grateful for that opportunity. Your sharing provides evidence that this blog can indeed be a place where those interested in inner peace can come and receive food for their quest, whether they ever sit down for a face to face with me or not!
    Thank you for sharing your progress.
    Blessings, Lynne

  3. I had a wow reaction while and after reading this post.
    Its not only to the point but also works as an affirmation for me ( at this stage of my personal growth, now having developed an understanding of Victim Triangle) because this goes so against our normal flawed reactions.
    Reading your writing is truly refreshing.


    With gratitude and Love

  4. Hello Lynne,

    In my opinion, ultimatiums, can be determental in demanding that another fulfill our expectations without regard of how threatening it may come across towards another individual. My life experiences have taught me to utilize ultimatums, and I have found that they neither bring me peace or to another. Our corporate world utilzes this form of leadership along with the backing of threats. Truly motivation for self and others becomes a lower frequency of interactions in corporations. For me, I am daily challenged in setting boundaries in my professional and personal life. I catch myself much quicker and I have found it curtails me to challenge myself in my own motives.

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