Don’t be offended, but I want to talk about the “B” word.
Boundaries can be hard to protect but are so important to your health and well-being. They’ve become even more important in recent years.
Work expectations have increased while resources to meet those expectations have decreased or stayed the same.
Digital technology has increased our real-time access to one another.
The pandemic has led many of us to spend more time at and sometimes working from home, blending our work and home lives.
Poor boundaries can leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, resentful, and burned out. You might find yourself avoiding others, having more frequent conflicts, or feeling trapped.
How good are you at protecting your boundaries? Don’t worry if your boundaries are more colander and less brick wall. If you haven’t identified your boundaries, chances are you haven’t done a great job at setting and protecting them.
Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few that can help you protect yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Social boundaries These help manage how you engage with others.
Emotional boundaries These help you determine how much others can access and impact your emotions.
Physical boundaries These define how much access others have to your space and physical body.
Temporal boundaries These help put limits on who and what can impinge on your time.
Whether it’s how many hours you work or how you spend your free time, your boundaries protect you from the stress of trying to meet excessive expectations that others place on you.
Tips for Setting Boundaries
1. Identify your non-negotiables
What parts of you and your life are you unwilling to sacrifice?
Your physical space?
Who you can be vulnerable with?
Hopefully, your answer is “all of the above". Your non-negotiables are the basis for the boundaries you put in place. How these boundaries show up in our lives varies from person to person.
I need time to myself every day to reflect and allow my mind to slow down. I make sure to build alone time into each day (yep, I get extra points for setting both physical and temporal boundaries).
Spend some time identifying your non-negotiables. Write them down and put them in a place where you will be reminded of them every day.
2. Clarify how your boundaries help you
Once you have identified your boundaries, think about how having them in place helps you. Get really clear about what you're protecting.
You’ll be more motivated if you know the importance and purpose of your boundaries. Understanding what’s at stake can support establishing and maintaining your boundaries.
Sit down with pen and paper. Draw a vertical line down the middle and label one column “My boundary” and the other “What I’m protecting”. Make a list of your boundaries. In the “What I’m protecting" column, write how they’re helping you. Refer to your list when you sense that your boundaries are slipping.
3. Clearly communicate your boundaries to others
Most people can’t guess your personal boundaries. Unless you help people understand your comfort zone, at some point, they’re likely to overstep.
This doesn’t have to be a big production. If you’ve done the first 2 exercises, then you already know what your boundaries are.
When you find yourself in a situation where setting boundaries are important, communicate with anyone who will be directly impacted by your boundaries. Emphasize that your boundaries help you protect your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
For example, let’s say a colleague has asked you to cover her in clinic on the day that you’ve planned to attend a school event for your child. You might set a boundary with your time and physical availability so that you can prioritize time with your child. Tell your colleague that you would like to help, but unfortunately, you have a prior commitment.
Your colleague might be frustrated or disappointed, but being clear and direct will decrease the potential for conflict. You’re making a choice based on your priorities.
Create a 15-minute routine that will help you release any stress at the end of your work day. Sit down with everyone that you live with and explain to them what your new routine will be. Be specific about when and where it will happen and that you're only to be interrupted for emergencies.
4. Maintain consistent boundaries
Once you set your boundaries, keep them! They don’t do you any good if you're constantly ignoring them. Ignoring your own boundaries can leave you feeling drained, overwhelmed, and resentful.
Don’t worry, occasionally, relaxing your boundaries might be the best choice, just don’t make a habit of it.
5. Watch out for unhealthy boundaries
Boundaries are an important part of healthy relationships, but rigid boundaries can be damaging. Putting up “walls” to avoid normal social interactions or to exclude people can get in the way of forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
For example, if you have a strict rule against seeing peers outside of work, you might miss an opportunity to strengthen social bonds with coworkers. Strong social bonds with coworkers can cultivate a culture of support in the workplace.
Boundaries allow you to engage in healthy relationships in both personal and professional settings. While they can be difficult to establish, they help you care for your own emotional, mental and physical well-being.