It’s time to set those healthy personal boundaries
Cameron has always been considered an agreeable person. Known to cater to the needs and feelings of others, she is often seen bending backwards for others. But despite being cordial with co-workers and having years under the belt in the organisation, a lot of extra work still makes its way onto Cameron’s desk. Sometimes, it’s not even work related to her field of expertise. But it’s not just work overloading Cameron’s plate. Extended family keeps calling her to run errands, at their convenience, and she basically does everything for her partner. Somehow she’s the go-to planner for all her friends’ events and will often baby sit her nieces without prior warning. Years of this has pushed Cameron to her breaking point, and she’s finally ready to set stronger boundaries. If Cameron’s situation sounds vaguely familiar, you may also need to create boundaries for yourself.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
These are structures you create in order to protect your energy and emotion levels. But these boundaries are not about changing other people. They’re about creating mechanisms that prevent you from compromising yourself. So creating healthy boundaries requires identifying what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour to you. That way it’s easier to teach others how to treat you, while making it easier to stay firm in your truth. Having strong boundaries also indicates that you have self-worth that isn’t influenced by other people or their feelings. The intrinsic nature of self-worth makes you aware of your intellectual, social, physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries. However, knowing these boundaries is one thing. The hard part is setting them. When you don’t have enforceable codes you live by, it leaves you exposed to consequences such as mental distress, financial burdens and lost time.
Where are you compromising your values in life? If you’re not sure, start journaling every time you feel drained, dissatisfied, angry, taken advantage of or disappointed. Also note the location and the person these emotions are linked to. That way, you’ll be able to identify if your trouble spots are your relationships, work scene or family life.
Clearly Define Your Boundaries
Know your physical, emotional, spiritual and emotional limits when it comes to interactions with colleagues, family, work, friends, strangers and possible partners. When starting out, it helps to develop a visual aid such as a chart that highlights each boundary per interaction category. With each, indicate the criteria that will create healthy boundaries that make you feel safe and calm. Also indicate what makes you sense discomfort, so you can be more aware should such incidences arise.
Now that you know what they are, you need to let the people in your life know that they exist. This avoids confusion for you and for them. But it’s not enough just to say it. You have to mean and act on what you say. It is scary to tell your boss, parents, friends, lovers what you really want and don’t want. But if you don’t stick to your new policies, they’ll never take you seriously and continue to view you as a push over. Ground yourself in your values and boundaries, you’ll find it easier to express your truth.
This is where it gets tricky. Once you’ve created and stated your boundaries, you have to follow through to make it count. Because people aren’t mind readers, you’ll have to let them know directly when one of your boundaries has been crossed. But don’t expect yourself to fall into this rhythm instantly. Instead, start with smaller, more manageable scenarios such as letting a cashier know they gave you the wrong change. From there, you can slowly build to the point you can ask your best-friend to stop borrowing your stuff without returning it, declining extra work from a fellow colleague or turning down unwanted romantic suitors.
Determine the Consequences
People have gone accustomed to you in a certain way so they are not going to accept or respect your boundaries immediately. Thus, you first have to stick to your new rules. For example, if you decided not to take work calls after six pm, do not answer your phone even if you are still on the grounds. At first, it may be uncomfortable, and you may feel like you’re causing a scene or letting someone down. The people in your life may even get mad at you and express their disapproval in your changes. But if you stick to the predetermined consequences, you’ll start to notice a decline in your emotional reactions to these incidences. Once you start to appreciate how your boundaries are protecting your core beliefs, you won’t dread being tested or confronted.
The Last Resort
While some people in your life will soon get accustomed to the new boundaries, there will be a couple who just won’t respect your boundaries and continue to breach them. At this point, you may have to distance yourself from these individuals or completely remove them from your life. The level of severity of the consequences will depend on the situation, of course. If you have explained yourself and they still won’t budge, let your actions show that you are done with being disrespected. Remind yourself of your self-worth and that no-one has the power or the right to make you feel uneasy.
When forming your boundaries, make sure you don’t make too many that leave you feeling claustrophobic. Or, close you off to growth and new experiences. Retaining some flexibility in your life, opens you up to new solutions and ideas. Boundaries are a very individual experience. Once you’ve identified your core values, and embrace true self-love and respect, it’ll become easier to determine the appropriate boundaries with each category and person in your life.