Your Thoughts Matter
I was cleaning up the mess of a too young-and-wild-and-free relationship, sitting on the couch of a marriage counselor helping me to go through divorce, when I first heard about “boundaries”.
At first, I didn’t really know what she meant and ignored her comment. In the following sessions she kept bringing it up. Maybe because I’m not a native English speaker, maybe because I intentionally zoned her advice out. I had no clue what she was talking about, how to set these so-called boundaries or how the version of myself “with boundaries” should look or feel like.
Today, almost 7 years later, I have done lots of improvements in the boundaries field, but I still have some way to go.
For those of you who, like me, don’t know what boundaries exactly are: “A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends. The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you” (definition by IPFW/Parkview Student Assistance Program).
On paper it sounds so right and good, but how does this translate in real life?
The Giver’s Trap
Let’s say we could group people into 3 groups: the givers, the takers and the opportunists. The latter become giver or taker depending on who they are dealing with. None of these groups is better or worse than the other. We need a mix of them to have balanced groups of friends, work teams or communities. I can put myself into the “givers” team. I am happy when I help someone or cheer them up; and I try to avoid disappointing or letting people down at all costs.
It feels normal to me, for example, to stay in the office longer hours to help a colleague or complete a last-minute customer’s request. Despite this meaning that I’ll be late to my gym class and probably will miss the gym session altogether. Which will result in me getting home too late and tired to cook, and ordering some questionably healthy food on deliveroo.
When this happens I’m not respecting my boundaries. I am putting someone else’s needs before mine. But what a selfish and horrible human being would I be to leave my colleague or client in trouble and just go to enjoy an evening of zumba and healthy home-made food?
In the long run, after a number of these episodes, I’d probably have built a little bit of frustration and gained a few pounds. But the final button is pushed when I’m swamped with last minute requests and I see my colleagues leaving at 5 o’clock on the spot. Because “they have an appointment” or even no reason needed, that’s check-out time, as per contract. The audacity!
Well, let me tell you. They are kinda right and us “little Red Crossers” are kinda wrong. Kinda because, if their values lie in the life they have outside office hours (wellbeing, family, partner, friends…) they are hella right leaving on time. If their values are career or financial stability then they may stay longer to go the extra mile or cash in some overtime. Let me explain.
How to Set Boundaries in 3 Steps
I found this very practical. To set up boundaries you can take these 3 steps:
1- Understand what are the things that YOU VALUE
Your health, your family, your money, your solo-time, your relationship with your partner, your career, your emotional stability… What are your values. If you are unsure, make a list and rate them to get your top 5 or top 3. You need to have these very clear to understand what drives the boundaries.
2 – Understand what do YOU NEED to do to support those values
Going to the gym regularly to support you health, making it to all the matches or plays of your children to support your family, date nights with your partner, walks in the park to support your solo-time. Again these are very personal and you need to gain that level of self-awareness. If you’re not there yet keep working on it, it’s a journey.
3- How will you HONOR those needs, in a reasonable and non-selfish way
This is the compromise, the negotiation part. If you value your solo-time and silence, unfortunately for you, it is not possible 24/7; unless you move to Tibet and become a monk.
So here is the boundary. You will honor that value and that need in certain moments (for example, on weekends). And you will respect your decision without feeling selfish or apologetic about it. So, if a friend calls to invite you out last-minute on the time you decided to enjoy the silence, you’ll politely reschedule. No explanations are needed. Or you may decide to accept and free one evening mid-week to get that solo-time you need. You know what I mean?
Here are a few practical examples to get you into the idea:
Finally, while setting boundaries is crucial, it is also as crucial to respect the boundaries that others have set for themselves. Respect is a two-way street, and appreciating the boundaries others have set for themselves is as important as setting boundaries for oneself.
How easy is it for you to set healthy boundaries? Do you have any tips for setting and respecting boundaries? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.