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Boundaries or barriers?

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Everyone keeps talking about boundaries and it seems to be a bit of a buzz word.

But what are they?

There are many types of boundaries that apply to many aspects of life. For example, emotional, physical, financial, moral etc.

Imagine them like being your red lines. We have red lines in pretty much every aspect of our lives but we often allow ourselves to go over those red lines because we get trapped in a cycle of wanting to please others and forgetting what is important to us.

So, boundaries are a way to honour ourselves and our needs.

They are a way to take a break and re-calibrate our body.

A way to show understanding to others but not necessarily give in to their wants and demands.

Boundaries can serve us by allowing us to find our own limits.

It’s ok to not be everything to everyone.

Boundaries are our own personal principles on how we want to be treated by others and how we want to treat ourselves.

Why do we feel the need to please others in the first place?

Pleasing others is very tempting because it helps us avoid conflict. Being the recipient of someone’s anger or disappointment, can feel very uncomfortable and overwhelming. So, naturally we want to avoid that feeling.

We may have also learnt in our childhood that pleasing others is the way to receive praise and love and hence our own self-worth is tied to pleasing others.

This is a topic often visited by my clients and we work on understanding the roots of why boundaries can feel so hard.

But are boundaries selfish?

Yes and no. The answer is not so clear cut.

They are not selfish as we need keep ourselves safe emotionally, physically, financially etc. For example, saying no to sexual advances is your right and it keeps you safe. It is not selfish.

This is a very clear example as to when saying no is – hopefully - seen as very legitimate answer. However, what happens when you say no to having a coffee with someone at a particular time of day that is not right for you. Is that selfish?

They are not selfish if that particular person is not someone you would like to spend a lot of time with or if the particular time does not suit you. So, you could say, “thank you for inviting me. It’ll be lovely to meet for a coffee but can we please change the time so I can finish my work first?”

So, when are boundaries selfish?

· When they are consistently used to avoid others, or be emotionally unavailable or never help out. For example, never making time to spend with your partner because you want to do your individual thing all the time. Or never helping out the team at work. Or always letting other people look after your children because they don’t fit with your life.

· When boundaries are used to never compromise in relationships. For example, when you always want to take Sunday morning off without thinking that your partner might need that too.

· When they are used to control others. For example, “I want to drink alcohol and eat lots of chocolate today and you should do the same, otherwise you don’t care about me.”

Basically, when boundaries become barriers to connection with others. That’s a good indication that they are selfish.

However, the majority of the time, boundaries are healthy and can help strengthen relationships by being compassionate to ourselves and others around us. It’s about saying yes to things that are aligned to you and your needs.

What are the advantages of having healthy boundaries?

By respecting yourself you give yourself more of a chance to respect others. You will be more capable to give more to others when needed without depriving yourself of what you need.

You can be a role model to other adults but also to children. What greater gift to children to teach them to set healthy boundaries for themselves?

You can conserve your emotional energy and be more present for the people around you.

You will discover (or keep discovering) your identity and it will be more aligned with you are.

Let’s consider a practical scenario…

What if boundaries are not being respected?

You are at work and your colleague, whom you like a lot as a person, approaches you and says: “I know you said that you already have too much to do and need to finish on time today but could you please do me a favour and complete this report for me?”

Now, your mind may be signalling that to say no is inviting conflict and you like this colleague and you would like to please them. But another part of you feels resentful and stressed that you have so much to do anyway and the thought of doing more is overwhelming.

So, the choice is to say yes and swallow the stress, resentment and overwhelm at your expense or say no like this: “Thank you for thinking of me but I am really busy. It’s important to me to finish on time today. Next time, if I have more time, I’ll gladly help you out.”

It’s not your job to relax the boundary but to reinforce and explain again.

7 steps to practice setting clear boundaries.

1. Start with how much you can take on each day and each week. Be as clear as you can about this.

2. Remind yourself the benefits of setting boundaries so you can keep motivated to stick to them. For example, if you know that exercising first thing in the morning helps you focus on our job later and then be calmer with your children when they come home, then you know to get up in the morning to exercise.

3. Embrace a to-do list with a list of priorities. What is the most important task of your day? What are 3 additional tasks you would feel great if you achieved? Stick to them as much as you can.

4. Let people know your boundaries. If you need to finish a meeting by a certain time, let them know. If you need some time to rest before you go out for dinner, let your partner know. It is your responsibility to let others know your boundaries.

5. Keep checking-in with yourself. How are you feeling throughout the day? Do you need to adjust your boundaries? Note that until you get used to setting clear boundaries, you may experience feelings of discomfort by simply doing it. It’s because it’s unfamiliar and you may be running the risk of not being liked by everyone, so keep checking in and adjusting things.

6. If setting boundaries feels overwhelming, start small. Set realistic targets as it’s more likely to you will follow through. So, for example, if you’d like to exercise more regularly, setting a boundary of exercising once a week, might be a good first step.

7. Be compassionate to yourself. Setting boundaries is a way to honour yourself the best way you can. You can’t always get it right and trial and error is the best way to explore your boundaries.

I’d love to hear what you think and how you personally find it when you set healthy boundaries. What do boundaries mean to you?

If you need any more help with this, please reach out to let me know via email

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