Boundaries (and overwhelm) – a constant theme in the hut!
The need to implement boundaries in both our professional and personal lives, however the underlying challenge is understanding not so much the ‘why’ are they so friggin’ hard to implement but to see the longer term benefits of consciously using and communticating them.
Without boundaries we are more open to the feeling of overwhelm, overwhelm leads to experiencing higher levels of anxiety which then can lead to burn out. A vicious cycle – one that I am sadly, however equally happy to be familiar with.
Without this revelation and understanding I would not have been able to break my own cycle of being all things to everyone else except myself!
So if fences allow us to protect what’s valuable to us. They also allow us to control who and what enters our space.
Our personal boundaries do a similar job. They set the limits that separate us from other people – not necessarily to exclude interaction, but to protect what matters to us, and to control who enters our psychological space, as well as our physical space.
Boundaries also foster more productive work environments. Colleagues with differing values, needs and beliefs sometimes lead to conflict, resentment and stress, so clearly defined boundaries can help to prevent these negative reactions.
But, if personal boundaries are such a vital part of our interpersonal interactions, why do so many of us struggle to build them?
Here, I hope to encourage you to assess, strengthen and maintain your own personal boundaries, in order to make life easier and more rewarding for you and those around you, a by-product may just be less of that horrid feeling of overwhelm.
Why are boundaries so important?
Boundaries are a crucial part of keeping relationships mutually respectful. They help you to look after yourself and those around you.
People who set strong personal boundaries empower themselves to exercise greater choice. They have a more robust sense of psychological safety, find it easier to relax, and are generally happier and healthier.
However, many people struggle to establish boundaries. They are held back by low self-esteem, a dread of upsetting people, or a fear of conflict. They may simply accept intrusions and interruptions, or bury their personal feelings ‘for the good of the team or others.’
It’s natural to want to be seen as a capable, reliable extra miler, but people who fail to set boundaries risk ‘generosity burnout,’ as others take unfair advantage of them. This can leave people feeling exhausted, humiliated and even hurt.
For these reasons, establishing robust personal boundaries isn’t selfish or arrogant. It’s simply an essential part of treating yourself – and those around you – with compassion and consideration
How to Manage Your Boundaries
There are four main stages to managing your boundaries.
Stage 1: Analysing Your Boundaries
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you sometimes doubt that you have a right to have your needs met, or make little effort to have them met?
- Do you avoid speaking up for yourself, and do you ‘let things go’ without reacting to bad situations?
- Do you tend to avoid conflict? Do you let others have their way or allow them to make decisions for you?
- Do you sometimes agree to do things that you really don’t want to do – and later regret it?
If you answered mostly ‘yes,’ then chances are that people see you as a soft touch who they can manipulate into doing what they want, without negotiation. It’s time, then, to start strengthening your boundaries!
Stage 2: Understanding Your Needs
You may believe that to get along with others, or to do the job that you’re paid to do, you need to give much more than you take. Perhaps you say things like, ‘Whatever you choose will be great!’ and agree to do things that you don’t want to do, and shouldn’t have to do.
This may avoid conflict with others, but it can create conflict inside you. Anger and tension can build because you’re not getting what you need, and this can lead to bad behaviour or burnout. It’s far better to identify what you need and develop strategies to ensure that your needs are met.
So, think of times when you felt angry, tense or resentful, or times when your reaction to something embarrassed you. These were likely occasions when your needs were not met.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What need were you denied?
- What did you really want?
Then, use positive affirmations like the following to articulate your specific needs:
- I have a right to ask for ________, because I need ________.
- It’s OK to protect my time by________, because I need ________.
- I will not allow others to________, because I need _______.
This process of self-reflection and positive reinforcement will help you to develop the emotional intelligence to understand and manage your needs. Don’t minimise your own self-worth, you deserve the treatment and respect that you give to others!
Stage 3: Setting Healthy Boundaries
Now that you understand the needs and boundaries that must be in place for you to be happy, you must change your behavior – and let others know. They won’t figure it out on their own!
The key is to be assertive. This means being firm, but not aggressive about your own rights, needs and boundaries, while considering those of others. When you’re assertive, you get your point across firmly and fairly, but with empathy.
An essential part of this is to practice saying ‘no,’ politely but firmly. Many people find this hard. After all, we are social animals, and we like to be liked, and useful to others.
But if you say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, you risk not having enough time to do anything properly. You also risk not working on the things that are truly important, and you’ll end up feeling used or frustrated. Far better to say ‘no’ more often, and to concentrate on meeting your needs.
Effective time management is another crucial element of boundary-setting. When you put all your energy into one thing, without taking time for both your work and personal responsibilities, you risk overloading yourself. With good time management, you can get things done more efficiently and effectively.
Stage 4: Maintaining and Respecting Your Boundaries
Setting boundaries will likely give you an immediate sense of empowerment, but ‘holding your line’ and maintaining them can be hard, especially if others are used to you not doing so.
You need to maintain a clear sense of what you will and will not accept, but be realistic and adaptable when necessary. Reset boundaries to suit your situation, and rethink ones that later seem too rigid. Remember not to isolate yourself or to simply stop collaborating or being present.
When your boundaries are under threat, look out for the negative emotions that you associate with the situation and work to understand and control them, even sit with them while calmly reasserting those boundaries.
Are you the reason you’re overwhelmed?
Are you the reason, even in part why you’re overwhelmed?
Notice how you feel when you read these. Did you nod your head, or did you feel an urge to click away immediately and remove yourself from my mailing list?
It’s two of the questions I had to truthfully answer to learn to implement and communicate boundaries in my own personal and professional life, boundaries and a sprinkling of self care, self compassion all to help replenish myself.
Where will you begin the art of setting and implementing your boundaries? I am curious to know, so ping me an email back..