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The importance of setting boundaries

Image of a wooden fence in a field
Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Have you ever been the go-to person, the yes girl or guy, or the rescuer? You know the one I mean, the one who jumps to meet the needs of all those around you, without a thought of the impact on yourself. Like a superhero coming to save the day, you want to make things better, you want to help, so you drop everything that you're doing and rush from one situation to the other, to be there.

It’s of course an honourable trait to have, to care deeply about the individuals around you, and a trait we all want to see from our nearest and dearest. But how often is the notion reciprocated when the tables are turned? What cost do your actions come to, for yourself, and how and where do you draw the line?

It's not just between friends and family where boundaries can be crossed, it happens within the workplace too as technology has crept in enabling emails to be sent from our phone, at any time of the day or night. Receiving a notification ping at 8pm at night can soon turn into a shrill of dread as you feel the urge to check and then respond. The same goes for those more informal messaging lines where work groups are set up on Facebook or WhatsApp. Before you know it, you hear the pings, bouncing forward and back as others are joining in on the conversation and you’re caught up in notifications that blur the boundaries between playful and fun banter between colleagues, to questions, notifications and information that requires work action. Within these situations, it can be hard to know where to draw the line and put boundaries in place, particularly if your boss is the instigator of the group or of the messages being sent.

The thing is with boundaries is that it's up to you to put them in place. They are the invisible force that you decide upon to protect things like your time, you're safety and your wellbeing. Whilst you can communicate them to others, they won't always be appreciated or respected because some people expect you to be able to meet their needs, without realising that in order to do so, you need to sacrifice your own in some way. Therefore boundaries become the choices we make as we are responsible for knowing when and where to draw the line. However it can be hard to make this happen if we first don't know what is important to us, or if we are used to operating in a particular way.

To break habits that may not be serving you well, Judith Belmont and Barry Davenport offer some basic human right examples which can help you think about your rights when setting healthy boundaries for yourself:

· I have the right to say no without feeling guilty

· I have the right to be treated with respect

· I have the right to make my needs as important as others

· I have the right to be accepting of my mistakes and failures

· I have the right not to meet others' unreasonable expectations of me

· I have the right to my privacy

· I have the right for personal space

· I have the right to change my mind

· I have the right to remain true to my principles

· I have the right to manage my own time

· I have the right to communicate my needs.

If you are finding you need to put stronger boundaries in place, it can be helpful to first think about what's important to you so that you know what to prioritise. Some questions are outlined below to help you think about this.

1) Where do you feel boundaries are being crossed, that could be strengthened?

(e.g. at work, at home, with family, with friends, with your partner, colleagues, with your boss?)

2) What do you need to do to be clear with your boundaries?

E.g. Do you need to learn to say no and be comfortable doing so?

Do you need to have a cut-off time in the evenings for when you no longer respond, react or be aware of emails and external communication?

3) What do you need to do to be able to support your wellbeing?

E.g. how many hours sleep do you need to function fully and be at your best?

Can you protect this? If so, how?

Are there people in your life that you need to limit or remove yourself from, because they are unsupportive or make you feel bad?

What things are good for you and make you feel good?

How can you prioritise those things?

What is non-negotiable for you and something you need to prioritise?

Setting boundaries can be hard if it's something you have never had to do before. However, if you're finding that you're meeting the needs of everyone around you, to the detriment of your own, it may be time to think about what you need to do, to strengthen your boundaries.

What are your boundaries and where do you draw the line?


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