Are you someone who cares deeply for others - maybe so deeply that you neglect yourself? Do you give work your all and then feel depleted because there is nothing left over for you? If you struggle with setting healthy #boundaries, you are at risk for #burnout at work and in your relationships. Find out the underlying beliefs, fears, and behaviors that lead to poor boundaries as well as 10 strategies to creating healthy ones.
Lack of Boundaries
If you are a #giver, it won’t surprise anyone much to find you in a helping profession. Perhaps you’re a doctor, nurse, teacher, or therapist. You work hard all day providing care for others. You might stay at work until late, skip meals due to the high demands of your work, and even take work home.
Maybe your career choice is less indicative of your giving tendency, but the way you relate to others in your life is more telling. Are you someone who gives away your time? When someone asks you for help, do you feel compelled to say “yes”?
The issues surrounding a lack of boundaries include control, fear, and #selfawareness. When you are so agreeable that you take on tasks that you don’t really want, you are letting other people control you. The reason behind this might be that you fear they will become angry or disappointed otherwise and you care very much about how others feel. You may even consider it your job to make others happy. You might have a fear of rejection and try to please others to ensure they stay close to you.
If you believe that your needs matter less than those of others, you will feel guilty about tending to your own needs and therefore prioritize other people’s needs ahead of your own. The clearer you are about what you value and what you need, the more #authentic you can be in your relationships and decision-making and the more balanced you will be in your life.
Self-awareness is the foundation of #EmotionalIntelligence. It is the act of knowing yourself including your strengths and weaknesses, your needs and desires, your triggers and fears that allow you to make informed decisions. When it comes to setting healthy boundaries, knowing yourself is key. Once you have clarity about what’s important to you and what makes you tick, you can better manage your life and relate to others in a meaningful way.
Debunking the Myths About Boundaries
There is a reason why you may not have good boundaries in place. It is essential that you examine the underlying beliefs and feelings you have in order to change. Here are some common myths about boundary setting and what keeps people from putting boundaries into place:
If I decline other people’s requests, they will be angry with me.
While it may be true that some people will be angry with you some of the time, if you are dealing with reasonable people, they will likely understand that you cannot always comply with their requests. Remember, people ask because they have nothing to lose, but just because they ask doesn’t mean you have to say yes. And, if someone is angry with you for setting a boundary, they are not respecting your needs. This is not the type of relationship you want to cultivate anyway.
People won’t like me if I don’t do what they want.
The hope is that people like you for who you are as a person, not for the favors you do for them. Be careful who you attract into your life. Doing for others may be a way of pleasing them, but they won’t necessarily like you for it. This conditions them to come back and ask you for more favors because they know they can rely on you. While this is admirable, it does not necessarily lead to a reciprocal relationship. When your needs aren’t met in return, you will build up resentment.
Confrontation is scary. It’s easier to say yes.
If you are scared by the idea of confrontation, this is part of your self-awareness. It’s a first step to recognizing an area of weakness you need to continually work on. By improving your ability to stand up for your rights and negotiate what you want, you will overcome the fear and establish motivation to forge ahead. The rewards will speak for themselves.
If I put myself first, people will think I’m selfish and uncaring.
When you ask for a favor, do you always expect the other person to say yes? If they don’t, do you consider them selfish? It’s time to reassess expectations of yourself and others. Perhaps you are a very #empathic person and when others are struggling you want to take care of them so much so that you lose track of your own needs. This is very unselfish of you, but the opposite doesn’t necessarily make you selfish. Remember, being focused on yourself is part of self-care. Without self-care, you are less capable of helping others in the long run.
Sacrificing myself for others makes me a good person.
Your deeds do define part of who you are and it’s important to be generous and helpful. However, there needs to be a healthy limit around how much you give and how much you take for yourself and self-sacrifice does not equate with being a better person. Instead, it is what leads to burnout over time.
How Boundaries Decrease Drama
When we don’t have good boundaries in place, we fall into what is called the Drama Triangle. We take on one of three roles:
Rescuer: This person sees their role as someone whose job it is to rescue others. Because they put other people ahead of themselves, they tend to focus on giving. They consequently don’t ask for what they want and they don’t turn other people’s requests down. Because of the imbalance with which they approach others, they create co-dependency. This is because they approach relationships with a lose-win attitude. To have one of their needs met, they believe they need to give up something else. But no one can last forever in this depleting role. Over time, they build up resentment and may lash out as they transition into the role of the Persecutor or when abandoned, they turn into a Victim.
As a Persecutor, you are finally speaking your truth. You release your true feelings, but because your belief about your importance relative to others hasn’t changed, you feel guilty in this role. The #guilt then moves you back into the Rescuer role where you get to compensate for lashing out.
As a Victim, you recognize how desperately needy you are for not having your needs met for so long. You are #stuck in a passive role where you wait for someone else to step up to the plate and take care of you. When no one does, you either become #angry and transition into a Persecutor or attempt being a Rescuer with the hope that the other person will eventually reciprocate.
This cycle continues endlessly driven by feelings of anger, fear, and guilt. It never gets resolved and the person continues to suppress their needs and suffer for it. The only way out is to set boundaries.
10 Suggested Boundaries to Adopt
If you are convinced that your life could benefit from putting boundaries into effect, here are ten suggestions on how to set healthy boundaries with yourself and others:
Put a time limit on your work, whether at the office or at home (if you take work home or if you work from home). Working late into the day does not allow you to recover from stress and can negatively affect your sleep. Give yourself a cushion before bed to relax and unwind. This will ensure you are more energized the next morning to give your work your all.
Decide when to stop receiving phone calls or checking emails. It’s so easy for us to get carried away and think each notification from our phones is an urgent matter that needs attention. Remember that although someone might reach out to you at all times of the day and night, you don’t have to respond right away. Turn off your devices and give yourself a real chance for peace of mind.
Does your job require you to work on the weekends? If so, consider how frequently you are willing to sacrifice your day off and for how long. When you make a determination ahead of time, you can set expectations with others and relieve yourself of the idea that you HAVE to keep working until all the work is done. It rarely ever ends, but your weekends do.
You might be worried about letting your clients down if you don’t respond to their every wish. Focus on reading their demands as requests. As in any relationship, it is feasible for you to be able to fulfill some requests and not others. Set realistic expectations on both yourself and others on what you can and are willing to do.
If you are dealing with difficult personalities in your work or personal life, ask yourself how you want to be treated. Sometimes our fear of losing out on a relationship pushes our boundary off the map. This only confirms to others that we have no boundary in place and that they can get away with manipulating us to do what they want. Don’t let your fear outweigh your values. Stay true to yourself. This will allow you to attract the right people rather than desperately attach yourself to the wrong ones.
When you’re interacting with others, aim for respectful communication. Keep calm and excuse yourself if you need space rather than let your anger build. Similarly, don’t engage with others who disrespect you. By setting a boundary of what you expect of them, you send a clear message that you will not tolerate yelling, blaming, or shaming.
Be clear on your #values. This will allow you to make decisions more easily, especially when considering which tasks to take on. When you’re approached with a request by someone, this sense of #purpose that stems from your values can guide your decision on whether you accept or decline a task.
Before you accept a task, let the other person know how much time you have. This sets a clear expectation of how long you can dedicate to the project, when you will stop, and if that isn’t a sufficient amount of time, it can prevent you from taking on something you cannot complete.
Assert yourself to protect your resources. If your boss or partner is asking you to take on a new project, share with them what you have on your plate already and prioritize together what this new project will replace. This makes sure you don’t overload yourself while providing support to new priorities that pop up for others you care about.
Express your feelings appropriately. If someone else oversteps your boundary, you are likely to feel angry. Learn to express that anger in a way that describes the facts, connects their behavior to your feelings, and requests a change in approach from the other person to better meet your needs.
Setting boundaries may not be in your practice yet, but it is something you can put into effect with time and practice. To be successful with boundary setting, you have to first believe that you matter. Recognize that you have needs much like anyone else and that it is your responsibility to get your needs met. Also, recognize that you have limited resources and you need to protect those resources from depletion by being strategic about how much of them you give away and how much you take for yourself.
When you believe your matter, you can side step guilt. You can tune into your values and make purpose-driven decisions about what you do with your time and how you interact with other people. You feel empowered to ask for what you want and to say no to what you don’t.
We place white picket fences around our homes to protect our property. It is time we recognize the need to do the same with our resources so we can have more balance between demands from the outside and personal needs.