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Is It Time to Redefine Some Boundaries?

Okay, let me be the first to say it: this is not the first time I’ve written about boundaries. I’ve done it before; I’ll probably do it again. Because the topic of boundaries is one that KEEPS COMING UP.

We all know that there is something very powerful in setting and honoring boundaries. It is also pretty common knowledge that having and honoring such boundaries makes for healthy relationships and clearly defined roles and responsibilities, in all contexts. That being said, there are a few slippery slopes that exist around boundaries; if you’re not careful, it can be really easy to slip down any of those slopes, and find yourself in a blur of boundary-less oblivion.

So, let me take a minute – or two or three – to point out some of the things that may be eroding at your ability to work with boundaries effectively.

1.       Fear of judgment. I actually think that this is the biggest obstacle when it comes to honoring (or not honoring) boundaries. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve got plans. These plans are clearly aligned with your own priorities – engaging in self-care, shuttling your children to activities, attending a meeting, conversing and connecting with your partner, whatever. Someone calls you up and needs your help with something. And you immediately feel yourself drawn to drop your own plans, because you wouldn’t want the person on the other end of the phone to draw some negative conclusion about who. And so, even though you feel like you’re letting yourself and your needs fall to the wayside, you throw your boundary out the window.

2.       The allure of compliments. I know, you want to be a good person. You want to be seen as capable, resourceful, and reliable. Somebody needing your help makes their request and shares that they’re asking you because you’re a good friend, a helpful person, they know they can trust you, or some other praise-filled reason.  These statements may or may not be sincere – that’s not the point. The point is that they can be awfully alluring and pull you from your boundaries. Because there’s an implication, intended or not, that if you don’t help as requested, then you’re not those praise-worthy things. And so, you let your personal boundary go.

3.       Confusing “selfish” with “self-care”. Everyone does it from time to time. You intuitively understand that you have to take care of yourself. But somehow, you’ve got a twisted interpretation in your head that when you honor your needs, when you say “no” to someone else’s needs, you’re being “selfish.” This idea will dissolve personal boundaries every time.

4.       Underestimating the value of the word “NO”.  So often, you can forget that when you say “yes” to one thing, you’re inherently saying “no” to something else. When it comes to boundaries, every time you say “yes” to a request that comes your way, you are saying “no” to something else, and usually that something else is a personal need, whether it’s actually a boundary or not. The thing is, you actually harm those around you when you say “yes” to their requests too often in that you can, inadvertently, become an enabler of sorts.

5.       Lack of clarity about your own boundaries. When you don’t know what boundaries you need, or you don’t understand why you’ve set particular boundaries, it’s hard to honor them. It’s rather like living on a property with no fence between your yard and your neighbor’s. You know there’s a boundary there somewhere, but it’s really easy to cross it, because for all intents and purposes it’s never been clearly defined. The same holds true in your life. If you don’t set up your boundaries for all to see, or if you set them but have no understanding of why you set them, you’ll cross them, feel resentful and not even know why.

Bottom-line: you want to be there for your friends, your colleagues, your family and that’s an honorable thing. Not being able to set and honor boundaries, however, is not honorable. In order to keep boundaries with integrity you need to be really clear on what your boundaries are, why they matter, how they allow you to be your best and then, in turn, get really comfortable with honoring them. Just as good fences make good neighbors, good boundaries make for good relationships.

Tracy Harvie