When boundary lines are blurred
Are you feeling exhausted? Angry? Victimized? Used? Resentful? Does your day seem like a never ending rush from one thing to another, trying to please everybody? Yet you still get into bed at night and can’t sleep because your head is filled with all the things you didn’t do or doubt you did well enough. And if it is not about the day gone past, then your mind is already worrying about tomorrow.
Perhaps it’s time to examine your boundaries. Many of these symptoms exist because we don’t know when to say enough is enough.
7 Places where we need to know the boundaries
(According to Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend)
Definitions of personal boundaries
Wikepedia: Personal Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.
Personal boundaries: are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others.
I would take it a step further and say it is to protect us from our own (unrealistic) expectations too.
Healthy boundaries are a crucial part of life and an important aspect of any self-care practice. They are not mean and self-serving, but instead are there to protect us.
Healthy boundaries are different from rigid boundaries, which are an unhealthy defense, put up as a barrier to normal relations. While on the other hand, partial boundaries allow us to become meddlesome and over involved in other people’s business.
Who is most vulnerable?
The most vulnerable are the ones that need boundaries the most. Those are the people who are so eager to please they struggle to say no, which is often due to a lack of self-esteem and need for approval. Instead of feeling better about themselves, they end up feeling worse because they are so depleted and worn out.
Having no boundaries exacerbates the feelings of low self-esteem because people end up feeling incompetent, which can lead to stress and even depression if not addressed.
In this age of social media, it is common for people to compare their 24 hours of chaos to somebody else’s 30 seconds of perfection. Stop, right now, comparing your private self to somebody else’s public image. Do what is best for you and your family and don’t feel you have to be everything to everybody.
Boundary setting begins with self-awareness
It comes back to knowing our values because only then can we establish what is important to us. For example, if family is important, you will feel resentful towards a boss who phones and talks to you for ½ an hour at suppertime. Establish your priorities and place boundaries accordingly.
Fear, guilt and self-doubt often stop us from putting boundaries in place. Rationalize your fear. What is it that you are really afraid of? What is the worst thing that can happen if you do put boundaries up? Will you still be ok if it does happen? Chances are you will be. If it means you lose a friend, well that friend probably wasn’t worth it anyway.
You are not a bad person if you say no. If you believe you are, then that is a whole area of self-awareness to explore separately.
Identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits and know when to draw the line.
Plan your time and put those boundaries in place
If you think you don’t have the time to sit and plan your day, then I challenge you to reconsider that mindset. If your day is a crazy blur of activity, you need to find the time more than anybody. Yes, there are busy times in our lives but they are generally seasons and not permanent.
We pride ourselves on multi-tasking when actually it is just that we are half present in more things rather than being fully present in one. Take the time to slow down, prioritize and focus on what is important to you.
Take a good look at your daily schedule
- Sit down, think about your typical day and make a list of everything you do, morning, noon and night. You may need to break it up further depending on how busy you are. Don’t do it last thing at night, because then you go to bed with your head in a turmoil. Include people you interacted with and time spent on technology.
- Divide the list into two columns, essential and nonessential. Be a bit ruthless here and mark those things that are essential and those that aren’t. The kids have to get to school. You don’t have to watch the rerun of the soapie you missed last night.
- Take a look at the people who you engage with during the day. Make a list of those who drain you. It is more difficult to set boundaries with demanding people, but these are the ones most likely to deplete you. It is crucial that you manage these interactions.
- The idea is to manage the essential and eliminate/ minimize the non-essential. Take one thing on your essential list and think of a way that you can manage it more effectively. Then take at least one thing on your non-essential list and aim to eliminate or reduce it. Don’t try and change everything in one day because then we end up overwhelmed and set ourselves up for failure. It can take up to 3 weeks to change a habit. After that, you can take something else and work on that.
- Next, and this can be the tough part, you need to communicate with those who are draining and putting pressure on you. It might be a neighbor that pops in at inopportune times, Mom that phones at supper time or a friend who needs to pour out her problems at homework time. If there is a backlash, take a deep breath, go for a walk or read a book. Chances are it will blow over and settle down to a new normal. Don’t be bullied into thinking you have done wrong.
Technology is great, but if not managed correctly, can rob us of valuable time. Instead of checking your phone 25 times a day, set aside 15 mins, twice a day, to check and reply to calls and messages.
If you are worried about getting a message related to your school or lift club, put an alert on certain numbers only. When you have boundaries in place, people will learn that they need to tell you in advance. If it is really urgent, they are unlikely to WhatsApp you anyway. A good way of not being tempted to roam the net, is to put your phone on flight mode.
Boundaries with the people we love
When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. And we hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility. It is as much for their benefit as for our own.
Children who are raised with boundaries respect them as adults and will generally have an easier time being self-disciplined. Boundaries are helpful.
This, of course, is very different to limitations placed on children to stop them from reaching their true potential.
Set boundaries on your expectations of others too. This is not something that is usually talked about when setting boundaries, because boundaries are usually a self protection mechanism to preserve our own state of health. Being mindful of others and their limits will hopefully encourage them to be mindful of you too. State that you won’t do something out of respect for somebody’s family time, holiday etc and chances are they will reciprocate. If you are a boss, you will earn much respect.
One of my all-time favorite books is the bestseller “Boundaries” by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend. If you are struggling with how or when to set boundaries in your own life, I would highly recommend reading this book.
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