Hello and welcome back to the “Breaking into The Self-Care Mindset” Series for Professional and Family Caregivers!
Today we are going to talk about boundaries.
Everyone needs boundaries.
They are the invisible barrier between you and your world.
They protect your feelings, sense of self, and peace of mind.
They help you to interact with others, and your environment, in emotionally intelligent ways.
They help you to be assertive, and so much more. The list can go on and on…
But, they can be very elusive, and it’s not uncommon for several people to struggle with boundaries.
So, this installment is all about how to identify and set boundaries.
Together we’ll explore how to identify your boundaries. I’ll introduce an exercise to assist you with identifying and setting boundaries, and I’ll share a motivating reason to maintain your boundaries.
But before we get started, make sure to check out Step 1 and Step 2 in the Breaking into a Self-Care Mindset process and complete the exercises. They can truly be life changing if you want them to be.
Ready to get started?
Great! Let’s go!
How to Identify and Set Boundaries
I have found from my personal experience that the quickest way to identify and set boundaries is to figure out what irks you and why.
Have you ever gotten really mad at someone at work or in your personal life and couldn’t explain why? Chances are that person violated one of your boundaries and you didn’t realize it.
Once you start to figure out what makes you frustrated, mad, or irritated, then you can work backward to figure out why their actions struck a chord with you. Once you know why then you have identified one of your values, and from there, you can turn that value into a boundary.
Here’s an example:
It really makes me angry when he continues to talk over me when I’m trying to speak.
It makes me feel this way because he isn’t listening to what I have to say.
My Deeper Why:
Because what I have to say is also important
My Even Deeper Why:
Because everyone should get a chance to be heard
Giving others a chance to be heard (gets at fairness to me)
I expect people to treat me fairly (e.g. giving me a chance to say my piece) because I treat others fairly, and being treated fairly and treating others fairly is really important to me.
(Tip 1: Ah-ha! When you start to hear the word “should” in your thinking you’re probably getting close to a boundary because you’re getting close to one of your values).
(Tip 2: The severity of your frustration can sometimes indicate how strong of a boundary violation you experienced or if the violation has been repeated too often.)
Please note. I’m not a therapist and my suggestions should not be taken as medical/therapeutic advice. Boundaries can be a deeply personal subject. I always suggest working with a qualified medical professional.
Identifying and Setting Boundaries: An Exercise
If you would like to discern your personal boundaries, here’s an exercise.
Find a journal and make 3 columns.
Label the first column “What.” Label the second column “Why.” Label the third column “My Boundary.”
(Hint. it can help to make column 2 the widest as this is where most of the thinking work will happen.)
Every time someone irritates, offends, angers, (list your similar adjectives here) you, write down what they did in the “what” column.
Then, think about why their actions made you feel this way, and journal your reflection in the “why” column.
(Hint. Be sure to continue to ask why until you get to the “root cause” or the “root why” like I did in my example).
Finally, take your “root why” and turn it into a boundary.
You can follow my example or you can use this template: write your boundary in the form of _______ is important to me so it’s not ok when __________.
Continue to do this exercise for a month so that you have time to identify different boundaries as they apply to different areas of your personal and professional lives.
It’s not a bad idea to perform this exercise mentally when someone upsets you. Taking the time to pause and understand your emotional reaction can make it easier to take a step back and handle situations in constructive ways.
Motivation to Maintain Your New Boundaries
Your boundaries may be new, but they’ll continue to be pushed and tested. So, now’s the time to focus on WHY you need to maintain your boundaries!
If you need permission, here it is: It’s OK to have and maintain boundaries!
Self-care is NOT selfish. I repeat: self-care is NOT selfish.
Forget what a mentor/parent/spouse/friend/sibling told you. And start wrapping your mind around the fact that it’s healthy to take care of yourself and you must.
I once heard a therapist say it’s actually not healthy to love anyone more than you love yourself.
That statement may prompt a lot of “wait a minute, that’s not right” statements. And you’re free to feel how you feel about that statement. But, regardless of how you feel about it, that line does drill down to one very important truth: self-care is not selfish.
Now you may not have time to go to the spa or take a long bubble bath every day, but you do have time to maintain your boundaries when they’re tested, and that’s the kind of authentic self-care we’re after here.
Well, for starters, because boundaries protect you— mentally, emotionally, and physically.
They also allow you to be separate from things you neither agree with nor value.
This, of course, makes life much easier and it makes you much happier and healthier, not to mention more confident in and less angry.
So, the next time someone tests your boundaries, here are a few statements you can use to hold your ground:
“I can see that ___ is important to you. I disagree.”
“I prefer not to be involved.”
“Thank you, but no.”
“Let’s agree to disagree.”
What are a few statements you can create and use?
It’s always handy to have a few in your back pocket.
Find a few you like, use them, and notice how people respond.
Over time, it will get easier to maintain your boundaries and you’ll feel more confident about doing so!
(Hint. you don’t have to justify why you are declining/saying no/disagreeing.)
What an Added Challenge This Month?
I challenge you to practice maintaining your boundaries without justifying why you’re refusing/saying no/taking a different stance/performing an act of self-care.
I personally think setting and maintaining boundaries are two of the most important acts of self-care. I believe they can completely change a person’s life and make work environments more palatable.
But, one must always remember that while boundaries are a must, they don’t give you permission to judge/demean/lash out/etc.
Once you have your boundaries, practice interacting with others in your personal and professional environments in constructive ways. You don’t have to give in, but you do need to be civil and you should try to exercise empathy and understand the point of view of the other.
Until next time, stay well!
P.S. Looking for a hint about what Step 4 is? Well, now that you’ve accomplished so much (reconnecting with yourself, expressing your true self, setting boundaries, unlearning the myth that self-care is selfish), it’s time to give you a tool kit to deal with difficult thought patterns. Congrats, you’re now almost 50% of the way through the self-care mindset process, a 7-step process to mental and emotional peace!
Amanda has contributed to public health initiatives on two continents in three countries. She’s currently pursuing a nursing degree and has successfully owned and operated a freelance writing business specializing in content for healthcare organizations for three years. She and her husband and daughter live in New York. They all enjoy eating out at great restaurants. Connect with Amanda on Linkedin
and start a conversation.