Boundaries are a topic I don’t think we talk enough about. Really, they are an essential pillar of self-care, helping to protect us physically and emotionally. I wonder if perhaps we shy away from the subject because we think it’s ‘selfish’ or ‘harsh’ to have firm boundaries in place.
So I guess I’ll start by saying that this is untrue. Boundaries are far from selfish, they’re key for survival and happiness (in my humble opinion anyway).
Boundaries are the limits we set ourselves, energetically and socially.
For me, they mostly come into play at work and in my family life. Over the last year especially I feel I have hit limits, been pushed past them and built boundaries to protect me from it happening again.
Here’s a quick rundown of what happened in my work and family life and how I came to figure out what my boundaries are.
What lead to me reassess my boundaries at work was a bout of stress and anxiety last year. It happened because of a build-up of several different things, but work was definitely a part of it (spoiler, you can love your job and be overwhelmed with it at the same time).
I had started training to be a coach and was doing this alongside a full-time job while trying to run a blog on the side, so was unsurprisingly burnt out. When this happened I had to really think about what I wanted from my day-job, what direction I was going in and how much energy I was willing to give.
A few months of figuring things out later, I stepped back from my position as a team leader in the company to focus on writing and being a self-care advocate. This change gave me more room energetically and was a clear boundary set up to avoid burnout.
I got off the ‘managerial’ career ladder placed in front of me and reached out horizontally instead.
These boundaries got pushed again however when I started taking on practice clients for coaching recently. It’s been an incredible learning experience, but was being squeezed into a very full schedule and fitting in my own self-care proved difficult.
Thankfully, I have a very supportive partner in Dan and a workplace that are flexible, so I’ve been able to drop down to four days a week at my day-job. This means Fridays will be free for me to work on this blog and coaching.
I hit a limit, saw myself getting stressed and having anxiety symptoms – so I set a new boundary (i.e. that I will not compromise my self-care for work) and adjusted what I needed to so I could make room for myself.
This is a more difficult area to write about and therefore I won’t go into too much detail (oh look – there’s a boundary right there!) but in my family life I’ve had to set a lot of boundaries to protect my mental health. There are members of my family that have pushed my limits too far, so now I protect myself by not speaking to them.
I’m careful in conversations with other family members and know when to step away if I need some room or feel my presence isn’t helpful. Moving out has been a big help here – there’s a lot to be said for having physical space to yourself.
How we all relate and deal with family will be different, but I feel like there’s a real narrative out there saying we have to love and accept everyone in our family ‘because they’re blood’. And I don’t think that’s true. Giving yourself permission to create boundaries (and stick to them) when it comes to family is challenging, but so necessary.
How to set healthy boundaries
If you haven’t given much thought to boundaries… you should. They will shift and change over time, but setting them up before you get pushed past your limits can really help you stay mentally healthy and happy. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Write down your limits
Think about the areas in your life you need boundaries in (work, relationships etc.) and consider what your limits are. These could be around your working hours, how much time/energy you give others, what you will and won’t tolerate from others etc. Just having these in mind will help you be more aware when you reach them.
Communicate your limits
It’s fine if some of your limits stay private, but I’ve found it both liberating and helpful to communicate my limits with those affected. For example, at work I had several conversations about how I was feeling and what I needed – and thankfully they were supportive. In my family, I’ve made my boundaries clear so there’s no expectation or pressure put on me.
Stay in tune with your feelings
You’ll generally know when your limits and boundaries are being pushed, but try and recognise your red flags. Are there any thoughts or physical symptoms you experience? Personally I can always rely on some chest pain to tell me I need to be more boundary-savvy.
This will help you tune into your feelings and recognise what’s going on internally. There are plenty of tools you can use to increase your self-awareness including meditation, yoga, journaling, getting out in nature and even just sitting quietly with yourself.
Be compassionate with yourself
You may well have feelings of guilt or selfishness come up throughout this process. Try and recognise when these show up and be compassionate in response. Give yourself permission to prioritise self-care and trust that staying mentally and physically well is more important than other demands being placed on you.
Sometimes, we get so consumed with the demands in our life we struggle to know what our boundaries should be and how to implement them. When this happens, outside help can be so beneficial. For me, this came in the form of CBT, for you it may mean speaking to a counsellor or coach for that extra layer of support.
If you want to learn more on this subject, I highly recommend this podcast episode from Sas Petherick – it really helped me set my own boundaries.
Let me know your thoughts on this topic, as I mentioned at the start, I don’t feel it gets the attention it deserves so would love to hear more from you guys on this.
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