This post about boundaries is part of a series to help women who are struggling with having no time for themselves to pursue their dreams. I call it the Wonder Woman Complex, and it’s what causes many of my clients to come seek my help. You can find the first post about time management here.
The term boundaries has been tossed around a lot in self help world over the last few years. It’s certainly not a new concept, but it is something that the modern woman has been struggling with lately. In an effort to be Wonder Woman and Super Mom, we say yes to everyone commitment and event that comes down the line. Instead of protecting our energy and our values, we “suck it up” and do whatever we can to make those around us happy. We fear being seen as less than because we need help to take care of all the things society says we ought to be able to do on our own.
Saying yes to everything and letting those around us impose their needs and wants on us leads us to live in a place of anger, resentment and frustration. This situation is bad enough when you’re in a circle of regular people, but having no boundaries puts you at risk to getting sucked into the orbit of a taker who doesn’t care about whether they are putting too much on you, so long as their every need and want is met.
Eventually a lack of boundaries will cause you to burn out. You’ll have put the needs of everyone else around you above yours and become so overcommitted that you can’t dig your way out. Unless you define your boundaries, change your behavior, and stand up for yourself and your needs, little to nothing that is important to you will ever get accomplished.
SIGNS THAT YOU NEED MORE BOUNDARIES
One of the key traits of those that lack boundaries is low self esteem. Not holding yourself in very high regard means that you are likely to allow others to walk all over you to please them. People with low self esteem tend to think that if others believe that they are good or worthy then they themselves will be able to believe it too.
It doesn’t work that way.
You need to first believe that you are worthy so that others will believe it too. You need to believe that your values are important enough for you to set boundaries around them. If setting boundaries seems near impossible for you to do, I suggest you look into how you feel and talk about yourself first, and work on boosting the quality of your self talk.
Other symptoms include:
- always putting everyone else’s needs above yours
- hardly ever saying no to requests (even though you don’t want to say yes)
- harboring resentment for those around you
- guilt and anxiety about interacting with others due to fear that you’ll be asked to do something
While any one of these symptoms is enough to say that it’s time to examine your boundary setting, it’s also a chain of events. Often one leads to the other until you’re experiencing them all at once.
WHAT ARE YOU PROTECTING?
The purpose of boundaries is for them to be the line in the sand that you draw around your values. If you don’t have boundaries, it’s not to say that you don’t have values, it’s just that you’re not prioritizing those values enough to defend them.
To find your values you need to distill down what’s important to you and why. There are a couple of exercises here that you can do to help you figure them out. Or you can just sit down with a piece of paper and consider everything that’s important to you and try to sum those things up into a one word answer by asking yourself why.
Some examples of what the process might look like to you are:
My job > money > financial freedom > ability to help others > charity
My job > money > ability to buy plane tickets > travel
My job > helping others > improving lives > wellness
The reason that you value something in your life might lead you to multiple values. Don’t judge the values that come up. Valuing your money because it leads to charity is not better nor worse than valuing it so you can travel.
However it shakes out, just keep track of what you value so that you can then set your boundaries around those values.
If you’re struggling to identify your values, try taking note over the course of a week or so when you have strong emotions about something. If someone makes a joke that you find yourself strongly offended by, consider why that is. Perhaps the joke insulted your feelings on religion or politics – whatever it was, it was probably a value that needs to be on your list.
DRAW THE BOUNDARIES
Now that you know what you value you can set the limits on those things. You need to consider where your limits should be to keep you happy and safe AND what the consequences are of someone crossing those boundaries.
Because they will. A lot. More on this in a minute.
How do you actually make the boundary?
The actual setting of the boundaries is a three step process:
Decide what the boundary is around
Let’s say that you have done the exercises above and found you have a value of equality. This means that you will not tolerate the guy at the office that makes racist jokes. You will also need to to consider what behavior you will change now that you have made this boundary.
Communicating the boundary
The communication of the boundary is a critical step. Drawing a boundary means nothing if you don’t tell others that it’s there. No one is going to read your mind. When communicating make sure that you are firm about this line. Any ambivalence about it will cause people to be confused and they are likely to test it more often.
Defending the boundary
You can expect to have your boundary tested on a regular basis. Some people will be checking to see if it’s still there, and some people will simply have forgotten that you placed it. Either way, you’re going to need to be firm any time it’s tested.
This is especially true with a new boundary. Those around you will not be used to this new change and will push you out of habit. Most people that push your boundaries are not thinking of you, but of their own needs and wants. Usually a gentle reminder of the boundary is enough, but if you find yourself dealing with a taker, you will probably need to be more clear and firm.
When you’re defending your boundaries remember that the only behavior you have control of is your own. While it would be wonderful if that guy at the office would just stop telling racist jokes altogether, you don’t have control over that. Decide what YOU can do when he starts telling one.
BEWARE leaky boundaries. If sometimes you let it slide and sometimes you stand firm, your boundaries are going to be tested more than if you’re clear on the limit.
LIFE AFTER BOUNDARIES
You can expect some relationships to change after you have set up your boundaries. People who were benefitting from you not having any will need to get used to the change. You might even find that some relationships will end.
While this may be hard, these relationships were not built on mutual respect. They were built on you giving and them taking.
If these experiences are causing you to question your decision to keep your boundaries, remind yourself of the values that you are defending. You may want to try visualizing what life will be like when you are fully living your values because your boundaries keep them safe.
And remember that any relationships that are diminished or end due to your new boundaries only leave more space in your life for more positive relationships to blossom.
If you’re struggling with being over committed, lacking boundaries, or making time for what’s important to you then please send me a message. These are all things coaching can help with, and I’m happy to do a free consultation with you to explain how I can help you.