About every 2 months or so I need to remind myself about the importance of boundaries. Boundary setting is imperative especially in caregiving work. It’s one of the best tools in preventing burn out. But it’s not up to everyone else to establish, that responsibility lies on YOU. And unfortunately that’s usually the problem.
I’ve talked many times about the importance of speaking up and making your needs known. But it’s very easy to write that sentence and much harder to ask for. So let’s look at why it’s so hard to ask for what we need and/or establish boundaries. You may be afraid of hurting other people’s feelings. You may be worried that others will interpret your words and take it personally. You may not even know what you need. You may be annoyed that you have to ask for something in the first place and you wish people could just read your body language. You may feel irritated with yourself that you feel drained by something or someone that seems to energize others. Or perhaps you have asked for things in the past and it didn’t go well.
If any of that resonates you are not alone. Very few people excel at this, so don’t berate yourself and feel discouraged if you aren’t where you want to be. Neither am I. So let’s get better at it!
1.) Be direct: There’s no point in being wishy-washy with others. Boundary crossers need direct communication especially if the non-verbals or subtle hints haven’t been observed or respected. Be clear in your ask. And avoid phrases like, “Do you mind?” “Is it ok?” “I’m sorry.”
2.) Stick to your decision: Boundary crossers are going to test how serious you are about this. Do you really want that space or where you just having a bad day? So firmly redirect them. This is imperative the first few weeks after a boundary has been set, because it will get tested.
3.) Feel your feelings: You may feel bad, weird, uncomfortable, and guilty when having to redirect someone initially. That’s ok. If it was easy you would’ve done this ages ago. So instead allow yourself to work through it and forgive your missteps in the process.
4.) Start small: Don’t go after the biggest hurdle in your life first. Start small, tackling little areas of your life first and build on that. For instance, I am not a huge fan of the group work text (and I’m on many different group texts). But when my day is over, I often select “DO NOT DISTURB” on my iPhone. This way I will still get any texts but can look at them when I have the mental energy to do so.
5.) Remind yourself why you set this boundary: The reason will help ground you especially when it’s being tested. If you’re not sure why you set the boundary, you will feel less inclined to maintain it. So identify the need and root yourself in it. You are honoring and respecting your needs by doing this.
6.) Use “I” messages not “you” messages: When you address the boundary crosser be aware of your language. Using “you” messages, like “you never” or “you always,” will put the person on the defensive instead of hearing your request. Instead own what you need by using “I.” Ex: “I would like to eat alone today. I find having some alone time helps me recharge.”
7.) Don’t give a lengthy reasoning for your boundary: Less is more. People do not need to know your long drawn out reasoning for your boundary, it’s rarely any of their business and it’s also probably not all that helpful.
8.) Be clear on what you are asking for: If the boundary is clear, people will be more able to follow your request. If they aren’t sure what you mean, it will get confusing. For instance, in my case with getting work texts after work, I have told folks they can still text me after hours, but they know my reply may be delayed as I don’t check my phone as often.
This week I encourage you to gently tackle an area of your life, that could do with a little boundary setting. Be patient with yourself, we’ve got this!
Take care of YOU.