When I worked in environmental and human rights non-profits, my colleagues often applauded me for having “good boundaries.” I was confused at first, since I’d always considered myself a people-pleaser.
But what my colleagues meant, and what they were so impressed by, amounted to the simple fact that I didn’t let anyone treat me like a doormat. When I needed to, I set limits that people weren’t used to.
When we work in passion-based settings, those limits can sometimes go out the window. We mix the personal and professional. Going “above and beyond” is considered the baseline. And we begin to personally identify with our work. These expectations (and their consequences) can be exhausting, and harmful.
What is a good boundary?
This might look like setting your phone to do not disturb. It might mean keeping certain things private in certain settings (like social media). You might limit the amount of time or energy that you put into a project at any given time.
Great boundaries are entirely customized to each individual. What’s a boundary for you might not be for me, and vice versa. Boundaries are at their most effective when they are meaningful and well-tailored to your personal limits.
Our boundaries govern what we’re willing to share, what we’re willing to give, and what we’re willing to spend, whether it’s our money, our time or our energy. You might need different boundaries with different people. Some people need clearer lines than others.
We might also need boundaries to get our needs met: both from others and from ourselves. Ultimately, boundaries are limits we set that support and nourish us, and keep the vampires (energetic and otherwise) at bay.
What’s your line in the sand?
When you start creating better boundaries, a good place to start is with your non-negotiable boundaries. This is about what you need in order to feel safe and respected, at a bare minimum.
Make note of where your hard limits are that, if crossed, spell the end of a relationship (professional or personal). These are your deal-breakers.
Where is your line in the sand?
When you know where the absolute limit is, you can work backward from there to develop other boundaries that go beyond safety and protect your well-being on all levels. This line in the sand gives you a chance to practice, so that over time you’re about to set boundaries on a more subtle level.
Where are your boundaries leaking?
Leaky boundaries often feel like frustration: that people aren’t meeting your needs; that you have overcommitted again; that your priorities are being trampled; that people didn’t read your mind.
While, it’s obviously ideal if others step in and honor your boundaries, sometimes you need to advocate for yourself. Let go of the guilt you felt about setting the boundary. Stop making exceptions or excuses.
I get it. Setting boundaries is difficult enough. Enforcing them can be even more challenging. It can bring up a lot of feelings, especially if we don’t think we’re worthy of setting those limits. Start plugging up the leaks in your boundaries. They’ll function a whole lot more effectively.
How can you make your boundaries more effective?
Once you start creating these new structures in your life, it becomes deeply empowering. Once you start cleaning up what hasn’t been working in one area of life, may find yourself creating boundaries in all areas of your life.
Feel free to edit ruthlessly. If you need more time, space, money, privacy or anything else, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Call yourself on your bullshit. Start getting honest with yourself about those habits that aren’t serving you. Respect your limitations as much as you expect others to. Break those old habits and decide to rewire your attitude about what you need and deserve.
My actual best advice? Practice, practice, practice. Build your boundary-setting muscle. You will probably shock people at first. They may not like watching you grow in your power in this way. But this discomfort is normal and entirely survive-able.
What happens when boundary is crossed?
First, forgive yourself. It happens, and it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.
Give yourself some TLC when there has been hurt. Heaping blame on yourself won’t solve the problem, so stay compassionate with yourself.
Then address the root cause. Did you create a leak in your boundary or did someone disrespect it? Either way, look at why this happened. If it was your leaky boundary, remember self-forgiveness and make a plan to plug that leak!
If it was someone else, speak up. You can be as direct as: “That crossed my boundary. Don’t do it again.” If someone repeatedly disrespects your boundaries, let the relationship go.
Remember that boundaries are acts of devotion.
Boundaries are a form of devotional practice toward yourself and your needs and your full humanity. They are like prayers for the more world we want to live in. @ChristyTending (Click to Tweet!)
By setting and respecting our boundaries, we’re teaching others how to respect and love us well. The person who will be upset at you for doing that? They don’t have your best interests at heart.
Instead, if you want to have your own back, boundaries are a great place to start.
Tell me in the comments: Do you struggle with boundaries? How will you start to plug up your leaky boundaries today?
Christy Tending is an activist, writer, teacher, and self-care mentor for rebellious humans. She is the creator of The Art of Self-Advocacy and lives in Northern California with her extraordinary family. She makes her online home at ChristyTending.com. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Nadine Shaabana.