What are boundaries?
Boundaries are abstract and therefore can be difficult to understand, especially if we don’t already have boundary-setting skills. Boundaries cannot be seen or touched. But, we can experience them when they are crossed. For many of us, the idea of setting boundaries seems overwhelming and scary. But, they are essential for our well-being at home, work, or school.
Boundaries are the rules of interactions we have with other people. Many people have at least occasional problems with managing boundaries. Boundaries vary by type of relationship, time, place, and situation. This is made more complicated by the need to read and respect others’ boundaries, while at the same time maintaining our own boundaries.
According to Anne Katherine, a boundary is, “a limit that promotes integrity…By the limits you set, you protect the integrity of your day, your energy and spirit, the health of your relationships, the pursuits of your heart. Each day is shaped by your choices…Boundaries provide a clear moral compass. They keep us on track. They protect the important, tender parts of ourselves.” Setting and maintaining boundaries “protect your time and energy for the things that matter. It can help you to be clearer about what you want to include and leave out, so that you can fill the spaces of your life with the people, activities, and pursuits that are truly yours.” (from Where to Draw the Line, 2000)
To set a boundary, you must first consciously identify your boundary. For instance, if you spend most days feeling overwhelmed, then it’s possible you are not setting boundaries about your time. “Yes, but…” is often the response to this observation. “Yes, but my kids have piano lessons, I have to work, my mom needs help now that she’s getting older, I volunteered to help with a work project, I’m coaching my nephew’s little league team because no one else volunteered, etc.” Does this sound like you? Do you sometimes feel lost in the midst of your own life?
If so, chance are you are not setting healthy boundaries around your time and energy. Yes, you are “doing” lots of things and possibly making lots of people happy, but you are also overwhelmed which may be affecting your attentiveness, your sleeping, your nutrition, your health, your effectiveness, and/or your ability to be present and enjoy any of those events. You may be delaying or ignoring your own needs and self-care, thus violating your own boundaries. So, the question becomes, which option increases your sense of well-being: decreasing the amount of time you spend “doing” things, or continuing with or increasing your “doing” activities?
“Yes, but…I made commitments and I will feel guilty if I don’t help or do that thing.” “Yes, but it feels selfish to put myself before my loved ones or my work or my community.”
Here are two really important things to remember:
- You have a right to say NO without feeling guilty.
- You have the right to take care of my mental, physical, and spiritual health.
There are a few caveats. You do not get to refuse to feed your children, but you can refuse to take them out to eat and spend time and money you may not have. You probably cannot refuse to complete required work tasks without getting fired, but you have a right to say no to additional, non-required work projects without feeling guilty. Yes, your boss or your children may be unhappy, but setting boundaries is not about making others happy.
Setting boundaries may be uncomfortable. It may cause some conflict with people in your life. But, setting boundaries and maintaining our personal integrity is our right and our responsibility.