How boundaries can set you free
Do you ever feel like people expect too much from you or find yourself giving more than you’re receiving in personal or professional relationships? Of course, there could be a variety of reasons for this but by far the most common I come across in my coaching is one of boundaries.
Boundaries are the guidelines we create to look after ourselves and manage other people’s expectations of us; effectively they are the difference between what we will and won’t accept. For example, you may be happy to skip lunch for an important meeting but you’ll never stay past 5pm because you need to collect the kids from daycare. Or perhaps you work from home but you power-down by 7pm and any emails that come in after that have to wait until the morning. Maybe you’re happy to cook a healthy family dinner after a long day at work but you expect your partner to load the dishwasher afterwards. In all of these cases, we see where someone is willing to give and where they draw a line or ‘personal boundary’.
Different people will have different boundaries – they are typically an extension of our core values and help us to live our lives in a way that is comfortable for us. Having clear boundaries that fit with what matters to you most can allow you to feel in control of your life. This is not about creating rigid systems, but giving yourself the freedom to compromise your boundaries if something feels more important or has a big enough payoff. For example, maybe you don’t usually give your personal mobile number to colleagues but you make an exception for someone you think of as a genuine friend.
Our boundaries help others too, if we’re consistent in our behaviours and responses to situations then the people around us can learn what to expect and adapt to create interactions with us that work for both of us. Or perhaps not, perhaps there are people that turn out to be a mismatch for us but that’s ok too because the chances are we feel better with them not around. However, this is where I see conflict start to creep in for a lot of people.
Often I speak with people who struggle with what they see as others’ unfair expectations of them; they want to please those they care about or work with but all too often they feel put upon. They ask questions like ‘why do they think they can just call me and I’ll drop everything?’ or ‘why is it always me that ends up working late to resolve a problem?’. Usually, the answer is because they have set that expectation through their behaviour and people are responding to this; they have not communicated that this is not acceptable to them or more likely, their actions have demonstrated that it is. Whilst we all want to be liked by others, if we’re not consistent with our boundaries it can lead to resentment or conflict with those that they were trying to please.
So how can we avoid this and set boundaries that work in our favour? The simple answer is to value ourselves at least as important as other people. Note, I said simple not easy! All too often people who continually prioritise others’ people above themselves feel like this is necessary in some way; it could be a fear of rejection, a sense of not being good enough, imposter syndrome, a behaviour learned from someone else or any number of other things. Working on getting truly comfortable with yourself can be a great step towards feeling confident enough to speak up about what you need and allowing others to help you get it. Remember, be clear and consistent to give people a fair chance of meeting those needs! Yes it’s true, people might still ask you to operate outside of your boundaries sometimes but then the power sits with you to decide whether doing so is worth it for you.
What are some of the ways you set boundaries in your life? How do you let others know what your boundaries are? Let me know in the comments below.
If you’d like some help exploring your own boundaries and how to assert them in everyday life, book your FREE discovery call now.