Boundaries don’t just involve morals and scruples.
We can use boundaries to set some rules and guidelines for how we allow other people to treat us. We can also use boundaries with ourselves, to decide what we will and will not allow ourselves to say or do. Boundaries are a great tool for time and energy management. We can set parameters so that we can use our time effectively. We can also limit the amount of negative energy that we allow into our lives.
But, how does one effectively set and manage boundaries? Below, are some tips on creating and enforcing boundaries in your life.
Don’t create a rule that you aren’t prepared to follow. Be realistic. Is this something that you are going to be able to enforce? Are you prepared to consistently enforce this rule? Keeping boundaries takes commitment. If you don’t enforce your boundaries, it will be difficult for anyone to take your boundaries seriously. If you start breaking your own boundaries it may be more difficult to enforce other boundaries as well. Self-discipline is a key component to keeping your boundaries intact.
Let’s say you don’t want to take calls after 9pm, because you want to ensure that you have some quiet time at the end of the day. Are you going to make a commitment to turn your ringer off each night? Are you going to let a call go to voice mail if you see your phone ringing? Are you going to not let any calls through, or just calls from certain people? Why or why not? This illustrates the importance of clearly defining your boundaries and remembering the purpose for making them. Be clear about the boundaries you set, then make a commitment to stick with them.
Creating effective boundaries involves conscious decision making. Realistically, what will work for you? What will you be able to live with? What are and aren’t you capable of? What will help you and what will harm you? It’s important to get in touch with yourself and learn the most effective way of working with yourself. It’s important to practice setting boundaries, especially, if it isn’t something you have done before. Work on becoming comfortable with enforcing a boundary before creating a new one. Remember, you want to set yourself up for success!
For example, you may be frustrated because people seem to constantly be interrupting your work day. Upon further examination, you realize that you are allowing those interruptions. Before rushing to set a boundary that no one can ever interrupt you again, realize that you have been practicing this pattern of behaviour for some time. To elicit change, you need to practice a new pattern of behaviour, otherwise, this will be a very hard boundary for you to keep. Avoid radical changes. Perhaps, you can start by setting a smaller boundary. You may want to start by setting a boundary that you will be unavailable for one solid hour a day between the hours of 9am-10am. No phone calls, no messages, no emails, no interruptions. You can let people know of your new boundary. It will likely take some time for both you and other people to get used to this. To enforce this boundary, you may want to turn your ringer off, not check email, not check your messages. You may want to close or lock your office door and hang up a sign. Make small sustainable changes.
Be clear about your boundaries. If possible issue a direct statement about those boundaries. Beyond this, you do not need to explain yourself to anyone.
If, for example, you set boundaries for time management, it won’t serve that purpose if you constantly spend time explaining those boundaries to others. It is as though you have to set two boundaries, one for time management, and the other for yourself to not feel compelled to explain and justify yourself to others. Be prepared, people will challenge your boundaries. If you are not careful they may try to pull you into long conversations and possible drama asking you to justify your boundaries. It is your decision as to what you want your boundaries to be. Do what is right for you. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for doing what is best for you.
The more flexible a boundary the less effective it will be. If you start making excuses and exceptions to your boundaries you will find it very hard to keep your boundaries. Don’t feel guilty about having boundaries, they are normal and healthy. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about having them either. This goes back to making sure you only make boundaries you are prepared to enforce.
For example, you may have a boundary that you won’t engage in gossip. Yet, you have a very dear friend about whom you care very much. That friend begins gossiping to you. You’re afraid that you may hurt his or her feelings, so you allow it to continue. You now feel terrible that you have broken your own boundary. It will be much harder for you to try to enforce that boundary the next time because you have already made an exception once. The more you make exceptions the harder it may become to change the behavior. It will also be harder for the other person to take you seriously when you do try to enforce your boundary.
It’s important to exercise some forethought into making boundaries. What will happen if someone breaks one of your boundaries? What will the consequences be? Are you prepared for those consequences? More importantly, are you prepared to accept those consequences? Just because we set boundaries, that doesn’t automatically mean that people will follow them. Do you have a plan for what happens next?
Let’s say you have a boundary where you will not remain friends with someone who is not honest with you. Will you end the friendship after one lie? How will you measure their honesty? How will you handle the situation? Will you warn the person of your boundary when you start the friendship or after you catch them lying? The second part of this is that you must then stick to your own agreement. Both parties must accept the consequences of the breached boundary.
Doing anything new can be challenging. It may be a struggle. Try and be patient with yourself. Change takes practice and time. It took time to learn how to talk, walk, or ride a bicycle. It will take some effort before you master boundaries. It may help to find people who are skilled at making and keeping boundaries. You may be able to ask them for advice or support. As you are learning, be extra kind and gentle with yourself. Make sure you aren’t beating yourself up with negative self-dialogue. Find time for you and to take care of yourself physically and mentally. By looking after yourself you will have more patience with which to work. Don’t deplete yourself. Don’t give up! Boundaries are an effective tool for self-care, but you need to exercise self-care in order to enforce them.
Remember, boundaries are both healthy and necessary. There is nothing wrong with having or enforcing boundaries. We can use boundaries to improve the quality of our lives and our relationships with others. We can use them to let people know how we wish and expect to be treated.