The Power of Setting Boundaries That You Can Keep

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Ever have someone say something to you that made an idea click beautifully into place in your mind? Something that really struck me and changed how I looked boundaries is that according to her research, Brene Brown found the one thing that the most compassionate people have were strong boundaries. The first time I heard that I was dumbstruck. Brene found that compassionate people all had strong, clear boundaries that they enforce with all the people in their lives.

Boundaries are not arbitrary barriers between us and other people. They’re rules of engagement that we set so that we can maintain our self-respect while respecting others. It’s what is OK with you and what is not OK. “I’m OK with doing overtime if a big project deadline is coming up as long as I’m compensated. I’m not OK with answering work calls out of working hours.” Knowing what your boundaries are and setting them is no easy task! It takes some introspection and trial and error to know what yours are: everybody has different boundaries, some boundaries are firm, and some are flexible. Plus, once we know our boundaries it takes some tough ovaries to communicate and enforce them. 

The first building block to setting boundaries is knowing what you value. Do you value time? Acknowledgement? Family? Compensation? Taking the time to really map out your values and rank them is helpful in learning how to set boundaries and keep them.

Without boundaries, we open the door to burnout, resentment and loss of self-respect

Telling someone “no” can be nerve-wracking, especially if it is someone we want to like us. It’s downright scary if it is someone who can potentially make life harder for us – like a boss. And so many of us will tell ourselves “Oh, it’s not a big deal. I can take on another project” instead of setting a boundary. What we end up doing is telling ourselves that our wants and needs are less important than others. Resentment builds up. Proverbial projects pile on. We end up doing things that we don’t want to do more often than not. This is how we end up either burnt out, exploding, or both.

Which is worse? – setting a boundary and risk getting pushback on it or be surrounded by situations that your inner compass is yelling “NO!” to. Is it possible to set a boundary in a way that you come across as saying yes and being positive?

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others."- Brene Brown

Setting a boundary with someone is actually shows that you care more, not less. You care about the longevity of the relationship by setting boundaries up. That’s not to say that saying no will always have a positive reaction from others: hearing no can unleash emotions in all of us. But, think about this: have you ever felt so pushed around and disrespected in a relationship that you completely lose your mind? Or you build up so much resentment that you abruptly end the relationship...and then did you realize you never communicated your boundaries or your discomfort the whole time? The short-term discomfort of setting boundaries is far less than the long term consequences of not ever speaking up in the first place. Plus, it invites the other parties involved to communicate their own boundaries. Everybody can win.

Setting Boundaries for Self-Care in the Workplace

Work is often one of the most difficult places to set boundaries in. Depending on the office culture, some organizations may be easier to communicate your needs and expectations in than others. Familiarize yourself with company policies and standards to see where you have the space to navigate your own boundaries. Make sure you communicate your boundaries early on –  especially if you have responsibilities outside of work like kids or family. And once you’ve established your needs and expectations with yourself and others, then be consistent as possible. Part of setting boundaries is self-respect, and it is up to you to be the first line of defense for maintaining it.

A good rule of thumb for communicating your boundaries with others is using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, “I can’t take on this project with my current schedule” is assertive, whereas “ You can’t expect me to take on anymore projects” sounds aggressive.  Try setting boundaries in a positive way – When another project is being given to your already full plate try asking does this project take priority over those other projects? The timelines on project B will need to be adjusted to accomplish this new project. You may even need to (If you can’t say no) say yes. Yes I would love to be a part of that project and with my current priorities it would need to be next month. Yes I would like to.. and I do not have the time available to give it the focus it needs.

Don’t forget to set boundaries with yourself

This one may seem a little obvious, but if you’re going to set boundaries with others – keep them with yourself. If you expect respect and discipline from yourself, you can expect it from others without being a hypocrite. Boundaries for yourself can look like not picking up your phone first thing in the morning, shifting your emails to push, getting regular exercise, having family meals as often as possible.

Boundaries are not an *option*. They are THE way.

Communicating our boundaries is not an easy fix. Some people will still cross them. Others will be upset or disappointed by them (“What do you mean you don’t want to name your baby after Grandma?!”). You may always feel a little bit nervous when setting them. Despite all this, they’re imperative for every level of your life. Not only do they prevent you from bending yourself backwards into a pretzel, they facilitate safe, respectful relationships for real compassion, love and authenticity. Start small and work your way up.

If you really struggle with this reach out for a consultation with Brenda or download this quick video to learn more about boundary setting.


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