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  • Jan Ockendon

Boundaries, what does that word mean to you?

Would it be this? A fence, something to delineate one area from another? Or would you have something else in mind? What about if I said personal boundaries, what would come to mind then? I think maybe for most women the picture may become much more blurred. We are not always good at setting ourselves boundaries and if we do we are not always good at holding those boundaries. We have so many demands on our time that it is easy to forget that we need to care for ourselves as well and setting boundaries is undoubtedly a good way of doing that. In this context boundaries are not fences we put up but are helping us to keep ourselves safe and allowing other people know what we expect from a situation and a relationship.

To me setting boundaries is much more than just saying no to things every now and then. It is having a bottom line, knowing what that is and being happy with that. It's knowing how much you can realistically do in any given day and drawing the line there. Sticking to that and not being pushed over it without good reason. Not pushing it yourself by working over 10 minutes a day when you have set the boundary to finish on time every day so you can spend more time with family. All those 10 minutes over every day over a 5 day week adds up to just under an hour a day. What is your hourly rate? How much have you worked for free in that week and how much could you have done in that time with your family. It could be that you do need to work over one day, ok then take the time back elsewhere. When we don't set boundaries we are not respecting ourselves and our time. We are putting energy out there into the universe saying we feel we are not worth looking after fully. What would you have as your bottom line if you could have anything and not feel guilty.

Knowing why you are setting boundaries is important, what would you gain from setting yourself a boundary? It is good for self esteem and energy conservation, good for emotional health and good for your relationships with others. Think how difficult it is for you when you feel as if you are not sure where you are with someone. What you need to be careful of is to not set boundaries too rigidly. Being inflexible can also cause problems, you could risk isolation or lead to avoiding closeness with people altogether. We are generally gregarious beings and being with others is good for our self worth.

Your boundaries should be yours and based on what you see as important. Ask yourself what is most important to me and what am I protecting by setting that boundary. Sit down for a few minutes and write down what is the most important to you. What makes you boil up if it is pushed too hard, what makes you feel the happiest and most settled. How can I communicate that to those around me effectively without feeling guilty. Letting go of the guilt is important, guilt is often the reason people find it difficult to hold their boundaries. With that in mind ask yourself am I ok with this, does this fit with my values? Will I be able to tell whoever needs to hear it without feeling embarrassed or anxious and what words will I use to do that.

What do you need to think about in terms of communication if you need to reinforce those boundaries. I think probably the most important thing is to know what you want to say and why. This might not be the same for each person you speak to, imagine telling your 3 year old using the same words you would use to your best friend or your partner. Using positive body language and staying calm is key, being assertive and not angry. It would be helpful to have an idea what you might do or say if someone did challenge or try to push you to wobble that boundary. If you do find yourself feeling guilty or starting to wobble, ask for time to go away and think about it. Give yourself time to feel calmer, maybe a mindfulness exercise or a meditation and then get back to them with your answer.

What about the guilt? If this is really important to you or you are protecting yourself from overwhelm or burnout remind yourself of that. Think about what will happen if you don't hold that boundary, what the effect of being overwhelmed or burnt out would be. Even more guilt maybe? Who can you talk to that you trust and know will keep your boundary by letting you talk but not rescue you or want to solve the problem for you? An ally to hold you accountable and be your cheerleader. Telling someone makes it all real and saying it out loud can actually be very helpful to keep it in the part of your mind where you want it so you can act on it.

So go on what is stopping you setting those boundaries and working to them now?

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