Insights for High Stress Professions
Setting boundaries is hard. Communicating boundaries is hard. Holding boundaries is hard. Let’s explore how to feel more skilled at navigating the hard.
Photo Credit: Therdman
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Some boundaries need to be explicitly communicated with others. Some don’t.
If you’re going to start making yourself unavailable after work hours, just start making yourself unavailable after work hours. Stop checking your emails, silence or disable notifications, delete apps.
If you're going to start only doing the care tasks that you have the bandwidth for, just start doing the care tasks you have bandwidth for.
If you’re going to start shooting for 80-90% effort rather than 100+% effort, just start working at 80-90% effort.
If you’re going to start taking time away from your workstation for lunch, just start getting away from your workstation for lunch.
It’s entirely possible others won’t notice the change, but you’ll start to feel the difference from protecting your bandwidth.
Keep it Simple
When communicating your boundary, you don’t need to justify yourself. You don’t need the other person to understand all the things that led up to you needing to set this boundary (I get that it feels like you do, but you don’t).
Graceful Refusals: Navigating the 'No'
Part of boundary setting is really paying attention to what you say yes to and what you say no to. No is a muscle that has atrophied in many of us, but it’s still there and we can strengthen it again. Here are some exercises to strengthen your “No” muscle.
Holding the line: Protecting Your Boundaries
A fact of human nature and boundaries is that we are going to test boundaries. It’s important to remember when we set boundaries that they are going to be tested. It’s helpful to remember this isn’t usually malicious, and often it’s not even intentional. We are used to behaving in certain ways and it’s hard to break those patterns.
It is your responsibility to set your boundaries and it’s your responsibility to reinforce and uphold your boundaries.
Consistency is Key
Some boundaries may be rigid boundaries; there is no flex. An example of a rigid boundary with a toddler is “it’s okay for you to be upset, it’s not okay for you to hit me when you’re upset.”
Some boundaries may be flexible. There is a reasonable amount of flex based on specific circumstances. This flexibility should be determined ahead of time. An example of a flexible boundary may be “I won’t be checking my email and am unavailable for any work related concerns while on vacation. Unless it is X or Y, then call me.” For this example, you are predetermining a SHORT list of acceptable reasons to contact you on vacation, and sharing the acceptable method of contacting you regarding that issue.
What we don’t want are porous boundaries. Porous boundaries are boundaries we set but don’t consistently hold. For example, let’s say you’ve shared with a colleague that you won’t want to hear them joke about certain topics. Then they do it again, and you don’t say anything. They do it again, and you leave the room. They do it again, and you are so frustrated you blow up at them. Then they do it again, and you don’t say anything. In this example, you set a boundary, but weren’t consistent in how you responded when the boundary was violated.
When you set porous boundaries, you are sending the message that your boundary isn’t really important, and neither are your concerns and needs.
Natural and Logical Consequences
When we don’t set boundaries, or have porous boundaries, we are protecting people from feeling the consequences of their own actions. Also, when we start to set boundaries, we may be tempted to manufacture consequences or punishments (you didn’t do what I told you to do, so now you can’t go out with your friends). Natural and logical consequences are the best options for growth and learning.
When you’ve set a boundary around how you want to be spoken to during a discussion and they continue to yell and escalate: “I’ll come back to the room when you’re ready to talk about this calmly.”
When you’ve asked for direction on how to redistribute the tasks on your plate and received no guidance: make a judgment call on what can be done on a different day and what can be done to a different standard.
Mastering the art of boundary communication is an integral part of nurturing a healthy and balanced life. While it may seem challenging, it's important to recognize that setting, communicating, and upholding boundaries are skills that can be developed over time.
Actions often speak louder than words when it comes to boundary-setting. Sometimes, implementing the change you desire is as simple as making a conscious shift in your behavior. Whether it's reclaiming your after-work hours or focusing on tasks that align with your bandwidth, taking action empowers you to protect your precious resources.
Cole, T. (2021). Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free. Sounds True.
Davis, K.C. (2022). How to Keep House While Drowning. Simon Element.
McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Crown Business.
Tawwab, N. (2021). Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. TarcherPerigee.
Want more on boundaries? Read the rest of the articles in my series on boundaries.
Firm Foundations: Exploring Various Types of Personal Boundaries
The Silent Language: What Your Boundaries (or Lack Thereof) Say
From Guilt to Grace: Navigating the weight of guilt in boundary setting.
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