Establishing personal boundaries is vitally important in ensuring you stick to your values, beliefs and respect your limits.
I can confidently say, that up until 5 or 6 months ago – I had no boundaries. As far as I was concerned, this wasn’t a bad thing. It made me an open, expressive and hard working person. I put time, effort, love and energy into the things I cared about, as well as the things I didn’t care about.
Until I learned about boundaries, I thought that I owed the world my time and energy. I was so worried about what other people would think of me if I came across as selfish, that I did everything in my power to be there for other people.
“Sure, I’ll give you a lift!”
Getting emotionally invested in friend’s personal dramas
“You can just copy my work”
Staying out later than I wanted to, because it’s what everyone else was doing
Checking my phone every 10 seconds to reply to messages.
“I don’t really want to, but I’ll do it if you want”
Eating a certain way, because that’s how the fitness people on instagram eat.
Allowing negative people to get into my head.
One of the greatest life lessons I’ve learned is that I really don’t owe anyone my time or energy. I am entitled to do with my own life as I please (within reason, of course). If I really wanted to, I could get on a flight to the other side of the globe and live in a remote island for the next 50 years, living off coconuts and fish. (I’m not going to lie, this lifestyle does tempt me).
I’m blessed to live in a country where I have lots of choices, and every day I make new choices. Some of them are autopilot, such as the choice to say thank you to the bus driver, or the choice to recycle cardboard. Some of those choices are more considered, such as whether to go to the gym or whether to attend a social event.
In most situations, you have choices. Sure – there’s bigger implications for some choices than others; but ultimately, your life is a side effect of the choices you make.
So why, is it that we make so many choices with other people in mind, rather than checking in with ourselves first?
I’m not suggesting having an entirely selfish approach towards life. But if you’re anything like me, you have a do-good mentality and you just want to see people happy. Which can sometimes result in thinking that our input and energy is an important part of other people’s happiness.
Examples of where I have set boundaries
My Phone/Social Media
I have a love hate relationship with my phone. The last year has proven just how powerful and important smart phones are in social integration, information sharing and education. I’m not in any rush to get a Nokia brick (although I do love the idea of a bi-monthly charge).
One way that I’ve set boundaries with my phone is turning off notifications on all social media platforms. I have notifications for facebook messenger and whataspp, but everything else is completely turned off. My phone is always on Do Not Disturb and I never go on my phone in the first hour of waking and the last hour before bed.
I like having a phone, but I don’t like being a slave to it. I don’t like the idea of a vibration having the power to distract what I’m doing in the present moment. I always think, if someone needs to contact me urgently, they’ll either have warned me beforehand, or they will ring me more than once (two phone calls automatically knocks off Do Not Disturb).
These habits with my phone have been fundemental in changing how I feel. I no longer go to bed at night or wake up in the morning feeling emotionally impacted by things I’ve read online. I no longer spend every waking hour being interrupted by vibrations or messages.
I’ve always been an over-sharer. Less out of self indulgence, and more out of a desire to connect with others and find companionship in shared experiences. I have learned that speaking up about personal issues can have such a positive impact on others.
But very recently, I realised that I had been giving so much energy and access to my personal life, to people who I wasn’t even that close to or sure about. I tried to maintain friendships which were very one sided, and failed to see that some of these ‘friendships’ were people taking advantage of my caring nature.
I’m sure people feel the same way about me too; and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that people aren’t good for you.
A good way to work out who these people are, is to think of their name and then consider the very first feeling you have about them. Is it warmth, love and companionship? Or is it tummy-twisting, unsure, stress provoking?
Just because you’ve identified someone as not good for you, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. I don’t necessarily like the idea that people are entirely ‘toxic’ or wholly nasty. But some people just aren’t right for you – and that’s okay. They probably have lots of other people in their life who are right for them, as do you.
Values and Decisions
Everyone has values. These are the things that are important to you, such as vegans not eating animal products due to the harm to animals, or parents ensuring their children are safe.
Values can differ in necessity and importance to you. It’s also hard to force yourself to stick to values that you truly don’t believe in. If you want to be someone who values getting their work done before the crack of dawn, but you’re actually someone who values a 11am lie in above all – you’re going to keep shooting yourself in the foot.
Setting boundaries is a good way of maintaining the values that you can be a bit shaky on. I value feeling fresh and well rested before a busy day of work; but I’m also partial to giving into pressure and going on a spontaneous night out when invited. Barriers in this example would be firstly saying a firm no to your friends; they should hopefully respect this – but chances are they will try to convince you otherwise. You can elaborate on this barrier by explaining your point of view – you’d love to come out, but you really want to get some work done tomorrow and you know you work best without a hangover.
The same could be said for wanting to save money, eat healthier or sleep better. Interestingly, other people love to sabotage someone else’s attempts at self improvements. This is a really common response and fairly natural, as someone else’s self improvement can highlight perceived flaws and issues within an individual. It’s why office workers always feel like their diet is being sabotaged by spiteful Karens.
A key thing to establishing barriers for your values and decisions is to think of the person you really want to be a few months, years down the line. Question whether your current choice will help you become closer to that person, or further away.
The theory is, that the person who we want to be, is the person who we really are. Wrong decisions feel wrong, because they’re incongruent with our ‘ideal self’ – there’s no fundamentally right or wrong decision (of course, we are talking morally here – but lets remember we have a legal system!)
Overall, boundaries look different to everyone. But they’re a form of self respect. Boundaries give us the opportunities to protect ourselves and also weed out the people who disrespect them. Nobody has the right to overstep your personal and mental boundaries.