A very loaded topic arose again the other day when I was speaking with a friend…Boundaries. They were asking for my perspective on boundaries because they were having a particular challenge with it at work. They were feeling stress and frustration as they saw their schedule being pushed around and changed last-minute by others. The voice in their head said they were not being honored, that their time was not being respected, and that their advance preparation for teaching was in vain because of the changes. Judgments arose about the others not being respectful.
I wonder if anyone reading this has not experienced boundary issues at some point in their life. It seems to be part of the human condition. Some of us are better at establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries than others. Some folks reject the idea altogether. Others are so rigid in setting boundaries that they become myopic in their approach and actually separate themselves from wonderful opportunities, or just more joy and freedom.
I’ve been told that I am strong with boundaries, and I believe this is true in many ways. Having boundaries has served me well in my work and personal life. And, I am also sometimes challenged with how best to establish boundaries for myself and for the good of the whole. I believe it is an ongoing practice to refine what healthy boundaries are, how they fit into our lives, and how best to communicate them to others. And though boundary-setting has largely come naturally to me since I was young, I always see room for improvement!
When people perceive healthy boundaries, what are they seeing? Here is a list of some of the qualities I see:
1. Clarity of Communication -
Boundaries are set for good reasons, and in service to others it is important to clearly communicate what the boundary is and why it is important. Don’t assume they understand your boundary or why you chose it. It helps them learn about you and honor you when you are clear.
2. Knowing when to say Yes and when to say No -
I know someone who never seems to say No, at least not as far as I’ve heard. I actually get a kick out of it on one level because their “Yes” is so automatic. And they have a big heart. It doesn’t mean that everything they say Yes to actually gets done, but their attitude at least on the surface is they will show up for your request. They may not really even know how to assess the request and make a real decision about whether they can actually follow through. If you can’t say No, it can be a sign that you aren’t prioritizing clearly, or that you are trying very hard to please everyone around you. This can be an amazing opportunity for self-reflection work. If this is not the case, then you are superhuman and we all need to know your secret! When you can’t say No, even if your intentions are noble, it can actually be harder for someone to know where you stand and whether you can truly make good on the request. Again, assuming that when someone says Yes that they can or will follow through 100% of the time can leave us sorely disappointed. Usually, more detailed communication is needed to determine if the “Yes” is really the best fit for all concerned. Saying No is not a selfish act when the good of the whole is factored in.
3. Setting a schedule that works -
Time management is not just a left-brained analytical practice of structuring and controlling one’s time. It is a sacred art and practice of designing your life so that the most meaningful priorities have their time, and that you can implement a daily schedule that honors these priorities from a state of peace and clarity. It includes scheduling time off, and scheduling self-care. This is a profound subject that deserves our attention. The lovely paradox, as many of us who work with time management have discovered, is that the more we honor and work with this part of our life, the more we find we have spacious time to complete the most important tasks, including just Being! As Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “We are a Human Being, not a Human Doing.”
4. A Clear Value System -
Boundaries are guidelines that help us better define our value system.
Boundaries help us better establish our ideal rhythm and flow.
Boundaries help us better articulate and communicate our priorities to all.
Boundaries connect us to our empowerment and our right to choose our experience.
Boundaries help us create meaningful time for self-care so that we can better serve the whole.
5. Lower Octave vs. Higher Octave -
Boundaries can serve Fear or Expansion. They are as much a state of being and an attitude as they are a map. Some distinctions are:
a. Rigid vs. Honoring Boundaries -
One of the ways we spiritually and psychologically mature is that we clarify what we have dominion over, what we can control in our lives and what we can't. As we cultivate this for ourselves, we realize it more for others as well. Honoring boundaries are clear decisions we make about how we can best realize our desired goal, including limits to time and energy output. We mindfully design a system that works for us. Rigid boundaries usually stem from a more reactive state, where we have decided on a mental level only what we believe we need to achieve something, and putting up strong barriers to anything getting in our way.
b. Rules vs. Guidelines -
Okay, maybe we are being slightly semantical here, but there is a subtle distinction. Guidelines just feel more mindful, don’t they? They feel deliberate, and thought out, somehow personalized. Rules just feel static, as if they were drawn up for the masses but don’t necessarily apply to us. Rebellion seems to be built into this equation. Healthy boundaries follow guidelines that are moveable and articulately designed to serve a greater good while serving us individually.
c. Selfish vs. Self-Honoring Boundaries -
How we feel when we set boundaries is the compass that shows us in which direction we are headed. When we can know that we will benefit greatly on mental, spiritual, physical and psychological levels by setting a boundary, the high probability is that we are serving a greater good. When we cannot see how the boundary will serve anything but our own need, maybe we need to look deeper into our motivations. I am clear that one of my core intentions is to be generous with others, so this is a part of my own inner compass with regard to setting boundaries.
d. Reactive vs. Deliberate -
Taking time to mindfully map out a boundary that serves a greater good, whether it's more peace of mind and less stress, more time with loved ones, greater personal or financial freedom, is a deliberate process. It is clear and it can be tracked. Reactive boundaries are motivated by fear, and the corresponding mental response is a restrictive feeling that we will lose out on something if we don’t set the boundary. When setting boundaries, be clear about your motivation.
Having boundaries is really having a system that can be broken down into smaller parts. Parts that serve a whole. Parts that aim toward a goal that is self-nurturing and balanced. Parts that are mindful and aware. Parts that take responsibility for Self and model this for others rather than behavior that is “over-responsible.”
Pay attention to the boundaries you are setting. What do they look like and what and who do they serve? Make a list of boundaries that you have set in your life and analyze their effect on your life. Do they create more Joy and spaciousness or do they create more frustration and restriction? Do they connect you more with your highest values or do they isolate you? Do you find them easy or hard to manage? And what is your primary experience with others relative to these boundaries?