Holly White asks you to examine the things that drain you versus those that uplift you, and how to create good boundaries around both…
“To thine own self be true” is a line from act 1 scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. It is spoken by King Claudius’ chief minister, Polonius as part of a speech where he is giving his son, Laertes, his blessing and advice on how to behave while at university.
The phrase has evolved, and in recent years ‘being true to yourself’ has become a common, fashionable term. I take it to mean aspiring to live as your natural self, without compromise. One key tool if this is to be achieved is setting boundaries.
Boundaries can be physical or emotional, and they can range from being loose to rigid, with healthy boundaries often falling somewhere in between. Healthy boundaries are the limits you place around your time, emotions, body, and mental health to stay resilient, solid, and content with who you are. The bounds of your life will shape your growth and relationships with people around you. You only have so much time, energy, and emotional capacity. What I have truly learned is if you don’t protect your well-being, nobody else will.
You can set boundaries around:
Morals and ethics
Material possessions and finances
Boundaries can be set with:
Though they aren’t as blatantly clear as a fence, wall, or “no trespassing” sign, healthy boundaries communicate to others what you will and will not tolerate, empowering you to take charge of your life. In comparing people with Healthy Boundaries vs. Unhealthy Boundaries, people with solid boundaries tend to have lower levels of stress and higher self-esteem because they prioritise their well-being.
On the other hand, people without boundaries may inadvertently let others take advantage of them and lack self-confidence, a sense of purpose, or a clear identity to guide them through life. People without boundaries can be easily persuaded into things they don’t want to do because they may be acting out of guilt or obligation rather than self-love leading to resentment, anger, and burnout. Like an invisible fence around the perimeter of a yard, boundaries establish where your space ends, and someone else’s begins.
The first part of setting boundaries is examining those that already exist, or are lacking, in your life.
What’s draining you and what uplifts you?
I found writing this down so helpful. Next, I realised that a few simple tools made a world of difference to how I showed up in the world.
Routine, ample time for my work, and time to exercise and meditate are key for me and I prioritise these very highly now. I know without healthy food, financial independence and time for my mental health, I can’t be who I want to be and very quickly end up anxious, moody and irritable.
This brings up another important point: Keep the focus on yourself. As Brene Brown says: “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” The more precisely you can express your boundaries, the more likely your boundaries will be respected. While you may need to repeat yourself a few times, don’t feel the need to apologise or explain your boundaries. Instead of setting a boundary by saying something like, “You have to stop bothering me after work”, a person can say, “I need some time to myself when I get back from work.”
Another important thing to remember is: “It is impossible to set boundaries without setting consequences”. This means that when setting boundaries, it is important to explicitly state why they are important.
Once defined, take a deep breath, gather your resolve, and assertively express your needs in a kind, direct way.
Time Boundary “I can only stay for an hour” or “If you’re going to be late, please let me know ahead of time.”
Energy Boundary “I don’t have the energy to help you with [their request] right now, but maybe [this resource] can help.”
Emotional Dumping “I understand you’re having a hard time and I want to be there for you, but I don’t have the emotional capacity to listen right now.”
Personal Space Boundary “It makes me feel uncomfortable when you [touch or action]. If you can’t respect my space, I’ll have to leave.”
Conversational Boundary “This is not a topic I’m willing to discuss right now.”
Comment Boundary “I don’t find those types of comments funny.”
Mental Boundary “I understand we see things differently and I respect your opinion, but please don’t force it on me.”
Material Boundary “Please ask me first before borrowing my [possession]” or “I would appreciate it if you didn’t touch my [material thing].”
Social Media Boundary “I don’t feel comfortable with you posting that on Instagram.”
Fortunately, once someone is aware of your boundaries, most people will respect them and apologise if they accidentally cross the line but not everyone will understand or respect your boundaries. Some unpleasantness or even push back is quite common when you are putting a boundary in place. You may feel uncomfortable yourself, even though it is ultimately an act that will enhance your own wellbeing. It’s essential to stand firm in your decision while kindly reminding them of your needs when necessary.
Sometimes a simple no will suffice. Do not feel that you need to explain, as not over-explaining is a crucial aspect of setting boundaries, as everyone has the right to determine what they do and do not want to do.
Hopefully, by establishing clear boundaries, you can find more freedom to express yourself and live a more joyful life. For me it’s an ongoing journey but I have learned I can’t be all things to all people and a life lived without achieving or even attempting to fulfil my ambitions was never going to happen unless I developed stronger personal and work boundaries.