As the lines between various aspects of our lives have blurred over the last two years, there’s been a lot of hubbub in the town square of social media about what it means to set and enforce personal boundaries.
“Boundaries seem mean, or selfish. And they’re exhausting to keep up.”
“I tried to lay a boundary line at work, but my boss ignores it. I’m STILL working from home after hours, and I’m even more angry about it.”
“I’m a mom. I can’t have boundaries.”
But what are they really, these mythical boundaries? Well, at LUMO, we think of boundaries as guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards us and how we will respond when someone passes our limits.
Whatever your context or attitude is about boundaries–whether you’re pro or con, believe them to be fiction or “non”–they give us access to more time, physical space, and mental real estate, especially when we’re careening towards overwhelm or that other intense cautionary buzzword: Burnout.
Boundaries are essential to creating a life where you can be present for yourself, your family, and your work.
Our LUMO recipe for boundaries has four key ingredients:
- Prioritize Yourself
Eeek! For some people this can be confronting, but it’s imperative; that’s why it’s number one! If we don’t respect our own needs, wants, and time then no one else will either.
Imagine that your neighbor calls and says she’d like to see the baby and drop off dinner around 1pm. You just signed up for a 1pm Peloton yoga class that you’re dying to take while the baby naps. You don’t want to disappoint her (or miss out on someone else cooking you dinner), nor do you want to come off as ungrateful.
What prioritizing yourself might sound like: “Thank you so much for the dinner! Are you able to come by at 12pm or 2pm instead? I have a class at 1pm, and I don’t want to miss seeing you. If not, no worries, I can pick it up later today.”
- Communicate (Early & Often)
When establishing new boundaries, don’t wait for someone to cross them before you have a conversation. Teach people as you go. Waiting for a boundary breach to occur is a LOT more stressful.
Let’s say your sister is a fan of the “pop by,” often dropping in unexpectedly. This was totally fine with you, in the past, but with a new baby in the house, you may want this to change. Before you end up feeling annoyed and frustrated at an intrusion, take the time to address it with her in advance.
What Communicating Early & Often looks like: “Hey, I know I’ve always had an open-door policy but, now with the baby’s ever-changing schedule, can you call before you come over. Then I’ll be ready to receive you and we won’t wake the baby.”
- Give the Gift of Trust to Yourself & Others
If you’re new to setting boundaries, leaning into trust with yourself and others is key. Listen to your body when a situation makes you feel uncomfortable.
Notice when you feel angry or taken advantage of. These feelings are alarms that signify your boundary perimeter has been breached. And it may even be a boundary you didn’t know you had until it was crossed.
Let’s use a work example: Your coworker has a habit of gossiping about other employees and it makes you uncomfortable. That uncomfortableness is a message. You don’t want to be a part of that kind of conversation, so you trust yourself to tell her that, and you trust her to hear you.
Establishing mutual trust looks like: “Hey, I realized lately that I’m actually not comfortable talking about other people when they’re not around. I’m sorry for the stuff I’ve said in the past, and I’m trying to stop doing that. Can we talk about last night’s episode of ‘Bridgerton’ instead?”
- Taking Ownership
Ownership begins when we take an honest look at our own side of the street. If you find yourself annoyed that your boss keeps emailing you and expecting responses during off hours, ask yourself, “what have I done or not done that directly or inadvertently communicated to my boss that it’s ok to do this?”
Taking responsibility for how we’ve created a relationship can be tough. Like, looking at our pores in a hotel makeup mirror tough. (Too close!)
It is FAR easier to blame others, no? But blaming others leaves us stuck. Victimized. That’s why we look at our own responsibility: so we can take our power back instead of giving it away.
Your boss has likely gotten used to you answering her emails at all hours of the evening. Well, you’ve been responding, right? So you helped to reinforce that expectation.
How to take ownership of your part in boundary violations:, “Hey, I realize I’ve been working late a lot and that I’m sure you’ve come to expect that of me.
I’m trying to prioritize finishing work at the end of the workday so I can spend more time with my family. Going forward, I’ll be turning my phone off after 6pm so I can be with my kids. Let me know if you’d like to set up more times to connect during the day to compensate.”
Once you start looking, you might see some places where you have passively communicated that your time and energy is an open buffet. Be gentle with yourself through this process. Taking ownership requires healthy doses of practice and courage. And it will allow you to see boundaries not as selfish or unenforceable, but instead as essential parts of your foundational health and well-being.
LUMO is a collective of certified executive and leadership coaches and trainers. We use the tools, principles, and philosophies of leadership coaching to empower parents to become leaders in their careers, their relationships, and any other areas of their lives where they are feeling unmoored, disempowered, or not living up to their full potential. We provide companies the training to support their parent employees in a radical new way.