Historically speaking, I should be the last person who’s qualified to talk about boundaries.
I used to be the ‘yes woman’ and epitomised people pleasing. I would sacrifice my health, peace of mind and precious time in the dogged pursuit of never, ever letting someone down.
Or (heaven forbid) allowing them to not like me.
As a Dietitian, this concerns me because our ability to set boundaries also affects the food we eat. Let’s face it; making meals and prioritising our health takes time. And if we’re depleted and so raggedly run off our feet that we’re burnout out and completely exhausted by the end of the day, cooking a beautiful meal is the last thing on your mind.
Here’s how a lack of boundaries can affect other things in life too:
You say ‘yes’ on reflex then silently resent the task you’ve agreed to do,
You feel constantly short on time,
You find it very hard to say ‘no’,
There never seems to be enough time for yourself,
Your ‘big rocks’ – the really, important projects in your life – take lower precedence than serving the people you love,
You do the lion’s share of work in your family,
You seem to attract friends who have problems and are the first person your friends often go to for help and advice.
It is truly wonderful and important to be of service to this world. And it’s highly likely that any boundary issues are coming from the beautiful place of wanting to help and being a good person. However, true giving shouldn’t come from a place of sacrifice, depletion and burnout. As a human being on this magnificent planet, your wants and needs matter too!
Here are some simple ideas to help establish healthy boundaries:
Learn to say ‘Thanks for thinking of me. Can I get back to you?” when people ask you for favours. This buys you time to sit down and consider whether you want to commit to their request.
Don’t open your inbox until you’ve knocked out one hour of productive work. Emails are by their very nature other people’s demands on your time and attention.
Schedule out one day a month that is non-negotiably just for you, to spend time however you want. If that’s too much to hope for (I’m hearing you, busy mama’s!) then start with even just an hour. Defend that time like your life depends on it!
Understand, deeply know, that you have a right to say no to other people’s ‘stuff’. It’s not yours to take on and you don’t have to own it.
Remind yourself that it’s impossible for everyone to like you. Make peace with the fact that saying ‘no’ will annoy some people and that they probably aren’t the type of friends you really want anyway!
Rehearse strategies to set boundaries in difficult situations. For example, if you have a difficult boss who dumps work on you at the last minute, visualise that they have literally poured an entire waste bucket of garbage on your desk (because metaphorically speaking, they have). Practise what you might say in this situation, such as, “These tasks will take 5 hours and I have 2 hours left before I leave. Which would you like me to prioritise?”
Here are some books about boundaries that have helped me HEAPS and I would highly recommend:
‘Boundaries’ by Dr Henry Cloud
‘The Disease To Please’ by Harriet B. Braiker
‘Rushing Women’s Syndrome’ by Dr Libby Weaver