Boundaries: What Are They Good For?
Do you ever feel like you’re shoveling sand against the tide, trying to keep everything afloat but still feeling stressed about the details? A healthy and well-organized life is not all about completing every task or making every deadline – it’s also about finding a sense of balance, and that means setting boundaries. Right now, in your life, you have lots of opportunities for relationships and working environments, which means it’s also up to you to decide who gets your time and how much of it they get. Whether it’s at home, at work, or in your personal life, these commitments require management and an understanding of your own limits. However, these boundaries are not one size fits all; different areas of your life will need different considerations and, in some cases, different levels of tact. Here’s three levels at which people set personal boundaries, and what research has shown we share in common around each one.
Setting Boundaries at Work
It’s important to remember that work is a part of life, not your entire life. This means you’ll need to find a work-life balance that allows you to keep the two somewhat separate. Though a study showed that only 23% of companies feel they’re doing an excellent job of helping their employees achieve this balance, employees surveyed in another study ranked an even work-life ratio as the third most important aspect of a job, behind salary and security. This means that while you know balance is important, and your employer does too, your environment may not always make achieving it easy.
Boundaries in the workplace may apply to your own actions or the actions of others. An example of a personal boundary would be not checking emails on your days off. A study performed by Workplace Options showed that checking email can lead to job exhaustion and burnout. In fact, it can even lead to psychological and cardiovascular problems. When it comes to boundaries involving the behavior of others, clear and confident communication is key. 60-80% of all company issues rise from poor relationships between employees, so setting appropriate boundaries is more important than ever.
Setting Boundaries with Friends
Your social circle is understandably very important to you. You rely on them for reassurance and support and want them to do the same with you. In fact, having a wide network of friends can help you to lower stress, beat diseases, and live longer. But if a friend or a group of friends are overstepping bounds and asking too much of you, it can leave you drained. Even if it’s unconscious on their part, not clearly defining your own boundaries in friendship can still result in the same frustration as getting called on too much at work.
Your boundaries should be based on your own needs and emotional energy. If you need a fair amount of alone time, you may find yourself annoyed with an overly communicative pal with a penchant for rapid fire texts. Maybe you’re trying to save money but keep getting invited to expensive group dinners. Whatever it may be, these interpersonal issues can be alleviated by communicating the problem and what you think could be an effective solution.
In all friendships there are some ground-rule boundaries against certain hurtful or damaging acts. These would include things like physical violence or abusive behavior. But even if the person is not being outright aggressive, you may be having an overly difficult time not because of a need for more communication, but simply because of the individual. Some signs of toxic friendships include:
- Possessive or jealous behavior, particularly against other friends in your circle
- Every conversation is a one-way street
- Quick to give criticism but unwilling to accept it
- The person is never at fault or in the wrong
- Codependence and emotional neediness at all times
In the event you find yourself in a toxic relationship, you may consider talking to them directly or asking several other friends to come along as support. However, always know that you have every right to cut difficult people from your life. Your social circle is yours alone, so you should get the final say on who’s in and who’s not.
Boundaries with Family
This might be the toughest group in which to set these personal boundaries. Though the issues may be interpersonal like the ones found in a friend group, family adds a level of emotional complexity. Unlike with your text-happy friend, it’s going to be tougher to tell a loved family member to knock it off. There’s a much more intense sense of commitment in a family, so setting boundaries may be initially ignored by a parent or relative. But by being persistent and focused in communicating your needed boundaries, they will eventually learn by repetition. Remember: just because they’re family does not mean you need to bow to their every whim. Try to approach communication about the need for more boundaries with good perspective and stay focused on a single topic. Emotion can make it easy to get distracted in a conversation where kin share a long history, but the good part is family often shares a common desire to do what is best for each other, too. If you can explain why the boundary is essential to your well-being, family are people just as likely to respect that need as everyone else.
Setting boundaries is one of the best ways to foster positive environments and strong, healthy relationships. However, due to its direct nature, asserting your own may not come naturally. That’s why it’s so important to hone this skill by assessing your own limits, practicing clear communication, and not being afraid of a little tension when explanation is required.