If you take more than a second to start answering this question, then you probably haven’t put much thought to it before. And most likely you frequently find yourself being pushed by others to do things you don’t feel comfortable with.
For example, it’s Friday afternoon and you’re looking forward to finishing work and enjoying your weekend. All of a sudden your boss comes to you and says “We’ve got a really important proposal to make and the customer needs it by Monday morning. I’m going to need you to work on this over the weekend”.
You reluctantly agree, and there goes your weekend. What’s worse is that your boss is very disorganised and this happens all too frequently. So you spend the whole weekend working on that proposal, as well as feeling angry and frustrated that you didn’t get to relax and enjoy yourself.
That feeling of anger and frustration is a sign that your personal boundaries have been crossed. For some people, weekends are sacred. They are a time to switch off, and focus on health, family and friends. And having that taken away is a violation of personal boundaries.
There are plenty of other examples of having personal boundaries crossed, such as:
- Doing things you don’t want to
- People treating you in a way you don’t like, or talking to you in a way you don’t like
- When someone breaks an agreement or promise with you
- When other people interrupt you
How often do things like this happen to you? If you experience this a lot, then it’s time to sit down and clarify what your personal boundaries are.
There are two key reasons our personal boundaries get violated. Firstly, we don’t push back. And secondly, we don’t even know what our personal boundaries are in the first place. But both of these are tightly connected, because when we know more clearly what our personal boundaries are, we know when to push back and how far to push back.
So how can you clarify your personal boundaries?
Step 1: Believe in Your Boundaries
What stops people from defining their personal boundaries is the belief that they can’t have boundaries. They believe that other people’s needs are more important, or that for some people they should always say yes, or that they just don’t deserve to have personal boundaries.
Think of the consequences of these kinds of beliefs. You will frequently feel stressed out, upset, angry, disrespected and worthless. Can you work to your full potential when you feel these ways? Too much of these kinds of feelings leads to reduced levels of motivation, and your work will suffer. Furthermore, these negative feelings tend to only come out once you get back home, and they get directed at the people you love the most; your family. Do you really want to be doing that to them?
You probably have a big concern about strengthening your personal boundaries. And that concern is that you can’t say no all the time. And that is right. Sometimes we do have to do things that make us unhappy, or that seem unreasonable. But the difference is that instead of other people forcing their way through our personal boundaries, we actively choose when to let them cross and when not to.
Step 2: List Your Boundaries
This is actually very easy. Think of the times you have felt unhappy at work recently, because it’s quite likely that during these times your personal boundaries were crossed. As you think on these, think of what would have been acceptable for you instead.
Maybe someone interrupted you in a meeting and you felt disrespected. Perhaps a boundary for you is for others to let you finish talking.
Maybe someone originally agreed to do something for you, but when they were supposed to complete it they finally told you they didn’t have time to do it. Perhaps a boundary for you is for other people to tell you directly when they have trouble finishing their work.
Maybe you are always having to work weekends, and you really want to spend more time with your family. Perhaps a personal boundary for you is to have a decent worklife balance, and you may need to speak to your boss or find another job.
If you are having trouble thinking about what your personal boundaries might be, then have a look at the different types of boundaries below:
Step 3. Protect Your Boundaries
Be proactive about protecting your boundaries. Rather than wait for other people to come by and violate them, start making plans to prevent that happening.
For example, last year I had a number of different clients frequently request me to complete reports, proposals and outlines with less than a day’s notice. Given that I spend a lot of the time delivering training, it is sometimes impossible for me to do that, and other times means I must work overtime when I get home at night. This year I have prevented any of this from happening. I achieved this by simply speaking to the people responsible at the beginning of this year, and explaining what a reasonable timeline was. All it took was a few simple emails and phone calls.
If you plan well, you’ll find it a lot easier to protect your personal boundaries. But every so often someone will still cross the line. So when they do, let them know. If you don’t think it’s a good idea to just say “No”, then offer them a compromise instead.
For example, going back to the Friday afternoon example. Instead of just saying “Ok”, try saying this instead; “I’ve already made plans with my family this weekend. But I’ll see if I can help. I’ll have a look at what needs to be done and let you know if I can help later on this evening”.
Never say “Yes” under pressure. Instead, change your default response from “Yes” to “I’ll get back to you”. Then take some time to think about what would make this acceptable for you, and tell them what you can do, or what conditions would be acceptable for you.
Believe, List, and Protect
So if you think your personal boundaries are crossed too often, then take some time to sit down. Then believe, list and start protecting your personal boundaries. You’ll be amazed at how much stress it can reduce for you!