It’s hard to believe we are already nearing the end of 2021. The holiday season is right around the corner and this can lead to many mixed emotions and overwhelm. That said, this is a great time to improve or brush up on boundary setting in your personal relationships with your partner, family, friends, and in the workplace.
What are “boundaries” and why do healthy boundaries matter?
Adopting healthy boundaries protects your emotional well-being to prevent emotional and physical burnout, and social isolation. Boundaries, like a fence with a gate, are the limits and expectations you set for yourself and others and are enforced using effective communication. Think of the gate as the communication gateway and the fence as your limits and expectations.
Here are some key take-aways from boundary work:
It can feel messy at times
- If saying “no” rarely exists in your conversations or you’re feeling enmeshed in your personal relationships, introducing this assertive communication style may feel unnatural at first (and that’s ok)
What are your values?
- Ask yourself: “Am I respecting my own values?” If your boundaries do not align with your values you may feel stressed, anxious, or hold resentment toward others
- What limits and expectations do you need to set for yourself in family relationships, at your job, in your friendships, and within your community?
- Check out this values exploration exercise
When boundaries become inconsistent or inflexible
- Boundaries can be soft or porous, and you may find that you are not putting your needs first
- On the other hand, certain boundaries may be rigid, and you may find yourself guarded in relationships
- Healthy boundaries align with your values, and you will be comfortable saying “no” when you need to, and hearing “no” from others
- Boundary types look different for everyone and can be soft in some areas of your life and rigid in others.
- Saying “no” asserts your needs while valuing your relationships.
- Being assertive involves communicating needs with kindness and respect for others, vulnerability, and self-worth and self-respect
Poor boundaries can be a result of insecure attachment in childhood, complex trauma, low self-esteem or self-worth, amongst other reasons. And they may have served a purpose for you at one point in your life to provide a sense of safety and security. If you’re noticing that your boundaries are no longer serving you, we can help.
As always, if you need support in navigating interpersonal relationships and boundary setting, please reach out. Remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect on your relationships.
References and Additional Reading:
Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day – Anne Kathrine, MABoundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine, MA
“Boundaries 101”. The Calm Mama Method. thecalmmamamethod.com
Attached – Amir Levine, MD, & Rachel S.F. Heller, MA
“Boundaries and the Self”. Dr. Arielle Schwart. https://drarielleschwartz.com/boundaries-and-the-self-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.YYrkEBrMJnI
“Setting Boundaries and Setting Limits”. R. Skip Johnson https://bpdfamily.com/content/setting-boundariesLearn More
Nobody Is Perfect. End. Of. Story.
So while you’re at it, abandon perfectionism. Be kind to yourself and your family. The house will be messy, people will have to be convinced to bathe, you will eat junk, those long-standing house jobs will not get completed as quickly as you envisioned, if not at all. That’s alright. Go back to the values. I can safely guess that NOBODY came up with “Do All The Things” as their top family value.
Start with today. Look at these tips and take one hour at a time. Take it slow. Be forgiving. You can have do-overs. Each day is it’s own. Motivation will go up and down, moods will set in, energy levels will fluctuate. Find what works and do more of it when you can. Do less of what doesn’t. Know that what works one day will not work on another.
Alternate between doing what works and pushing the comfort zone to try new things, ways of coping and communicating… and then give a high five, regardless of the outcome.
Remember: your family WILL come out of this stronger, more connected and victorious. Surviving will mean thriving.
Recognize that this is hard. These days may seem long. Making all the lists in the world does not help the work get done, the structure implemented and the values applied. Some days will just suck.
Moods, loneliness even when amongst the family, loss or reduction of connections with peers, sports, teachers, co-workers will take its toll. Recognize this and take a break. Pyjama days, Netflix marathons or extra screen time will be necessary. And that is ok. Fatigue will set in. Neither parents nor kids are required to be perfect. Just stop doing for a while.
These days are a gift (even though some days that feels like a stretch). Never before have we collectively had such a large chunk of time where we are ALL at home, without the normal day-to-day pressures being applied. It takes a while to get out of the achievement headspace (I MUST do something, I NEED to do this, I HAVE to get this done). Relax. Forgive yourself. We have NEVER BEEN THROUGH A PANDEMIC BEFORE! This is a choose your own adventure kind of thing!
Keep an eye out for emotions and talk about them. It will not be uncommon for many people (adults and kids alike) to feel sad, lonely, depressed and hopeless. This will happen, even in a house full of people who love us. Encourage connections with friends, co-workers and extended family. Ride the waves of emotions, and remember, that professional help is still out there, offered virtually.Learn More
Prioritize humour and fun. Does your family love to laugh? I mean REALLY laugh? What makes the family laugh? “Dad” jokes? That elusive TV show or comedy that everyone can agree on? When my children were little, they had a hard time understanding why other families do not have “dance parties” in their kitchens and living rooms. The ability to be silly and “dance like nobody (except your immediate family who will laugh until they cry at mom’s moves) is watching builds connection, self-esteem and even risk-taking in a safe environment.
Give everyone a chance to dictate how the fun is incorporated into the daily routine. For example, my family each gets time to be “the DJ” when we are listening to music (or dancing). You can also choose games, activities, crafts, etc. as a way to learn about what each of you finds fun while teaching that we need to respect that we are all different and that learning something new is a good thing.
There have been some really funny (and accurate) YouTube videos on “COVID Coping” that are family-friendly. Take a look and laugh at yourselves!Learn More
Team Building: Your family is a “We”. End of story. Even when you disagree, you fight, are hurt or overwhelmed, your family has your back. Talk about how each family member likes and needs to be supported. To borrow from John Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, learn the ways each member of your family wants and needs to feel appreciated and loved.
- Words of affirmation: showing love through how you speak, using words of encouragement, gratitude, positive reinforcement. How you speak to someone who needs words of affirmation can go a long way toward helping them feel appreciated.
- Quality time: Showing love by giving someone your full attention, by making an effort to spend time doing things they love to do. Carving out time shows you are interested and attentive.
- Receiving gifts: Showing love through small tokens of appreciation or gifts, such as a cup of tea, some flowers, chocolate…something that shows that person you know what they like. Making this person feel special will help them know they are in your thoughts.
- Physical touch: Hugs and kisses, hand-holding, a back rub all go a long way for someone who needs physical touch to feel loved and appreciated
- Acts of service: Doing nice things to help the other person out such as unloading the dishwasher, putting gas in their car, taking the garbage out. This person needs help with the overwhelm to know you care.
The biggest mistake most of us make is assuming our partners, kids, friends, etc. speak the same language as we do. We think we are doing nice things to show we care, and they seem to fall flat. That is because we are doing what WE would like to have done for us.
This applies to both adults and kids! Talk about what each of you needs and wants in order to feel heard, special, appreciated and loved! It is amazing how relationships can be strengthened when you speak the other person’s love language.Learn More
Think about how your family communicates. Do you listen to respond, or do you listen to really listen? Think about it.
Learning how to be a good listener means shutting your mouth. Enough said. Try it. Interrupters unite! I come from a long line of interrupters. If you need a “talking stick” (or hockey puck, stuffed animal, etc), get one! Whoever holds the speaking object has the floor.
Next, think about how you show others that you are listening. Do you nod, paraphrase their statements, state your understanding, empathize? The ways in which you show family members that their stories, their experiences, their feelings are important will begin to cultivate understanding, create connection and attachment.Learn More