We Have Both the Right and the Responsibility to Set Boundaries

“The trick to staying out of resentment is maintaining better boundaries—blaming others less and holding myself more accountable for asking for what I need and want.” –Brene´ Brown

Life has reinforced the veracity of Brene´ Brown’s words. Today I wrote an article for The Advising Network (TAN) at Wichita State University. Boundaries were part of what I addressed, and I think there is value in examining the boundaries here. I have learned that they are crucial to effective functioning in any area of life, from work to family obligations. Brown really is right. Failure to set and maintain boundaries is the fastest way to end up resenting someone or a situation. And, it’s on us when we allow that to happen.

Setting boundaries is an acknowledgement of our responsibility for our lives. Realizing this is empowering. What I have learned is that setting clear boundaries and believing in them enough to stick to them is a gift not only to ourselves, but to others. Clearly stating a boundary establishes parameters for our own behavior and for others’ behavior—what we are willing to do and what we are willing to accept. It sets expectations and relieves pressure.

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These are my boundary-setting tips:

  • Clarify your values for yourself. Know what is most important to you and decide what aligns with those values. For me, this means knowing that my most important ethical values are compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness. It also means knowing that there are certain things in my life, like cycling, that are critical aspects of my mental and emotional, as well as my physical, health. And, it means knowing that watching my son run cross country and track and being fully present for my important relationships are non-negotiables for me.
  • Align your life, including work, with those values. Examine the fit and figure out what needs to change. When I first started my full-time advising position, I felt like it was necessary to answer every email before I went home. This quickly became unsustainable. I made a decision to follow Liz Gilbert’s advice. She said, “You do what you can do, as competently as possible, within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.” I made the decision that, with rare exceptions, I would not check my work email at home, and I don’t have it on my phone. That may seem unthinkable to some, but it is an important boundary for my self-care.
  • When necessary, respectfully and clearly state your values and the boundaries they create. Both for myself and for my students, I tell every one of them, “It sometimes may take me a few days to get back with you because my schedule can be really crazy at times. But I will ALWAYS get back with you. It just takes a little patience sometimes.” Almost everyone understands and appreciates knowing that. It makes me feel better, even though I wish I were always able to respond quickly.
  • Honor your boundaries by taking action to realign with them when necessary. This can be hard, but, ultimately, it will be better for everyone. For instance, I am very clear now what my priorities are, and I know where there is some wiggle room and where there is not. I have to be willing to honor my values and priorities and change what doesn’t align with them or to change my situation if I find myself slipping into resentment because I don’t want to live that way.  It is my responsibility to take care of myself.

When we recognize our right and responsibility to set, state and enforce our boundaries, it adds elements of power and peacefulness to our lives. It is a potent decision and declaration that we are not victims of our circumstances or of other people. This doesn’t mean that we will never find ourselves in situations we would prefer to avoid. The holiday season, with all of its gatherings and social obligations, is challenging for me as an introvert. I recognize the value in celebrating together, and I do take part in many of the get-togethers, sometimes joyfully, sometimes with less delight than I wish I could muster. However, I am responsible for decreasing the drama around them in my own mind and for not accepting additional social obligations, if they are only going to increase my stress, without adding meaning. I do no one any favors when I show up in resentment to a situation I could have avoided.

One valuable tool for setting boundaries is Amy Tiemann’s system of questions for determining if something should be added to her calendar or to-do list:

                1. Is it fun?

                2. Is it meaningful?

                3. Is it absolutely necessary?

Of course, social obligations are only one area where boundaries come in to play, but I think those are particularly timely in the holiday season.

I’m considering offering a future workshop or online course around boundaries. If that is something that would interest you, click here to sign up for email updates. As a bonus, I’ll send you an electronic copy of my plant-based recipe booklet.

I wish you a healthy, compassionate holiday season, with clear boundaries that serve you.

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