Establishing and honoring my boundaries has been one of the most significant and beneficial personal developments of my life. So has understanding and respecting the boundaries of others. Both personally and professionally.
Practicing boundaries (physical, emotional, psychological, temporal, financial, etc.) is a form of self care, self advocacy, and self respect. It's not easy to do this in a society where we feel obligated to attend to others because of cultural norms, tradition, and hierarchy. This is especially true for women and people of color, who are socialized to be accommodating helpers who put others first.
Boundaries are important for all relationships, whether it's our family, partners, friends, strangers, colleagues, employers, and especially with ourselves.
It is possible to create a culture of healthy relationships. This means challenging established norms and expectations, and the way we are used to doing things. It means clearly communicating the boundaries to people so they know what they are. It means accepting the way these changes affect how we interact with others and the resulting outcomes. And we have to question why these boundaries exist and who they serve.
This might sound harsh or self-centered, or anti-family or anti-community, but it's not. It's about protecting ourselves from unhealthy relationships and interactions that put others first in an imbalanced way. We can still be generous and engaged and supportive even if we have boundaries.
I'll share a few examples of boundaries practice from my own life.
Not trying to solve other people's problems when asked for help that would result in an undue burden.
Not putting time and energy into relationships with immediate family members that are not reciprocal. Not sending them money, not engaging in pointless conversations, not playing games.
Not responding to emails from clients during my personal time. Not responding immediately or even on the same day, if it is not urgent.
When I was a research consultant, not entertaining clients who didn't want to pay the price of my services, or pushing back on scope creep.
Being direct with people who have a negative effect on my life. Telling someone I don't want them to send me presents around the holidays, even if it makes them feel good.
Knowing when and how to communicate with people based on my understanding of their boundaries for our relationship.
If setting boundaries is a space of growth for you, here are some potential areas for practice that may resonate.
Saying no to unfair requests
Being open about your thoughts and feelings
Asking for what you need and deserve
Not doing things out of guilt or undue obligation
Feeling responsible for someone else's feelings or behaviors
Responding to an email or text that can wait
Taking on too much work
Carrying emotional burdens
Oppressive power dynamics
Seeking external validation, knowing your worth
Giving and taking too much or too little
Emotional, verbal, physical abuse
Gaslighting, toxicity, exploitation
Respecting other people's requests and preferences
Reparations and acknowledgement