Boundary Setting for a More Balanced Life

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How to bring balance to your life when everyone else needs you!

It’s very gratifying knowing that people need you. But it’s also a pain.

Whether it’s your children, your parents, your partner, your friends, your colleagues, your community or, goodness help you, all of the above who turn to you when they need assistance, it’s tough to find time to go to the toilet, let alone plan your exit from corporate life and design a future where you love what you do!

The bottom line is that, if you want to bring balance to your life, you have some choices to make, and not all of those are going to be comfortable.

It simply isn’t possible to continue exactly as you are and change.

One of those choices is to create and maintain some boundaries. Yes, it’s OK for people to need you. But you also need to take care of yourself. And you need people to take care of you. That’s where boundaries come in.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits you put on how you allow other people to behave towards you.

Certain behaviour from others is OK. But some behaviour is not. When people behave a certain way around you it eats in to your personal safe space.

For instance, I don’t like when people are late to meet with me. My boundary isn’t strict. I accept that people will sometimes be late. I’m sometimes late myself! But when it’s a habit with a particular person or a client, that breaches my boundaries. I feel that my relationship with them is unsafe and one-sided. I tolerate their preference for being late but they don’t respect my preference for starting on time.

You cannot bring balance to your life if you aren’t clear on what your boundaries are.

Brainstorm what you are currently tolerating in others

Start by thinking about the behaviours of others that feel disrespectful towards you.

  • What behaviours agitate you?

  • What behaviours feel like your relationship is one-sided (with you doing more adapting than the other person)?

  • What behaviours directly challenge your core values?

  • What behaviours drain your resources?

Think about times when you’ve felt put-upon, taken for granted, not heard or pressured. Think about times when you’ve been seeking balance and someone else’s behaviour has made that almost impossible.

Make a list.

At this point you may have a few emotions. You might feel you are being unfair (something I deal with later in this blog). You might feel angry towards people who seem not to respect you. You might be shocked at how many things bother you!

There is no need to judge yourself. These emotions are coming up because you don’t think about your boundaries as intentionally as you might. Perhaps for the first time you are acknowledging that other people’s behaviour towards you might not be OK with you.

Write up some draft boundaries

While you’re still in a judgy and self-righteous state of mind, write up some draft boundaries.

Be strict.

  • “People may not do x around me”

  • “It is unacceptable for people to say y to me”

  • “For me to have balance in my life I need everyone to stop z!”

Go for it! Enjoy, just for now, the rush of emotions as you draft up totally unreasonable boundaries.

Get real

Time to rein it back in.

You’re going to have to manage these boundaries and you’ll only be able to remember a few! You can’t expect people to respect your boundaries if you can’t even remember what they are.

Also, you have to decide what really, really matters to you. There are other ways to bring balance to your life beyond creating boundaries so don’t expect boundary creating to do the whole job for you. [link to other articles].

Select 3 boundaries that feel important, but reasonable. Ensure they are really clear. If you were asked to respect this boundary would you know what was expected of you?

Communicate your boundaries

Now you need to tell your nearest and dearest what your boundaries are. You don’t need to tell the world! Just focus on those people who love you, who care about your well-being and who have it in their power to shift their behaviour to respect your boundaries.

Using the phrase “I feel x when you z” and then expressing your preference is all you need to do.

Choose your moment (not in the middle of an argument) and explain what you’re trying to do - to create more balance in your life. You can explain that this is new to you and ask for their help in working out what your boundaries are. You might even offer to return the favour if this is something they would like to explore.

As you become more skilled at boundary setting you may discover that people simply treat you the way you like being treated because you ooze clear boundaries.

In my own case I recall people saying to me FOR YEARS “You’re too analytical. You think too much!”. I thought this was ridiculous feedback. How can a person be TOO analytical? Who were they to tell me I thought too much? What is too much? And yet, people would often say it and it would drive me nuts.

No one has said this to me for decades. As I grew in confidence, as I started making a living from being analytical and thinking deeply, as I changed my social circle and as I came to love this quality in myself and respect myself for having an analytical personality, people stopped giving me this feedback.

When you truly accept who you are and what you’re like and you feel no need to apologise for it, others seem to leave you to it, or even admire those qualities in you.

For now you may have to communicate your needs because this represents a change to the people closest to you. But in time it may become implicit.

Maintain the boundary

This isn’t necessarily a one time conversation. You may have to remind those close to you of your needs and what you agreed. You may refine and clarify the boundary too as you work with it. Learning how to bring more balance to your life can take time, and being conscious of your boundaries and not letting them be breached over and over by the same person is important.

What’s your responsibility?

Respect boundaries - Before I expect anyone else to change or adapt to my needs, I also want to ensure I am willing to understand their needs.

Yes, you are someone who often puts the needs of others before yourself. That’s why some boundaries might be useful! But resentfully putting the needs of others before yours isn’t the same as lovingly respecting the needs of others.

Since you want people to not only tolerate your boundaries but genuinely respect them, it’s worth thinking about whether you actually respect other people’s boundaries.

Think about your loved ones, friends and close colleagues. Can you work out what their boundaries might be (even if they aren’t good at maintaining them)?

Do you respect them?

How could you respect their boundaries with love?

Your reaction, your business - Along the same lines, how you react to someone else’s behaviour is your responsibility. You can’t expect everyone to act exactly the way you like all the time. If people have to adapt to you constantly in order for you to be OK your sense of balance is going to be unpredictable.

Bringing balance to your life cannot be dependent on everyone else changing their behaviour!  

So while you can know your boundaries and communicate them to others, you also have to develop some skill in taking care of yourself EVEN when people overstep those boundaries.

Triggers for greater self-awareness and self-development - Sometimes people upset you because what they say is a sore point for you. This might be because you already know this is a problem or a weakness. For instance, if someone tells me “You’re too short” I don’t get upset. It might be a bit rude! But I don’t mind being short (I’m 5’2”) so I don’t get offended.

However if someone was to say “Your butt is too big” I might not only think it was rude but be rather offended. At some level I clearly think my butt IS too big. I might want to create a boundary that it’s not OK to comment about the size of my butt (this is a fun paragraph to write!) but probably a better strategy is for me to love the size of my butt. That way, if anyone comments about it, I’m protected. I don’t mind. I love my butt. There. I said it.

Respect yourself and Communicate - Finally, it’s your responsibility to communicate your boundaries and respect your boundaries. If you don’t respect them, how can you expect others to? And if you don’t communicate them, how do you expect other people to know?

I’d love to know what boundaries you’re creating. Head over to Corporate Escapees on Facebook and share you boundaries you’d like to create and how you’re going about it!

If you need help on how to create a more balanced life and understand where you are now, you might find the FREE Escape the Rat Race Checklist really helpful.