Thursday, 13 June 2019

We all deserve healthy boundaries

One of the topics I come back to for myself and I work on often with people is boundary setting.  Most of us grew up in families where healthy boundaries weren't taught, not because our parents did it consciously but because they were also never taught healthy boundaries.  It's hard to teach something we aren't aware of and don't have knowledge of.  So, now as adults, it is up for us to unlearn what hasn't been working well and relearn boundaries that feel better.

Setting boundaries is about learning to say "no" and learning to say "yes" when appropriate.  When thinking about boundaries, it's going to be individual preference, they may change over time, and all of us may be a little different, so an important part is taking time to go inward and check-in where you are at.  My favorite analogy here is thinking about the safety talk on airplanes.  What is said to do if the oxygen masks are released?  "Put your mask on first and then help children and others."  Why?  Because if you are helping others before, you may run out of oxygen yourself.  When checking in with ourselves, we need to make sure we are in a space to help others...if not, we need to say "no."

There are so many different types of boundaries in this world from what we do with our day, how we interact with others, our bodies, our values...

Here are some general tips that can be applied to most situations:

1. Saying "no" is an area that many of us struggle with. If you feel overwhelmed, taken advantage of, feel like you're the only one doing things, constantly tired from doing too much, you most likely need to say "no" more.

What keeps us from saying "no?"  It could come from growing up and what we were taught.  Like 'being nice.' Like helping others is an important value.  Possibly there's the belief of 'not good enough' so doing a lot is a way to prove your worth.  Sometimes feeling's what you 'should do.'

The most important part is learning to set a boundary with ourselves first.  We have to start practicing putting ourselves and our well being as a priority.  Think of all the things you may already do to take care of yourself like exercise, eating well, getting good sleep, taking vacation.  If you find yourself throwing these things out of the window first to accommodate others, it's time to say 'No, I'm not compromising these things anymore' to yourself.  These are the things that keep us able to help out and fulfill our roles effectively.  If we let them go, usually we suffer, and that is not okay.

PRACTICE: Choose one area of self-care that you will not compromise for the next week.  I guarantee there will be some difficult emotions like guilt that come up, but do it despite that feeling and notice how you feel and are functioning by the end of the week.

If another person is reactive when you say, 'no,' let them know you have to do your own self-care and not doing it will put you in a place that's not healthy.  If they still protest, let them.  You aren't responsible for another person's reaction and making them feel better...especially if it makes you worse off.

2. Saying 'yes' is necessary when we are becoming too rigid with our 'nos.'  Are you feeling isolated, not enjoying life or activities you once did, are you feeling overwhelmed with the 'have tos' and not doing enough of the 'want tos?'  Then you may need to practice saying 'yes' to social, fun activities. 
Saying 'yes' to self-care and relaxation time.

PRACTICE: Say 'yes' to a fun activity this week to just enjoy and be around others in a fun setting.

(Note: usually saying 'no' and saying 'yes' happen at the same time.  Saying 'no' to working past 5:00pm so you can say 'yes' to that free summer concert).

3. Sometimes it's not about setting boundaries, it's about letting go of them.  Sometimes our own boundaries create stress that's unnecessary. Food can be a good example of this.  Eating healthy at home is much easier than eating out or at another person's home.  If part of eating healthy is not eating any processed foods and sticking to this religiously may cause you to miss out on some events because you're stressed about the food. Take a break!!  Every once in a while, go out to eat or enjoy
social time at a friend's house and allow yourself to let go of this intention for that meal.  It will be okay and the benefits of being social may far out weigh one meal where you may have processed food.  Remember, if we are too rigid and causing stress reactions in our bodies, whatever "healthy" thing we are doing is no longer healthy.

PRACTICE: Notice an area where you have a tendency to be rigid and striving to obtain perfection. Allow yourself to let go of it and enjoy a moment.  (Example: Certain rules at home for your children and letting some of these rules go if you are on vacation).

4. Communication is a big part of setting boundaries.  There are four basic ways we communicate: Aggressive, Passive, Passive-aggressive, and Assertive.  The first three tend to have flavors of control, manipulation, and a lot of times don't feel good afterwards. Practicing more assertive communication can be more effective, help feel better because you've been respectful to yourself and to others, and a lot of times end up with less 'side-effects' like resentment and guilt.  Being assertive means you are directly responding (not reacting) to a challenge/ conflict, working on understanding the other person while also stating how you feel, and working towards a compromise that takes both people's needs into account.

An example to understand different types of communication: Going out to eat, you order a burger and ask that they withhold a sauce on that burger.  The burger is brought with the sauce on it. 

- Aggressive: (yelling) "What the hell!  I said no sauce.  You are so incompetent!  I want to see your manager!"
- Passive: Looks at the burger, doesn't say anything and doesn't enjoy the meal.  Another person encourages this person to let the server know and this person says, "No, I don't want to be a bother. It's not that important."
- Passive-Aggressive: Same as passive and then bad mouths the restaurant to all their friends.
- Assertive: Getting the attention of the server states, "Excuse me.  I ordered the burger without sauce and it came with it.  I'd like a burger without the sauce."

PRACTICE: "I" statements can be a great tool in assertive communication.  Here's a template to try:

"I feel __________, when _________.  I hope (or need) ___________. "

The first 'blank' is an emotion (not 'like' or 'that').  The second 'blank' is a being specific and concise about the situation the may have created the emotions.  The third 'blank' is letting the other person know what could be done differently or what you will do differently in the future.

Example: "I felt annoyed after I asked you to put the dishes away, you agreed, and then a hour later it was not done.  I hope that when you agree to something you'll follow through and if you don't agree, let's talk about it."

My encouragement is to choose one of these areas to practice and go with it, notice what happens!  Remember, it takes time and practice to learn how to set healthy boundaries and it will get easier!