Challenge yourself today
So here’s your challenge for today – come up with a plan to create and maintain strong, healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is so much more than just learning to say no. People with healthy boundaries not only identify and nurture their own boundaries, they also respect and advocate for others’ boundaries. For when you create an environment where others can empower themselves, it invariably also strengthens your own personal power.
To get you started on your “Healthy Boundaries” challenge, here are three ways in which you can strengthen your boundaries:
Mind Your Choice of Words
Sometimes all it takes to set clear boundaries is your subtle choice of words. You don’t have to negotiate, argue or stand your ground every time. Just being clear with your words can solve a lot of boundary problems without having to change any other aspect of your relationship.
When I went back to my clinical placement the following week, I still had to answer call bells. Setting boundaries for myself in that situation meant that I let the patient know that I will pass on the message to their nurse. With the nurses, I delivered the message with a phrase like “Okay, so you’ll take it from here right?” Or “Ok so I’ll leave you to it” or “Just wanted to draw your attention”. That sent a very direct message. Not only did it demonstrate that we were on the same team and that I was happy to help, but phrasing it like that also allowed me to draw a clear line of responsibility and pass the issue back to the primary person responsible for the patient – the nurse. Sometimes, you don’t even have to put up a fight or explain why you won’t do something. If you are clear about your agenda for the situation, setting explicit boundaries can help you come to mutual decisions without having to butt heads with other people even though they may have different a personal agenda.
Number Your Acts of Kindness
Sometimes, our conditioning runs so deep that we don’t even notice how many times a day we are breaching our own boundaries in our need to please and help others. A strategy that helped me gain back my power was toset a limit for how many freebie acts of kindness I will execute on any given day day. At clinical, if someone catches me free after the two bed baths I have decided I will do for the day, I’ll be clear, honest and just neutrally state that I actually have a lot of tasks pending that I haven’t been able to get around to because of the two bed baths I’ve already done. Then, I wish that nurse luck saying “I hope you find someone else to help you”. You will find over time that even though initially this sort of language and firmness feels awkward at first, the more you practice this sort of healthy communication, people come to expect and appreciate such frankness from you. The first time I said this politely, the floor nurse just stared at me. Over time though, she learned to catch me early on in the day for any help she needed and was infinitely more grateful for my help compared to when I used to help with bed baths all day. So limit your acts of kindness. The scarcity alone will make your help seem like a precious commodity. When people respect your time and effort, they also appreciate your boundaries and honour them.
Give yourself credit
Sometimes, we keep ‘helping’ people to the point that they take us for granted. Obviously family members are the most guilty of this habit, but often, even at work this dynamic comes into play. After a while, people stop noticing how much you’re going out of your way to help them. In order to make it clear to the other person that I am doing them a favour, I’ve learned to voice the benefits they are deriving from my company and support in a positive way like “I hope my effort helped you, I know how rough its been for you lately”. I recently went all the way after a social event to drop a friend home. Not that I minded, but since I wanted her to realize how for out of my way I went to drop her, I added something subtle into the conversation like “I’m glad you didn’t take the crowded subway at this time, it would have taken you an hour and a half to get home.” To some, it may seem like digging for compliments. The more you do this though, you will start to notice the positive air of balance in most of your relationships. The best part is that after you do this for a while, you start to notice yourself how much you’re helping others. That does two things – raise your self-esteem, and also helps you appreciate how valuable your help is to others. Someone with high self-esteem and a personal sense of worth is less likely to have his or her boundaries violated and personal agenda hijacked.
Once you set an example, others will tend to follow your footsteps and appreciate you more. Often, subtle change is more than enough to turn the tides in your personal life and nudge you towards healthier ways of working, playing and interacting with others.