One issue that comes up time after time with clients is how to set and maintain personal boundaries.
Quite often it comes up when clients experience huge stress and pressure from an unmanageable workload, constantly changing situations or expectations, the assumption that you will say yes or be able to accommodate every request. This leads to overwhelm and a feeling that you have no control.
For others, their issue setting boundaries lies in their personal relationships and the challenge that come with saying no to your partner, family or friends.
This can actually be more difficult than setting boundaries at work, as your friends or family will expect you to react in a certain way based on past behaviours, and finally choosing to stand up for yourself can generate a huge emotional response from both the other person and yourself, leading to guilt, remorse and usually backing down from your new boundary.
But, allowing yourself to be emotionally manipulated in this fashion (even if they don't realise what they're doing - they usually do!) just gives your personal power to other people, and you will continue to feel like a people-pleaser at best and a doormat at worst.
"You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop and what you reinforce.” Tony Gaskins
Research tells us that people who set boundaries are more likely to gain respect because they show respect for themselves, they are also often happier and more productive that people who don’t set boundaries.
This means that setting boundaries is an essential part of your life as a whole, but especially when it comes to personal relationships.
So, what can you do?
The first thing you can do is increase your self-awareness and identify the people, situations and instances that cause you stress and anxiety. Be especially aware of your emotions in these situations, as feelings of anger, resentment, fear and guilt are all signs that a boundary has been broken and needs to be re-established.
Another thing you can do, is communicate how you’re feeling with your partner, family or friends. Sometimes re-clarifying a situation can help uncover discrepancies between what you are doing and what your partner/friend/family thinks you are doing. Continue the discussion by negotiating and agreeing on actions that can help you re-enforce your personal boundaries.
Next you should use this new clarity to help you establish your limits and communicate them clearly and confidently with your partner/friend/family. This may be establishing boundaries or expectations for getting tasks done, or it may be setting limits on how much time you spend with a person, or how much you help them. Just make sure you are clear about your expectations and re-enforce them as soon as a boundary is broken.
Saying no, calmly and confidently is another way to maintain your new boundaries. But it’s hard sometimes isn’t it? Especially when it’s your family asking. Maybe you won’t want to say no to everything, after all flexibility is an essential part of life, but the key thing is to not always say yes.
Pick and choose what you say no to. I often run through some visualisation techniques with clients to allow them to practice saying no and make it easier the next time they are in the moment.
Something that may help you to say no, is to not give an immediate response. That doesn’t mean ignoring the request, but it does mean respecting yourself enough to say I’m not sure or That may work, let me check my calendar.
Both ways allow you time to self-reflect and decide if you can actually cope with the additional demand. If you feel you can’t then say so. Or if you’re not sure, tell them what you would need to make you feel more capable or coping with the additional pressure, there's nothing wrong with a little negotiation. Maybe you say yes to this request, but that means you can't do something else, because you need to get the time back from somewhere.
The one thing you must be prepared for when you start to set boundaries, is that people may react negatively at first. You should expect this and visualise what you will do in that instance.
It’s important to remember though, that just because other people don’t like it, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do. Be prepared for a backlash from the people who don't like the fact that you've started to say no, and accept their response but don't react to it.
You can't control their feelings, thoughts or actions, but you can control how you respond to them. You can remind yourself why you are doing this and stay strong. Saying, 'I'm sorry you feel that way. I need to set boundaries to look after my mental health and wellbeing right now.' is a response that may help remind them that it isn't personal, it's just you prioritising yourself for once.
The thing to remember, is that you are no good to anyone if you are mentally exhausted, stressed and burned-out. Setting clear, reasonable boundaries are a great step towards taking back control of your wellbeing and building some much needed healing.
Please get in touch if you would like to find out how coaching can help you to explore and establish your own boundaries, whether that is at work or in your relationships.
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