When was the last time you said ‘no’ to a request from someone else? When was the last time you spoke up when a colleague or friend or relative was taking advantage of a situation, or taking advantage of your time?
Setting boundaries can be difficult and something a lot of people shy away from doing. Purely because we don’t want to be seen as being difficult or inflexible. But not having boundaries can leave us feeling stressed, resentful and angry.
Recently in my 9 – 5 job, I had a meeting with a colleague which was due to finish at midday. I had an hour window before my next meeting and during lockdown, this is my time to get outside for a walk, whatever the weather. Unfortunately, the colleague kept talking and another 15 minutes went by. He then decided to take a breath and ask if I was ok to carry on for a bit longer. I finally spoke and said ‘No, I’m going to grab some lunch before my next meeting’. When I looked back at the situation I tried to see where I could have interjected earlier to close the meeting down, but with it not being my meeting, I didn’t feel that I could. I missed my opportunity for a walk that day because I didn’t speak up early enough.
And yes, I did feel resentful of that colleague for not respecting my time and ultimately my mental health and wellbeing. But until I spoke up, he was completely unaware.
People will treat you in the way you show them to treat you. If you continually allow others to demand your time and attention and never say anything, they will take this as a signal to continue doing so. Because as much as we would others to be able to, they can’t read our minds!
Another thing to think about is that people who find it hard to put boundaries in place, also find it harder to ask others for help or attention because they don’t want others to feel the way they do when their time or attention is being disrespected.
So how can we put boundaries in place?
1. Communicate clearly
Be clear in what you want and this will help you to communicate your boundary more effectively. If you need to write it down and run over it a few times in your mind, do that. It will help you to feel less anxious when addressing the issue.
2. Don’t apologise
Be direct with your message. We have a habit of saying no to things and then justifying ourselves with a long list of reasons. Instead try ‘I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that for you.’ and leave it at that. You don’t have to give a reason.
3. Yes, you may upset some people
The people who do get upset are the people who will be losing your time and attention and of course they may feel upset or offended that you are finally standing up for yourself. And if that is the reaction from others, it’s a good sign that boundaries are long overdue!
4. It’s not about control
Setting boundaries is about your mental health and wellbeing. It’s about letting others know that you matter to YOU. And when you are filling up your cup, it’s easier to then help others.
5. It’s not a one-stop shop
It is a continual process that we experience as we meet different people and encounter different situations. Your boundaries may change over time. You may feel more confident to put stronger boundaries in place or remove boundaries because the behaviour of someone else has changed and they no longer treat you in a disrespectful way.
Ultimately, this is about you and what you are willing to put up with in your relationships. And remember it’s NOT selfish to set boundaries. If you find that boundaries are not working, either it needs to be revisited or you have a deeper decision to make concerning that relationship or situation.
I would encourage you to start small, to increase your confidence in stating your own needs before tackling a bigger situation or relationship. But it is down to you, and how you want others to treat you and whether you are happy with the way you are being treated.