When we don’t have limits or clear boundaries, we can easily find ourselves overwhelmed and stressed. A friend, for example, once confessed she felt overwhelmed and taken advantage of at work. During regular work hours, her days were filled with back-to-back meetings, meetings she was required or encouraged to attend.
The consequence was that she had little or no time to actually do her job during regular work hours, and instead found herself doing work at night and on weekends just to complete basic tasks. Without a clear separation between work and life, work started to consume all her time. It was unhealthy, unfair, and she needed to make a change.
A Boundary is something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.
In the parlance of self-help, my friend needed to establish boundaries. She needed to clearly define when she would work and what was appropriate. Without clearly defined boundaries, she had no life, she was stressed and overwhelmed, and, unsurprisingly, her health suffered.
My friend resolved to set boundaries. She quickly found, however, that setting such boundaries is not always as easy as self-help books and gurus like to make it out to be. As soon as she started defining when she’d work and what was appropriate for her, she discovered new obstacles and pressures. Colleagues, bosses, and others found her need for limits confusing, because they had been unaware of the extent of her problems. In the end, it took months, but she was able to work out a better work/life balance and take back control of her life.
The self-help world is full of praise for boundaries. To be sure, boundaries can be a wonderful thing and a powerful means by which we can take control of our lives. Self-help gurus often tout the benefits of setting boundaries in life to deal with a broad range of problems. I find that for all their talk, however, there is a tendency to gloss over the challenges that an individual will undoubtedly face whenever attempting to set boundaries in their life.
The talk of setting boundaries that you might find in self-help books can be misleading in the sense that it can make it seem as if the process is simple. You identify where in your life such limits are needed, you set them, and your life is better. This, unfortunately, is a gross oversimplification of the process, one that fails to take into account the challenges, difficulties, and pressures one will no doubt experience as soon as boundaries are set.
Boundaries are a wonderful tool to be used in our pursuit of a good life, of the life we want. I often think of setting boundaries as simply making an effort to live intentionally, to exercise self-control, and to manage our lives in a way that is right for us. Boundaries are, in short, an important tool in an authentic life.
Consider, for a moment, why you might be motivated to set boundaries. In my own life, for instance, I came to realize that I needed boundaries to manage toxic relationships. In these cases, what I was struggling with was, on the one hand, a toxic relationship that was negatively impacting my life, and, on the other, certain obligations and ideas I had about what such relationships entailed. To effectively set boundaries meant facing the full weight of the obligations and ideas I had head-on, it meant dealing with my ideas and conceptions of such relationships and redefining them in ways that were healthy.
Simply setting boundaries, setting limits, isn’t enough. Any boundaries we set will always be challenged, because boundaries entail changes in our lives and interactions with others. To effectively set boundaries, we need to carefully consider why we need such boundaries and which of our ideas, beliefs, and obligations are causing us difficulties and stress—are causing a need for new boundaries.
We should consider boundaries. Such limits in our lives are an important way to exercise self-control and live intentionally. We should also reflect to determine how our thinking contributes to our own stress and lack of boundaries. We need to adjust our thinking for our boundaries to work.
In the end, all change and growth take work and will involve overcoming obstacles and challenges. Setting boundaries, like any changes in our lives, will take time, effort, and perseverance. Once you start taking control of your life and clearly establishing limits, you will notice the benefits and be empowered to design a life that is right for you.