A friend of mine has been struggling with one of her coworkers—a well-meaning but overly time-consuming character that adds a great deal of stress to her workday—and she jokingly said to me, "You should write an article about how to deal with him!" I laughed and brushed off the thought until I sat down to write this week's post and found that her situation kept coming back to me. I've written before about how to stay positive around negativity, how to handle criticism, and how detaching can improve relationships, but this situation is a bit different. The coworker my friend is struggling with isn't negative or critical. In this case, it's not about removing the negative, but about tweaking the interactions my friend and the coworker have in order to work more productively with less stress. It's about setting boundaries.
My friend's situation is just one example, but setting boundaries is so important in all relationships—with coworkers, with friends, with family, and even with complete strangers. (And, come to think of it, sometimes you even need to set boundaries with yourself!) Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of living a positive and present life. When you set boundaries, you not only reinforce love and respect for yourself, but you also create perimeters for keeping negativity, stress, and anxiety out of your relationships.
The value of setting boundaries is easy to see, but, for many of us, actually setting (and sticking to) them isn't always so easy. Here are four steps you can take to implement boundaries in your life:
STEP 1 : IDENTIFY WHERE YOU NEED BOUNDARIES.
The first step is knowing where (and with whom) you need to set boundaries. Consider the situations in which you feel the most stressed and anxious These are the places where you need to set boundaries, either by transforming the way you engage in these situations or by limiting the amount of time you spend in them. Be sure to tune into why they cause anxiety or stress. Is it the time commitment? The environment? The people? Likewise, identify the people with whom you would like to have more clear boundaries. The boundaries you might need to set up may be physical, mental, or emotional. The boundaries you desire need not make sense to others; they need to be perimeters that allow you to feel comfortable and at ease.
STEP 2 : MARK YOUR BORDERS VERY CLEARLY.
Once you figure out where you need boundaries—the situations or people that cause you stress—it's time to clearly mark the borders both for yourself and for others. In the example of my friend and her coworker, one way to set clear boundaries would be determining a set amount of time (that's manageable for my friend) when the two will meet and not allowing the meeting to last longer than the designated time. Another example might be stating to someone who has a temper: "I will not conduct a discussion while you are yelling at me. When you have calmed down, we can continue talking." The most important thing is to make the boundaries clear to others. If they don't know what they are, they can't very well stay within them. But keep in mind that there's no need to defend or explain your set boundaries; they are there to protect your emotional well-being and that is reason enough.
STEP 3 : CLEAR YOUR SPACE OF GUILT + ANXIETY.
One of the hardest things about setting boundaries is not feeling guilty or anxious about them. For example, if you set a boundary with always-tardy friend (such as stating that you will not wait around for him or her if s/he is more than 15 minutes late), you might start to feel anxious that s/he won't want to spend time with you if you won't wait around, or you might feel guilty about valuing your time so much, attempting to validate the other's lateness by listing potential reasons for the tardiness. It can be tough not to feel some anxiety or guilt related to setting boundaries, but keep in mind that (1) boundaries will help you live a more positive, present life and (2) those who don't respect your boundaries aren't the kind of people you want in your life.
STEP 4 : KEEP DEFENDING YOUR PERIMETER.
After you have identified and clearly determined what your boundaries will be, it's crucial to maintain those boundaries by not allowing others to bulldoze them or by not allowing yourself to discredit them. Once boundaries have been established, don't give in and allow people to cross lines you don't want to have crossed. You've set these boundaries for a reason and they should be honored by those around you (and by yourself!). Sometimes staying strong will be tough, but doing so is essential for keeping your boundaries in place and creating environments in which you feel positive, respected, and empowered. No matter what other people say, no matter what the world throws at you, always do your best to defend your boundaries.