By Kellie Whitehead
There are no fences to erect, ‘No trespassing’ signs to hang around your neck – and walking around with your palm outstretched probably isn’t the polite way to ringfence your personal and emotional space.
I worked out recently that in over 6 years, I have spent over 10,000 hours conversing, coaching and listening to women who are struggling with a life/work balance. Over-archingly I would say that so many of these challenges are created from a lack of boundaries. In both our careers and our home lives, women regularly take on the ‘invisible’ workload on top of the day-to-day routine. Usually subconsciously, and often without considering the mental and physical stress this can cause.
I’ve spent 2021 reclaiming my time, space and mental health. Saying NO a lot. Personal boundaries can be difficult to navigate but are increasingly vital to a healthy life/work/family balance and the busy woman. Giving headspace to inconsequential issues caused by others which causes us more stress than we need and wastes precious time.
Here are my 10 ‘real life’ tips to set yourself healthy boundaries:
Understand the benefits
‘Boundary’ is a strong word that looks like it means separating ourself from other people, it’s actually a way of positive connection for both us and them. The benefits to setting better boundaries include an increase in self-confidence, self-esteem, gaining back time and head space and clearer communication with colleagues and family and gives you more independence and agency – who doesn’t need that?
Shape your boundaries your way
This isn’t about making unrealistic changes to your lifestyle, family or career, but you do need to sit down and really think about the ones you would like to set. You may want to start small. Saying ‘no’ to the barrage of social invites that don’t serve you but you always accept. Taking on extra work from the disorganised colleague. Taking on more business or tasks that you really don’t have the time to. Practicing saying ‘No’ to a few things is a great way to start if you are nervous about setting boundaries. This applies to managing the kids too of course, and their demands, which in Dubai can be exhausting. Taxi driver anyone?
Understand your ‘Human Rights’
Sounds dramatic I now, but when we are overwhelmed or conditioned into a way of being over many years, it’s actually easy to normalise bad behaviour or practice, and to forget your basic rights. You have the right to be treated with respect, you have the right to say no without feeling guilty, and the right NOT to meet other people's unreasonable expectations.
Make yourself a priority Selfish? Not at all. How many years have you given over to your family, work and relationships? When you prioritise your own well-being, everyone benefits. No more shouty mum, passive-aggressive colleague, flaky friend – the list is long - and everyone will gain, trust me.
Sounds slightly contradictory, but boundaries are never written in permanent ink. This is about YOU and what you decide to create for yourself. This means that those boundaries can stay flexible. The only rules are the ones that work for you and yours. It’s not about saying, I am NEVER doing XYZ again, it’s about cutting things down priority-wise, which in time leaves you more open to saying yes or doing more or less - on your OWN call, not somebody elses.
Your emotional energy
You'll start to conserve it via setting healthy boundaries. If you are resenting people, schedules, ways of working and demands, by cutting them back and drawing lines in the sand you gain clarity and create space for yourself, whether that is simply ‘switching’ off or finding something more elf-worthy to spend it on – your nervous system will thank you.
When you ‘break’ your new boundaries, it can feel like a weakness, but it really isn’t. It’s human. When this happens, it’s easy to feel like a public rant or overshare. There is a difference between vulnerability and unnecessary drama, it’s important to understand the difference.
You might want to keep your new found boundaries to yourself, but that can become confusing and make relationships worse. If you start saying ‘no’ for example, it doesn’t have to be aggressive, but a short clear explanation sets those boundaries in the mind of others. ‘Thank you for the invitation, but we won’t be able to make it, the Saturday schedule is a bit much and we are cutting back at the moment’ or ‘ Thursday afternoon is difficult to fit in extra tasks, Tuesday is ideal if there is anything you need help with to finish the week’.
If your lack of boundaries, or of people taking advantage of such come from a place of trauma or former abuse for example, you do not need to heal alone. Reach out to a support service and work together to break through into your new identity.
Personal space – online and off
I have a weird thing with ‘phones. I HATE anyone listening to me make a call, always have. No, I have nothing to hide, I just feel like it’s a real invasion of privacy. I keep my ‘phone and handbag private and the kids know not to barge into a bedroom for example or help themselves to my personal things without permission. It’s hard within a busy family environment, but set the rules! It’s not about having things to hide (well, not always) it’s about healthy boundaries and the difference in you as an adult woman versus a family servant or public open book. In a world of over sharing and relentless attention seeking for likes, it’s more than okay to keep things private.