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  • Writer's pictureJessyca Stoepker

Boundaries: An important part of your self-care routine

Can we just reflect on the fact that it is already April, as in A-P-R-I-L, 2019?!? Okay, thanks.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone was 200% ready for spring to come this year. Between the unprecedented storms and ice, power outages, high heating bills, and road damage, Michigan took a beating this winter.

Personally, I’m ready for spring because the sunshine pulls me outside. Like many, I become more social, more positive, and definitely more active in the warm months. My brain is free to wander; instead of lying around inside overeating and stressing about the projects I should be finishing up, I’m out on a hike or walk in the park, thinking about nothing but the smell of thawing earth and way the trees sway in the breeze.

As I mentioned in my 2018 wrap-up post, I struggled with concrete work/life boundaries this past year. During the first months of 2019, however, I finally hit a wall. Actually, it was less of a wall and more like a pit of despair—not only could I not climb out of the stress-hole I dug myself into at work, but I felt even more trapped within my personal relationships.

It became clear that I had to reevaluate how I balanced my energy, and, in essence, reevaluate my sense of self. So, with the help of an amazing counsellor, I constructed (and made plans to maintain, very important!) some personal boundaries. The first step was to familiarize myself with what that really meant.

Psych 101: Defining boundaries

Daniel Robin puts it beautifully in his piece: "Like two nations caught in a territory dispute, human boundaries are invisible--and often violated. Boundaries are limits that are always present, spoken or unspoken, honored or overstepped. A so-called "healthy" boundary reflects balance between distance and intimacy, between time spent working and at leisure, between your interests and mine."

There are many types of boundaries, and often people have them without even realizing it. These mental "lines" in various aspects of our lives define what we allow and what we do not allow--physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually, socially, and professionally.

Here's an example: you're a rookie marketing specialist for an up-and-coming firm in Grand Rapids. You want to look good in your field, so you let yourself take work home once or twice a week to catch up or get ahead on campaign projects. However, after office hours you make sure not check your email or take any work-related phone calls, and you never work on projects in your bed (your place of zen). Doing those things would be compromising your relaxation and family time, which are important to you. It would be crossing the line.

Boundaries are unique to each person--and, sometimes, to each situation. As a parent, you might interact with each child differently based on their age, their needs, and their expressed desires of privacy. Some children like to tell their parents all about their most recent crush at school, while others might be embarrassed and keep those pages in their diary hidden. Both choices should be equally respected.

Recently, I've been happy to see a lot of videos in elementary classrooms where each child chooses how they would like to be greeted in the morning. This allows for the kids to learn that they are in control of their bodies, and others should respect their choices and personal boundaries--a lesson some adults should take notes on...

This article by Joaquin at the Positive Psychology Program does a wonderful job examining just how important healthy boundaries are as a self-care component in all aspects of our lives. It elucidates how "in work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries lead to resentment, anger, and burnout." No wonder I was a ball of stress. In addition to examining parent-child boundaries (which I don't see enough of, quite frankly), the article also provides free guides and worksheets to examine your own.

Separating "me" from "not me"

“A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place when you begin and the other person ends.”

While doing the "homework" my counsellor assigned, I came across this quote and it stopped me in my tracks. THIS is what I had been searching for. THIS is what I knew I needed, even if I didn't necessarily want it.

It's extremely difficult for me to separate my own "self" from others'. Their feelings become my feelings, and I absorb the tension in any room like a sponge. I often interpret the things that people say as law instead of opinion, and I'm a classic people-pleaser. Most times, it's hard for me not to feel selfish when separating myself from others' problems.

In past relationships, I couldn't be happy if my SO wasn't. I also lost much of my personality and instead took on traits of theirs. I learned to like my SO's hobbies and forgot about my own. I unconsciously changed my opinions to reflect theirs. My future looked less like my dreams as a kid and more like a way to keep me and my so-called "soulmate" together.

Even outside of a relationship, I feel responsible for other people's happiness. Which is where the next quote comes in:

“Boundaries help someone define themselves as a person—rather than simply part of a group…and can help someone decide what they will or will not hold themselves responsible for.”

These quotes both come from some basic mental health literature that my counsellor provided me, and they helped me create the outline for my own. Below, I list some I created that fit with my current lifestyle, knowing that these items might very well change as I grow as a person. As simple as they might read, it took me a surprisingly long time to come up with them. These are pretty generic and by no means exhaustive--obviously, I'm not going to throw all my personal stuff on the internet, but it always helps to have a model.

  1. I will be passionate and fulfilled in my career. I will get an advanced degree and continue to challenge myself.

  2. I will have my privacy and will not allow others to go through my phone, laptop, or notebooks.

  3. I will have my own memories, moments, and friendships separate from my SO.

  4. I will speak up if something bothers me.

  5. I will limit discussing my thoughts on religion and politics at work.

  6. I will only have one drink during work functions or in front of coworkers.

  7. I will only change for myself.

  8. I will be happy on my own, and my SO will only add to my happiness.

So, did it work? Am I cured? Sorry, but the battle isn't even close to being over.

I struggle to maintain my boundaries every day, especially on my "off" days--and, until I get used to putting myself and my values first, it may always be that way. That being said, I already do feel a difference. The "lines" in my head are much more defined and visible. I can recognize when I need to slow down, step back and analyze a situation more objectively, or work through anxiety-producing thoughts by writing down rational counterstatements (wow, my counsellor would be so proud if she read this).

Like I've said before, self-care is more than bath bubbles and treating yourself. Self-care is discipline and self-management, too. Healthy boundaries are a sign that you love yourself enough to be intentional with who and what you let into your life. So give yourself time for reflection. You're worth it.

Until next time,


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