Whenever I head off to the beach, there are a few essentials I always have on hand: water, sun screen, hat, towel, flip flops, wrap, a paperback novel, and – if there is any visibility – goggles. Many of these offer me protection; they create a boundary between my body and the sand and the sun and the wind. I take these essentials with me as a way to keep myself healthy.
Like the beach essentials, boundaries help both to maintain your personal privacy and safety, and to manage your stress levels, time and priorities. Tending boundaries “beach style” is attending to your known vulnerabilities by preparing and setting limits, just as you would at the beach. Wear sunscreen. Limit time in the direct sun. Use flip flops on the hot sand.
Growing up I understood boundaries around safety. In college I didn’t let sketchy people inside my personal space. “I just need a place to crash for the night. Can I stay at your place?” says insistent person I just met who keeps touching me even when I step away. “No.” was an easy answer. I had a boss who screamed at and belittled people regularly. I didn’t understand why people put up with it. One day she did it to me. I respectfully offered to clean out my desk and leave. She was taken aback. In the conversation that followed, my boss apologized and took back her words. She never screamed at me again.
Those boundaries made sense to me – physical safety, not tolerating work place abuse. How then, years later did I end up in a relationship with all kinds of boundary problems? I met someone who was supportive of me and who had many medical issues. They asked for my help and were effusive with praise. In fact, I was the person who “finally understood”. I ended up in that relationship because I repeatedly wore no protection and in the end was badly burned. No metaphorical hat or sunscreen. I left myself exposed to the damaging energy coming at me. I got into the habit of foregoing protections because “I help people”. Looking back, I realize that my desire to help came at a price of my own health and safety. Since that relationship ended, I have had time to reflect on my boundaries, personal limits, right to say “no”.
I have no trouble remembering my hat and sun screen when I am at the beach or on the river in my kayak. These things can be harder to remember when I am closer to home, when gardening in my yard or taking a walk with a friend. Likewise, it was easy to hold my boundaries with people I didn’t know. It was harder to keep healthy boundaries in my closer relationships.
Boundaries can be tricky to maintain, but make for a much healthier life. I have learned to set limits on my time and energy in ways that fit my personality. I still like to help. However, now I set limits. For example, I recently agreed to meet with someone who is looking for support. I agreed to meet for coffee one hour before I have another meeting. That structure helps me focus our time and keeps me from jumping down the rabbit hole of doing too much. Since that difficult relationship, I have expanded the range of protections in my boundary tending beach bag.
Some of my boundary words and actions include:
“I can’t right now.”
“Yes, let’s plan when we can get to that.”
Pause before answering the phone, text, or message. Wait until I am ready to respond.
Consider my needs/priorities.
Say ‘No’ to meetings that could be an email.
Look at my day/week/month and decide where to spend my time and energy.
Acknowledge the big commitments and be sure that they come first.
How are your boundaries? When are you more likely to do without helpful or necessary protections? Your time, your energy, your priorities, your privacy are the stuff that make up your personal life. Are you spending them the way you intend? Are you meeting the commitments that you want to meet? When do you tend to not bother with sun screen? Are their specific people, or types of situations where you have trouble setting limits?
In our resources, you can find a tool to use to help you identify when you skip boundaries, and create your own list of boundary words and actions.