What would you do if your manager yelled at you in front of all your friends and colleagues because you couldn’t stay back past 5pm?
Would you sit back down, turn your computer on and keep working? Or would you tell them nicely that you had places to be and you’d get to it tomorrow?
There’s no right or wrong answer. It totally depends on you and your boundaries. For me, it’s a no-brainer. I’ll walk every time. Sure, if I didn’t have somewhere to be and the work was super urgent, I might stay and finish it. But chances are no one will die if it gets looked at first thing in the morning.
And for those of you who know me well, yelling isn’t going to help. In fact, it just reminds me that I don’t care for stressed, aggressive people or shitty work environments.
So that was my Wednesday last week.
And this Monday I resigned from the position and accepted more client work instead. Problem solved. The decision was an easy one because I knew what I was willing to do and what I wasn’t. But the whole experience did remind me how important setting personal boundaries is.
From a young age, I learnt I had to set boundaries.
If I didn’t, I found myself getting pushed around a lot. Then I’d get mad at myself for not standing up and letting people know how I felt. It was a horrible cycle.
Like most young people I wanted to fit in and please my parents. But the more I tried the more I had this tight, queasy feeling in my gut, which I knew wasn’t meant to be there but I ignored it. I was so used to walking on eggshells and saying “whatever you want to do is fine by me” I pretty much said yes to everything.
Yes to that extra shift even when I had an essay due. Yes to going to the shops to buy my boyfriend more beer even when it was dark and I had to walk alone. Yes to completing my teammates share of the assignment because she broke up with her boyfriend and was too sad to study.
I thought if I said yes I’d get a pay rise or promotion. My boyfriend would appreciate me more. I’d get a good mark and people would return the favour. But guess what? None of this happened. No one respects a pushover, right?
People respect someone who knows their limits. Who set boundaries. Who know who they are as people.
If you’re reading this thinking I say yes too much, I don’t know my limits, and sometimes get that horrible feeling you describe but I don’t know what to do about it, keep reading.
Here are some steps you can take to create boundaries.
Recognize and acknowledge your own feelings.
To set effective boundaries, you have to know what it is you’re feeling. Is a person making you feel bad, stressed or anxious?
Most people with weak boundaries find it hard to separate what they feel from what the other person feels. I used to confuse empathy with sympathy. I’d take on people’s stress for example, but now I stop myself from doing this.
Recognize your boundaries have been crossed, and how.
Ask yourself what actions the person took to make you feel this way. Do they always ask you to stay back late? Are they always making you pay for Friday drinks? Do they never let you share your story? No matter how trivial the action is, it’s important to know the trigger.
Acknowledge you need to set a boundary.
Once you recognize what is causing you to feel a negative emotion, you need to decide how you’re going to prevent future boundary crossings. It might be avoiding the person during peak times at work, or deciding not to hang out with the person for a while, especially while you’re still figuring everything out. But in most cases the best thing to do is say something.
Make your boundary known – communicate it to the other person. Do whatever you feel is appropriate and communicate in any style that you feel comfortable – email, text, face-to-face. Some of us aren’t great at speaking in the moment so it’s OK to reflect and email the person later. Just make sure you don’t wait too long because you don’t want to get stuck trying to explain the situation if the other person can’t remember.
It’s OK to feel like shit, at first.
It’s hard standing up for yourself when you’re not used to it. I still get angry, especially if I experience backlash because of what I’ve said (I was fuming pretty hard Wednesday night). I don’t feel guilty anymore but I used to. Any and every emotion is OK.
A few weeks ago a good friend called me the Boundary Queen.
At first, I laughed and thought it was pretty funny and didn’t take it too seriously. But after the events of last Wednesday, I like the title. If being a Boundary Queen means I stand up for myself and make decisions that allow me to live the life I want, then it’s a title I’m happy to have.
But I’m keen to share my throne. If you want help setting boundaries and putting yourself out there check out my coaching package: Instant Clarity.
Do you have trouble setting boundaries?
Featured image from Unsplash.