Have you experienced the benefits of setting boundaries recently?
How are you at setting clear lines for action and interaction?
Now is a time of global boundary setting, as people stay 6 feet away, wear a mask, don’t shake hands or hug. But what about drawing lines at the personal level; in the microcosm of your nuclear circle. We have been put into situations in which we are living and working in ways that we never imagined. Even with the strictest rules loosening, it will be a while before we are back to “normal.” Under “shelter at home” or “safer at home” guidelines many of us are variably jockeying for and shunning each other’s attention. We are trying to get work done and feel connected; to be in community and quietly alone. You would hope by now that you and your inner circle have settled into a rhythm. However, what I hear from friends and distant family is that it is so hard to find a rhythm in these conditions.
What I have been reminded of is the critical benefits of setting boundaries in times of stress and close quarters. Boundaries allow us to create space to rest, connect internally and work productively. They help us build clarity by acknowledging our needs and establish our self worth by claiming our right to have those needs fulfilled.
At home, I have found defining and refining family interactions extremely helpful. In the first several weeks of shelter-in-place I felt like I was being henpecked to death by my three needy adolescents who understandably didn’t know what to do with themselves. I spent every waking moment working to answer their questions and helping them feel more comfortable with all the changes. There was constant music playing at the same time as conversations or the tv blaring. Currently, my brain can’t handle this much constant stimulus. These changes were a dramatic shift for me after having a bulk of each weekday to myself for a year. The change in dynamics, energy, and massive influx in stimulus was completely overwhelming with tangible negative impacts on my health. Once I realized what was happening, I doubled down on reinforcing the school-at-home daily structure Alex and I crafted. Most music was relegated to headphones, tv was limited to after the school days, and conversations were moved to one at a time. If still too much was going on, I put earplugs in. Also, I made sure that I clearly defined time when I closed the door to my bedroom and asked not to be disturbed. While my health challenges perhaps create a more dramatic demonstration of the benefits of setting boundaries, all of us can benefit.
The first step in setting boundaries is to identify your needs. You start by doing the work to define the what, when, where, how, and why. Sometimes there will be boundaries you need to set for yourself whether it be about what you eat and when; how much tv you watch; or when you go to bed. At other times, you will need to draw lines with others. In these cases, think about the problem you are trying to solve and how you can draw the players into the solution. There is so much personal power in having this clarity.
Once you have your needs defined, it is time to clearly communicate them. You can’t just expect others in your life to know, you can’t just begin expecting them to change their behaviors. Look them in the eye, explicitly state your expectations, and ask them for help. There may be some negotiation; this is ok. We all need to compromise sometimes. Even better is to ask the other person or people what they need and how you, in turn, can help them. Your goal is agreement on to act in specific situations moving forward in order to reduce the disorder and distress.
Now that those involved have agreed, you’ll need to reinforce that agreement until it is a habit. Breaking old patterns and forming new ones is challenging under most circumstances. In the stressful times of Covid-19 it’s even harder. Be both consistent and patient. Show up by building your habit and gently reminding the other when s/he forgets. Lead by example; be a role model to those around you. Acknowledge progress rather than harp on failures. Celebrate the success of all the players involved. Therein you will enjoy the benefits of boundary setting.
So, what are your needs today?
What boundaries do you need to set?
With whom do you need to communicate your needs?
May it be so!