Setting Boundaries Can Set You Free
Recently, our very own contributor Dixie Laite delved into the issue of power of women saying “No” and what it means to reframe it from its negative connotations in order to help us reach our goals. In that she stated, “NO is standing up for your priorities. NO is a commitment to who you are and what you value. NO helps you exercise discipline, hone your focus, and convey your values. NO isn’t negative – it’s your way of positively affirming and pursuing what really matters to you.”
I couldn’t agree more and want to take this a step further. We must set some steadfast boundaries on how we want to be treated and interact in our lives. Women have been groomed for generations to be everything to everyone. Now those lofty aspirations have morphed into not just being the best employee/mother/wife/friend/human to everyone around you but you MUST have it all by also being incredibly in tune with your inner self, have time for meditation and possibly learn how to make your own cheese. This road to uber-optimism is well intentioned and usually paved with inspirational quote memes. Sadly, it’s almost impossible to apply those fabulous words of wisdom to ourselves, as is.
We are humans with limitations and are probably already stressed to the max by the time this helpful burst of “You Can Do it” sunshine comes your way. The most common reaction is “How?” You think you don’t have time to take too much care of yourself aside from the occasional Soulcycle or yoga class because you have so many obligations to your work and loved ones. Girl, it’s time to start setting your boundaries. Boundaries are not meant to be a show of weakness but rather a tool to help you balance your life and determine what YOU want in life.
Dig deep, because quite often or internal monologue is still tainted by the ingrained sense of obligation to everyone around us. We feel you simply MUST do certain things e.g. you just can’t say no to your boss or your mom or your friend. Repeat after me. You do not really have to do anything but keep yourself alive (and well…pay bills and taxes!) There are things you should do and one must be a reliable human being, but that is not synonymous with saying yes to anything asked of you.
Psychology Today had a great piece cautioning women that once boundaries are set, they can expect some anger. I have learned that to be true in my own experience recently as I transitioned from an all-too-helpful public servant to the world of writing, plus-size fashion and advocacy. During any state of transition in my life, I have experienced fear, frustration and growing pains. No great changes come without something annoying, so when I got the initial shock from former colleagues when I told them I was making a career change and I would no longer be the person they could call upon for whatever they needed, I knew this was going to be the price I pay for drawing a line in the sand. At first some folks questioned my intentions, tried to cajole me to move my boundary for them or were flat out annoyed that I wasn’t going to be there to do a lot of their work.
I always took pride in my ability to work harder than the rest, sleep the least and get everything on my –and possibly your- to do list done, because I used to think the only way to get anything done right is to do it yourself. This is a notion I still struggle with and try to walk away from because delegation is key. Which brings us to our first set of boundaries:
So many of us, especially in the bustling multi-tasking city of NYC, anchor our value to our work productivity. Ambition is by no means a bad thing. I think all women should want to shatter glass ceilings with the fervor and might of Wonder Woman in battle. Why yes, cute slogan t-shirt, I would in fact like to “Slay, All Day.” How did you know?
There is just one problem. We shouldn’t have to be doing it ALL day. Sadly, we live in the iPhone era where no one is truly out of work and your stresses are accessible 24/7. This makes it impossible to decompress as required by our bodies.
Understandably, sometimes you will have a big deadline at work and need to be on call or work late but on a regular Saturday, why are you answering work emails that could be done Monday? Perhaps start setting an out of office email reply every day when you be left alone or over weekends. When that same coworker asks you yet again to take point on a project or be the one to stay late, gently but firmly remind them that you are usually the one who stayed late before.
Know your rights! Most employers can only require a 40-hour work week of you. As long as you are meeting your deadlines, not being disruptive and hitting your hours, they legally cannot fire you for wanting your weekends back. Work life balance seems hard especially for young, childless women. Way too often I would get stuck in the office late night because my co-workers had to go home to their family. Fair enough, but I shouldn’t be asked to do the lion’s share of work for no extra money just because I made a different life choice. When I felt my staying late was unnecessary but it was assumed I would, I started to tell people that I am unwilling to do that because of personal obligations. You don’t owe people more of an explanation than that. You don’t need to apologize because you are no asking THEM for a favor. They are asking YOU for one. Remember that.
Speak up. If something makes you upset or uncomfortable or if you feel taken for granted, simply tell them. Let your loved ones know how you want to be treated and when someone steps out of line. It should go without saying, but obviously when telling significant others or friends if something needs to change try to be calm about it. Yelling will just shut people down. Pro tip: the more you communicate calmly the less likely you are to get fed up and start to scream and/or cry at someone who has been mistreating you for months.
But yet again, we need to talk about the common problem of women feeling guilty for setting boundaries. We are often afraid to say no or inconvenience others with our limits. Why is everyone else allowed to impose their limitations on you, but you feel it inappropriate to do the same? Makes no sense, right? Right.
If someone is unwilling to move past their own frustration with your new boundaries and requests, the problem is with you. Structure and communication are core components of a functioning society. Anyone who tries to guilt, manipulate, harass you into doing what they want and abandoning your needs is a toxic person. Run! Some toxic people we can’t get enough distance from because they may be a parent/family member. Keep your distance and start to dismantle any need to appease. Toxic people will never be satisfied unless all their needs are met, so if they are not going to be happy, you might as well do what is best for you.
Last but certainly not least…
Now that you have put your foot down at the office or with your loved ones who have been running you ragged, you should have freed up some more time for yourself. Use that free time wisely by seeking the help of a therapist or a life coach if you feel that you need help figuring out what you want your goals to be or help managing the stress of transitioning into a new way of navigating your life. Having an independent sounding board is particularly helpful in keeping you honest to your feelings and your structure. They can keep you from sliding back into old ways.
Build a firewall from your worst critic. Yourself. Doing something new is always concerning and it’s easy to feel like you are falling short since there are things you aren’t doing. At that point, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Think about what it is that you are really asking from those around you. You wouldn’t judge someone else as lazy if they left at a normal quitting time or taking a sick day, so why judge yourself.
We are human and need know what we can and want to do in order to sustain the madness out there known as life. So with a clear vision and resolute guidelines on how you want to live and be treated, you can stand up and take your rightful place in the world.