Where Is My Bottom Line?

Greetings all! Apologies to you for a missed week; I’ve been doing something good for myself by retreating with a herd of horses (and a donkey….) at a beautiful location in northern York Region. What a wonderful opportunity to think and reflect. And now that I’m back at my desk, it’s time to push forward; today, with the concept of boundaries.

Last night I had what can best be described as a ‘catch-up’ call with a dear friend that I have been out of touch with for several weeks. My life has been busy…her life has been busy…but regardless of the amount of time that had passed, we were both there for each other at the end of it – isn’t it wonderful how that happens? Anyway, after our conversation, I found myself gravitating to this week’s blog topic: boundaries. Why is it that we can maintain healthy boundaries and happy relationships with some, but not with others. Let’s be curious!

I love talking to friends, colleagues and clients about boundaries because, as a curious Compassionphile, boundaries tell me a great deal about who the other person is and what they expect of me. They are relational guidelines. Some are fluid, changing from situation to situation, and some are fixed. The fixed boundaries are the ones that I call ‘the bottom line’. Boundaries are important to healthy living. We see evidence of societal boundaries in our lives every day: yellow solid lines in the middle of our roads and highways, fences around our yards and public parks; and signs in windows of shops and buildings that welcome or restrict entry. If we can successfully navigate these externalized boundaries, why is it that so many of us struggle to express and adhere to our own? (If this is you…you’re in great company, I promise!)

Personal boundaries are the limits that we set in order to communicate to others how we wish to be treated physically, emotionally and mentally. The effectiveness of boundaries rests with the person who sets them (and feeds and waters them!). Boundaries need t.l.c. from time to time because every once in a while they’ll take a beating. Sad, but true: just because you have boundaries doesn’t mean that the people in your life will honour and respect them. In fact, to some…boundaries look like a BIG RED FLAG just waiting to be captured and dragged through the mud. When these people present themselves and show you who they are…please believe them! You have a right to determine how you wish to be treated, just as others have the right to determine how they wish to be treated.

I don’t think we consider our boundaries as often as we might in our day-to-day lives. If we did, I suspect we wouldn’t find ourselves struggling as often as we do to put ourselves at the top of our own lists.  And let’s face it…if you’re not at the top of your own list, what are the consequences for your own health, well-being and your ability to care for others?  Professional caregivers (in well-supervised environments, I might add….) tend to have a bit of an advantage in their use of boundaries, as they’re often embedded in the ethics of professional engagement. In essence, they have clear guidelines not only for how they expect to be treated, but (and here’s an interesting tidbit!) for how they will physically, emotionally and mentally engage individuals who are in their care.  The boundaries are set!

In our everyday lives, personal boundaries are important to keeping us healthy physically, emotionally and mentally.  Where we often fall down is when we are not clear ourselves about what we expect from others. And let’s be fair, if you’re not sure…you either risk someone misinterpreting your limits, or setting them for you. Neither one is ideal.

So this week, I encourage you to do something good for yourself by being curious about the following:

1) What are your 3 most important boundaries and how would you describe them?
2) With each boundary, ask yourself:

  • did I inherit this boundary, or did I develop this boundary, or did someone else help me to evolve it to where it is now?
  • what would my life look life if I didn’t have this boundary?
  • how do I feel mentally, physically and emotionally when someone challenges this boundary?

…and finally, ask yourself what you’re doing to take care of your boundaries. Be curious about your bottom lines so that you feel confident knowing when they are being challenged and that you have a strategy to protect them. We all have limits and expectations – that’s what makes us so wonderful and unique as human beings. Let’s keep them healthy so that we can continue to interact and care for one another.

Happy boundary exploration! Have a great week…and don’t forget to do something good for yourself!


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