Thought patterns

What the heck is a boundary?

February 6, 2023

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This is what I thought they were:

1. A rope or painted white line, fiercely defended against a small red ball on weekends, by cricketers around the world

2. A line drawn on a map, invisible at the actual place and ignored by nature, that divides the earth into counties, states, territories, regions

3. ?

So if you’re confused, you’re not alone….

Curiously intangible and invisible, from what I read and heard, I seemed to need them badly, and really strong ones at that. Or maybe flexible ones…? Everyone talked about them, they seemed the solution to everything, but I had no idea what they were.

Why would I need ‘strong boundaries around my work hours’? Surely I just worked until I was done? Until I had done what’s expected and was too tired to go on?

What do I need boundaries in my relationships? I just need to grow that thicker skin.

Hmm, or maybe not?

So where are these invisible boundaries of mine? How many do I need? What should they look like?

As usual in a state of confusion, I put some research in.

What I didn’t realise was that as a people pleaser, as so many Quiet Leaders are, it’s common to have weak, leaky or non-existent ‘boundaries’. No wonder I didn’t even know what one was.

The Cambridge dictionary definition was helpful: ‘’a real or imagined line that marks the edge or limit of something’’

OK so that’s a start, but the edge or limit of what? How does this apply to us all personally?

It turns out the ‘edge’ is the limit of where we feel comfortable. Within the boundary is where we need to be, to navigate life comfortably. And everyone’s edge is different.

As Quiet Leaders, it’s likely you’re introverted, and more sensitive and empathic than others. So as a child you may have absorbed the message that your quiet discomfort is not important, even dismissed, so that others aren’t ‘upset’ e.g. kissing a relative, not leaving parties and gatherings when you’re overwhelmed. No wonder it’s hard to recognise and honour your comfort, let alone taking steps to protect yourself, now. You’ve got the message that there’s something wrong with you that needs fixing.

But there isn’t and it doesn’t.

So where to begin?

Well, most people aren’t going to be able to guess your boundaries, and they’re going to be different at work, at home, with friends, and in respect of emotions, of physical things, and of time.

So what could these be? If you’re being really brave?

🐞 You’re unwilling to tolerate being talked down to in the workplace?

🐞 You’ll leave work without fail, barring genuine emergencies, by 5.30pm?

🐞 You will not tolerate continual unexplained lateness by a friend?

But easy to say yet not so easy to do? Because you’re going to risk making other people uncomfortable, it goes against beliefs from childhood, and you’ve kept yourself safe by pleasing others. You’re going to pick up on those feelings, and in the past your discomfort has been so much less important than causing it in others.

But what is the cost of doing nothing to you?

As with everything, communication is key – some you may need to communicate upfront (I’ll leave if you’re more than 15 minutes late without explanation), some you may have to wait until they’re breached (someone was disrespectful to you in a work meeting, so you speak to them afterwards about it). Letting it slide causes resentment, anxiety and maybe the end of a close or productive relationship.

This may feel daunting, but tiny steps are key here I have found for myself and my clients.

And if even identifying where your important ones are is tough, here are a few questions to ask yourself. Maybe in a journal, or take them for a walk…

1. What drives you mad, what frustrates you about people? Deep down (even if you’d never dare say so and don’t even like thinking so, but boy are you resentful of them). Is it people who just leave work at 5pm and walk away without a care in the world?

2. How are you judging them? They’re not committed, not one of the team, they’re selfish leaving everyone else to stay on…?

3. Reflect honestly on what little part of you needs and wants to do what they do – to leave on time and not worry, to rest, relax, put the children to bed or walk the dogs in daylight?

This may be the area to work on.