Today, we are talking about boundaries. Boundaries are the next natural thing to explore once we have started letting go of manuals for other people (see last week’s blog). Our brains like to worry that if we let go of all the spoken and unspoken rules for everyone and every situation, we will be taken advantage of (ironically – no matter how many manuals/rules we have, we actually have no control of others). So, what protections are in place that we have control over? Boundaries!
Boundaries define a healthy space between you and others within a relationship and augment your own identity and autonomy of your activities. It is a critical construct in self-care for your mental and physical health, setting and achieving your goals, and maintaining healthy relationships. Boundaries, as the name implies, defines what is "in-bounds" (acceptable) and what is "out-of-bounds" (unacceptable). Boundaries can range from very flexible to very rigid.
When coaching physicians, I often work with unilateral boundaries (instead of the mutually agreed upon collaborative type of boundaries). So much of our lives are outside our firm control, so helping physicians realize they can develop, insert, and maintain unilateral boundaries can be life-changing to protect their energy and mental health.
Boundaries that I encounter with my clients involve both work-related and non-work-related settings for physical, emotional, time, and/or intellectual type boundaries.
The coaching perspective that I use in unilateral boundaries involves two parts. There is the boundary you set, and then there is what you do if the boundary is crossed. This is different than a manual because there is no real expectation that others will respect your boundaries. You get to define what you do when it’s crossed. This is not a punishment to someone for crossing it, and it's not a way to manipulate others. It’s protective for you. It’s what you need to do to honor the boundary for yourself.
Sometimes you'll want to communicate your boundaries to others in advance, but that’s not always necessary.
Our emotions give us clues that we may need to insert a boundary for ourselves. A feeling of resentment is a vital emotion to tune into. When you're feeling it, what is driving that? Is it a manual you haven't dropped, or does it feel like someone somehow crossed a line? How would a boundary look here? What would be different? Ask yourselves these questions to uncover where your life and relationships will improve with boundaries. After all, feeling resentful toward someone is not a basis for a healthy relationship.
Some examples of boundaries/actions:
You tell your chronically late-running partner, “I will wait for 10 minutes, and if you're not there (the boundary), I’ll start without you (your action).” You still drop the manual (you aren’t fuming or shocked she hasn’t arrived – you’re letting her be herself). But you set forth the boundary. When she is more than than 10 minutes late, you start the run without her.
You close your office door for focused time and put a sign up that says, “Please don’t enter unless it’s an emergency.” (The boundary). If someone comes in, you ask, "is it an emergency?" and if they say “no,” you say, "okay, it'll have to wait until the afternoon." and put your headphones in and get back to work with no drama (your action).
You tell your office staff, "I’m not working on vacation.” (The boundary). When you get a text about work, you simply ignore it or reply, "Out of office, please redirect or wait until I’m back in.” (Your action). Notice, by keeping your own boundary – you are also not checking your inbox or work email and have out-of-office notifications/forward to covering physician enabled.
One key component from this unilateral boundary is that the boundary is about protecting your personal time, space, etc. - NOT about wanting people to start behaving differently. The latter is manipulation. For instance, you wouldn’t institute “When I do x for you, you will do y in return.” This has nothing to do with your personal space or time being imposed upon and has everything to do with how you want others to behave (which we covered last week).
Now, that's not to say in healthy relationships, you don't get to have an "Ask." But that's not a boundary. An ask is something you would like in a mutually beneficial relationship, but dropping the expectation, they will follow through. (More on this in a future blog.) The boundary and your action, when broken, are about protecting yourself and the relationship, not coercion.
So, love and honor yourself enough and respect and believe the best in others to tell people the truth. Good boundaries come from a place of love, not anger or frustration. Take responsibility for your emotions. Drop the manuals, set the boundaries, lose the drama, enjoy life and your relationships more fully.
Have a joy-filled and boundaried week!
Do you know a resident or faculty member who is struggling? Our 6-week reset program may be just the thing they need. https://www.joyinfamilymedicine.com/residency-programs