Establishing clear personal boundaries can feel difficult and uncomfortable, but they are important to maintaining your sense of identity and protecting your mental health and wellbeing. Boundary setting is a skill that can be learned. It requires you to know and understand your own limits, communicate them clearly and consistently to others, and defend them when required (which you need to be prepared to do on an ongoing basis: some people have a tendency to push and test each other’s boundaries on a regular basis).
Self-awareness is a fundamental prerequisite to having strong personal boundaries. You cannot communicate and protect your needs if you do not first develop a clear understanding yourself. Below are some steps that will help you to identify and label your limits:
- Identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Connect with your values – the things that matter most to you, the ideals and ethical standards which guide your decisions and judgements. What are your non-negotiables? What are the guidelines and over-arching rules that shape the way you approach your life and other people? What is your bottom line which marks the minimum standards required to protect your sense of dignity, wellbeing and self-respect?
- Listen to emotional cues. What kind of situations, behaviour or requests from others make you feel uncomfortable or stressed? Instead of supressing or ignoring these feelings, consider them important information – or red flags – pointing out the existence of your boundaries. Discomfort and resentment in particular can be strong cues that our personal limits are being threatened; do you feel uncomfortable because you are about to cross or violate your values or ethical standards? Could your resentment be caused by a feeling of being taken advantage of or not appreciated?
- Check in with yourself. Acknowledge your emotional response and have an honest look at what is causing it. There is a crucial difference between the boundaries of your comfort zone, and your true personal limits. While the former can hold us back and stunt our growth at work and in life, the latter protect our core set of values and self-determination. Respecting your personal boundaries is a critical part of exercising self-respect, and we cannot expect others to respect our needs if we do not demonstrate it first.
- Respond intentionally. Consider what you need to do to ensure you do not violate your core values or jeopardise your emotional, physical or spiritual wellbeing, but remain open to growth and opportunity at the same time. Communicate clearly what you can and cannot do. Don’t forget that the way we treat ourselves sets the standard for others. It can also be helpful to keep in mind that pleasing others is not the same as helping others!
Protecting your boundaries and staying true to yourself may require you to have difficult conversations with others – sometimes you have to say “No” to something you have been asked to do. We will have a look at different strategies on how to do this next week.
If you would like to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to the QLS Solicitor Support service on firstname.lastname@example.org or p. 3842 5843 to speak to someone in a judgement-free and supportive environment.
Rebecca Niebler is QLS’s Organisational Culture and Support Officer, QLS Solicitor Support (QLS Ethics and Practice Centre)
30 April 2020