By Vikki Layton
Whether you are going back to work or finding the balance of home and work life difficult – you need to set your boundaries. A lot of us struggle to say no or stop. We like to say yes to be helpful, to not rock the boat, because we are expected to take things on, to be liked or fit in, and because we don’t like letting people down. Mums in particular feel the strain of having to say yes in the workplace because we have this fear that we may be overlooked, we are seen to be part time therefore not working hard enough, we feel like we are lagging behind, or that we need to prove ourselves (all of which are damaging and contribute massively to burnout). However, with everything we are saying ‘yes’ to, it means we are adding more plates to the ones we are already spinning at work and at home, and increasing our stress levels, whilst decreasing our ability to just be. We become a human doing instead of a human being. We need boundaries to make sure that we and others remain aware of what we will and can do, and where we draw the line.
No one else will set these for you. Whether knowingly or not, others will push your boundary, or break through it entirely, in which case you end up spending lots of energy and time doing something you don’t like or want to do. Reinforcing your boundaries will stop this from happening. It will stop the expenditure of the things that matter to you and stop you being put into positions that cause you discomfort and stress.
The way to view your boundaries are in terms of treasures (YOUR treasures to be more precise). So these are the things that are precious to you. The things that when they are wasted or taken advantage of you feel negatively because of how they have been used. Your treasure could be your time (because it is limited and you want to spend it with your family, on your own, with friends etc.). It could be money (because it is tight or you have had experience of debt and loss). It could be your kindness (where people take your kind approach and use it or don’t reciprocate). There are bound to be more treasures to you and others, so it is well worth thinking about and identifying what your treasures are.
How many times have you felt angry, upset or deflated when someone has taken advantage of your treasures or wasted them without any thought of you and yours? This is because they have overstepped your boundary. Your rules are that your treasures are yours to give, and you only have so much of them. Knowing you have a limit of treasure to give (because they are yours and you need most of them to yourself) also reminds you to say no to some things, because if you give away your full treasure capacity, there is absolutely nothing left for anyone including you.
So how can we reinforce our boundaries?
Resentment Scale – When you are about to say “yes” or someone is about to push your boundary, remind yourself of how resentful you have felt previously. For example, when someone has consistently booked in late meetings with you making you unable make nursery pick up but then they cancelled last minute multiple times….I imagine the resentment you feel is very high scoring on the scale. When the next similar request comes in, remind yourself of that feeling, the inconvenience, the using of your treasures, and communicate your boundary.
Who will support your boundaries? – We are often surrounded by friends, colleagues, and family on a daily basis, but what I imagine we don’t do regularly is acknowledge just who is respectful of our boundaries and who continuously pushes them. People’s reactions to us highlighting or reinforcing our boundaries is very telling and enables us to see who will support us and our treasures. Surround yourself with those who do support your boundaries and who will support you by reinforcing them to others.
Self-communication – saying “no” or “stop” may feel quite strange at first and you may feel guilty. This means that you’re boundaries are working (remember this feeling of guilt will feel less than the resentment on your scale). Be kind to yourself and talk positively about why you need to say no and why you need to keep your boundary in place. Your self-talk is a key driver in how you think and behave, so be sure that the language you use to yourself is protective and reaffirming.
As mums it can be difficult to feel assertive enough to communicate our boundaries, especially at work where we can often feel we need to make up for the time and energy we spend as primary care givers at home, and vice versa. However, our boundaries are instrumental in helping us manage stress and overwhelm, and warding off burnout that can come when our treasures are just not respected. Be true to yourself and keep safe the things that are precious to you.
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