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Healthy boundaries aren’t something many of us think about on a daily basis. The D.A.R.E. drug dog comes to mind when I think of boundaries: JUST SAY NO!
Childhood smoking aside, boundaries are much more vast than saying NO to harmful substances. Healthy boundaries, when correctly created and enforced, help you protect your time and energy, get what you want, and live life on your own terms.
It’s commonplace to hear statements like: ‘If only I had the time’, or ‘I just don’t have the energy or motivation’. I’d challenge each statement to say, you DO have the time, and the reason it feels like there’s no time and you’re out of energy is that your precious resources aren’t being protected. When you start to hear these excuses in your head, there’s probably an opportunity for enforcing healthier boundaries.
Here are a few signs of unhealthy boundaries you can use to check in with yourself.
There are three common signs of unhealthy boundaries:
Over-committing is often paired with a knee-jerk ‘yes’ response. Many of us don’t realize we’re over-committing until our minds are fuzzy, we’re late for our next meeting, and projects start to slip through the cracks. Over-committing leads to feelings of ‘not enough’- there’s not enough time, you don’t have enough energy, and your to-do list is daunting and never-ending. If you’re someone who over-commits, you’ll often end up resenting some of your commitments even though you made the decision to commit in the first place. Over-committing points to an opportunity for healthier boundaries around your time, energy, and clearer insight about what’s important to you and what’s not. Once that picture of what you want is really clear, it’s easier to do the editing required to align with what you actually want to show up in your life.
2. Exhaustion following conversations and interactions with certain people.
The second sign of unhealthy boundaries is exhaustion following interactions with certain people. Sure, you’re not going to enjoy talking to everyone – but if there are certain people in your life who leave you feeling exhausted after every interaction, there’s probably an opportunity for better boundaries. Relationships that result in exhausting interactions require inner emotional boundaries and external communicated ones. Inner boundaries involve protecting your energy and deciding how you want to feel ahead of time (I have a great guided visualization for that here), and outer boundaries involve speaking your truth in situations where your energy and values might be violated, and speaking clearly about what’s appropriate in a conversation and what isn’t. Enforcing healthy boundaries DOES take energy, so it’s essential to prepare yourself for interactions like these as an act of self-love and self-care.
The third sign of unhealthy boundaries is a common midwest personality trait: People-pleasing. Where I live we call this Minnesota-nice. Since I’m not an MN native, I’ve been able to witness and study this fake-nice phenomenon without the deeply-rooted social programming many people have here. While it’s an over-simplification to say that every ‘nice’ person in Minnesota is passive-aggressive, I’ve seen lots of evidence that the overly-nice nature is actually the result of a boundary-issue. Minnesota-nice and people-pleasing are essentially the same and look like this:
I’m going to be nice to your face, and be who you want me to be when we’re with each other, and then go talk about how horrible and demanding you are to someone else. I want you to like me, so I’ll do what you ask and ‘play your game’ so to speak, but I’m not happy about it.
This is a boundary-issue. Performing a task or ‘playing nice’ because you’re primarily concerned with what others will think of you when you don’t, means you’re living according to everyone else’s rules and expectations. In a sense, you’ve removed yourself from your personal thermometer of wants, needs, energy levels, and desires to give someone else what they expect of you. This opportunity for a boundary makeover is twofold: inner boundaries need to be enforced around an awareness of what you want and need, and outer boundaries need to be communicated – ‘yes I will do this for you (but on my terms)’, or ‘no I will not’.
These boundary-issues are by no means an exhaustive list. There are many signs and opportunities to build better boundaries and transform old ones to fit each new expression of our lives.