As we race through life, it is very easy to find ourselves going from one obligation to another. It is normal for us to juggle multiple critical responsibilities at one time, including the combination of studying, working, raising children, caring for a loved one and volunteering. Of course, these combinations change somewhat with each life passage. However, in all cases, when we try to juggle too much and get sucked into doing too many things for others, we face a loss of stability and control over our lives.
During my last years of work before retiring, I found that with each day more and more demands were being assigned to me. My boss’s favorite line was, “you can handle it.” And, because I wanted to please and enjoyed receiving praises for a job well done, I kept taking on more and more responsibilities until I didn’t have enough hours in the day to do what I needed to do well. I found myself being pulled into too many directions. Overall, I was compromising my confidence, value, and self-respect by not establishing better personal boundaries.
Even as older adults, you can suddenly find yourself serving as the primary caregiver to a spouse, disabled child, grandchildren, or older parents. As caregivers, you may have so much empathy for your loved ones that you find yourself doing everything for them and ultimately crippling your own well-being. This can also happen when volunteering. More than not, it can become easy to let your passion and commitment to a special cause divert you away from maintaining a healthy, well-balanced life for yourself.
In our professional and personal lives, learning how to set healthy personal boundaries is essential for maintaining our own self-worth and well-being. Having the ability to establish our own course in life and to say “no” to others when necessary are important ingredients to success. It is our way of communicating to others that we value ourselves and will not allow others to define us.
What are healthy personal boundaries?
Healthy personal boundaries can be defined as the limits we set with other people and reflect what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behavior towards us. The ability to know our boundaries generally comes from a healthy sense of self-worth, or valuing ourselves in a way that is not contingent on other people or the feelings they have toward us.
To set personal boundaries allows you to preserve your integrity, take responsibility for who you are, and take control of your life.
How do you establish healthy personal boundaries?
Exercise your rights to personal boundaries.
It is your right to determine and act upon how you allow others to treat you. By creating boundaries, you are protecting your own self-worth, sense of identity, and well-being. To take responsibility, set clear and decisive limits so that others will understand them. Communicate your boundaries to those key people and be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them.
Learn to say no.
Many of us tend to want to please others and often find ourselves at a disadvantage by putting them above our own best interests. We don’t want to be selfish, so we put our personal needs on the back burner often to our own detriment. Call it “selfishness” or simply making yourself a priority, a certain amount of this is essential for having healthy personal boundaries. It doesn’t benefit anyone if you lose your identity or compromise your health and well-being in the process of “pleasing” others.
Finding the balance.
There are always pros and cons in every decision that we make. Be thoughtful before saying yes or no to something. In your professional and/or personal life, carefully evaluate critical issues before making a final decision. Weigh out the positive and negative impacts of your decisions on you and others both in the short and long-run. Make sure that you are comfortable with your decision before clearly communicating the outcome and your rationale to others. Once your decision has been made, do not be afraid to tell others when they have crossed the line, ignored your boundaries, or treated you disrespectfully.
Have faith in yourself.
Ultimately, you know what is best for you. While it is wise to solicit input from others as part of the decision-making process, don’t let anyone else make the decisions for you. Healthy boundaries make it possible for you to respect your strengths, abilities, and individuality as well as those of others. Signs that you are demonstrating unhealthy boundaries are when you take on the “victim” role, promote neediness, or are needy; want to be rescued, or are the rescuer. Whenever this happens, pull yourself back and reestablish boundaries that will work for you for a successful and healthy life.
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Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and a contributing member to LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.
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