This topic comes up all the time and I hear people often say “I’m rubbish with boundaries because I can’t say no”
Why do you struggle so much with boundaries and why do you think they are just about saying no?
Particularly for women, we have had it ingrained into us that if we have boundaries, then we are selfish. If we are not always available for other people, then we are selfish.
In my corporate days when I became firm with my boundaries, I would get told I wasn’t a team player, I was being selfish, that I wasn’t helpful enough, that I was cold hearted, or I wasn’t committed enough. What I came to realise was that was their issue, whilst some were personal attacks on me, most were because people weren’t used to women setting boundaries. If one of the men said ‘give me an hour’ or ‘I don’t start work till 10am on a Wednesday’, that was accepted. But not if a woman said it.
I was constantly expected to tweak, flex, bend and break my boundaries for the sake of others. Similarly at home, if my husband at the time said ‘this is what I do on a Friday night’, that was accepted by our family and friends. If I said the same, I would be badgered and asked to change it or move it.
Sadly there is still a gender divide when it comes to boundaries.
As women we are still seen to be and expected to be the nurturers and available and on hand for everyone else.
But we’ve got to show and be confident to say that these are my boundaries. If it pisses people off, then that’s what happens and the more we respect and communicate our boundaries, other people will too. And if there are people who don’t respect them, then they’re not your people.
Things come up at the last minute, we get that. We understand that we may have to break our boundary as a one-off. But if something is seen to be a crisis and we are automatically asked to help, we have to be confident in asking; can someone else help instead? Am I best suited? Can you delegate?
The priorities for other people don't always have to be your priorities.
I had an amazing exec assistant when I worked in corporate and her magic line was “your inability to manage your time and priorities does not make it a priority for Kelly”. She was an amazing gatekeeper for me and often I wouldn’t see any of those messages.
It wasn’t always about saying no. Saying no and implementing boundaries can be two sides of the same coin and sometimes separate. Our ability to say no is a skill we need to learn. Saying no can be about letting go of people pleasing, about self respect and living and leading from our core.
When we are not living and leading from our core, the need to say yes to everything and people pleasing, can become overwhelming.
My non-negotiable boundaries are:
Time I take for myself everyday
Ensuring every single thing I do is aligned to my core values
Women are actually brilliant at saying no! Because we are already saying no to ourselves all the time. Every time we say yes to everybody else, we are saying no to ourselves.
If I say yes to a big client project knowing that if I say yes it will jeopardise my well being and/or values, I’m saying yes to that client and no to myself.
Implementing boundaries isn’t always easy, we have to step outside our comfort zones. If we don’t have those moments of discomfort whilst learning to say no and learning to assert our boundaries, we are going to continue in the same situation we are already in over and over again.
If you think about the four core-ners:
It all starts with self. If we are not doing it for ourselves, the bigger impact of not having those boundaries is it will start to impact our relationships, work and our world.
Start with: these are my boundaries and this is why my boundaries are important to me.
Then we implement them, communicate them and they help to improve our relationships and our work and the world.
I had a chat with someone recently and she said she doesn’t understand why she gets so frustrated when people overstep her boundaries. I asked her if she has communicated her boundaries effectively and she said no, as she’s not really sure what they even are. So we explored that and she understood that she needed to get clear with what they are, communicate and be really firm when implementing them.
We can’t get annoyed with people who overstep this invisible boundary, if they don’t know it’s there. People aren’t mind readers.
It starts with us. What boundaries do I need for myself? What boundaries do I need for my relationship? What boundaries do I need for work? What boundaries do I need in my world?
Put your stake in the ground and establish your boundaries and then have the confidence to communicate that to others.
So it’s not always about saying no, it’s about saying I’m not comfortable doing that as it crosses my boundaries. That doesn’t fit with my areas of responsibility. That’s not within my remit. That doesn’t sit right with me. No, I don't do that. No, I don't tolerate that.
If you have boundaries but you are always bending them, stretching them, flexing them or breaking them, other people will always expect it from you.
Don’t waste your valuable energy getting pissed off with people, if it’s you that’s not standing firm and communicating your boundaries.
In 2013 Kelly had a successful leadership career, yet she was burned out, exhausted, and missing out on life with family.
Determined to enjoy the success that she had earned, she's learned to create a life of balance and boundaries that is also highly successful. Today at kellyswingler.com, Kelly helps women leaders all over the world to prevent and recover from burnout without giving up their career or jeopardising their wellbeing.