Construct better relationships by installing stronger boundaries.
By Nicholas Barancyk, Headshot courtesy of Samantha Bray
Boundary: a point or limit that indicates where two things become different. It’s an intrinsic moment of change, and though the word has many definitions, it’s come to apply to our emotional lives in those moments when the acceptable becomes not, when we insist upon setting our personal boundaries.
These borders can be used in both positive and detrimental ways. However, Samantha Bray, a licensed clinical social worker, says for women, creating beneficial boundaries can be particularly challenging.
“I think women struggle with setting boundaries around their time,” she says. “They’ll do everything for their family or their kids and let their own self-care go.”
That time adds up. A study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that, on average, U.S. women shoulder 243 minutes of unpaid labor daily and 93 more minutes than men. These are minutes spent cleaning, cooking and ferrying kids from school to soccer.
But these lost hours aren’t just confined to the family. They bleed into personal relationships, sex and the workplace. Bray says having a firm line of what is allowed will not only empower women, but also inspire respect in those in their lives.
STONE BY STONE
Standing up for your values can feel like a contradiction to how you were raised, Bray says, especially for women who are “sometimes taught not to set boundaries, to be nice, to cater to another person’s needs.”
Working against that rearing can evoke feelings of guilt or fears of disappointment. But she notes this isn’t normal guilt that stems from acting in a way you know is wrong. Instead, it’s doubt about perceived consequences. They’re second thoughts that bubble up because you stood by your beliefs, and apologizing to eradicate those feelings means collapsing on your values.
When these doubts arise, Bray says the best response is to note it then let it be.
“Don’t argue with it or logic it,” she says. “That is feeding this monster and just going to make it last longer.”
These feelings can last for weeks, she explains, but they do dissipate with time. And the more women place themselves in these situations, the more they persevere through that pathological guilt, the faster it fades.
Employing this process of exposure and response prevention weakens anxiety through habituating yourself with undesired thought patterns and their triggered reactions. Bray points out labeling these patterns can help you more easily notice them.
“Name it to tame it,” she says. “Observing it disentangles you from the thought.”
THE RIGHT WALLS
When identifying values, Bray says to place everything you hold important within a figurative circle. It can be freedom, family, love or whatever core beliefs you want to live by. Outside of that circle lay the antonyms: confinement, loneliness, hatred, etc. And that circle, it’s your border.
But borders should be functional. They should be fluid.
“My boundary is not a brick wall,” Bray says, noting there are feelings that need, say, a work visa, those like anger, for instance. “I don’t want to live in a house with someone who’s angry all the time. But that’s an emotion I want to draw on when I need to.”
She explains utilizing anger is crucial for women because it grants them the power and courage to stand up and use their voice. Perhaps for that reason, it’s an emotion that receives a negative stigma when women channel it, which Bray says is all the more reason to let it in.
Balancing boundary fluidity is at best a tricky process. What stays in and out changes from person to person and is entirely dependent on your nonnegotiable boundaries. But with practice and introspection, you’ll gradually uncover your bounds, making it that much easier to say no.
Check out these practical suggestions for setting better boundaries and saying no.
1. Assess the situation. Weigh the benefits versus disadvantages of agreeing to something. If the advantages outweigh the drawbacks, maybe this is something you’re willing to agree to. However, if the stress of it exceeds the advantages, it should be a clear no for you.
2. Sleep on it. Don’t jump to an immediate conclusion. Give yourself time to consider the ask others are making of you. Sleep and approaching the idea with a clear mind may change your perspective.
3. Be decisive. Should you decide to say no to a request at work, at home or from friends or family, be succinct and intentional. Don’t feel the need to over apologize or give an extensive reason why you’re saying no.
4. Suggest an alternative solution. Maybe you can’t agree to a task currently but can offer a different fix to the issue.
5. Ditch the guilt. Once you’ve made up your mind to say no, stick to it. You have the right to say no and shouldn’t feel bad about it. Most people will appreciate your candor.