Boundaries define us in many ways. They highlight the edge of “self” and the beginning of “other.” They help us by fencing off our personal space, our work space, and our sanity. They are the signs that broadcast to others CAUTION, KEEP OUT, or ROUGH ROAD AHEAD! When used correctly, they reflect our respectful, adult ego state mindfully managing our relationships in the day-to-day. When used poorly, they break and enter, trample toes, or inadvertently fly wide open.
How you feel about yourself, and how others treat you are determined by the boundaries you set and how well you enforce them. In our two August “Chai Chat” shows, we explore this topic in some depth, revealing that acting from a regressed ego state can surely lead to trouble. Here’s a prevalent example. You are a good worker and want to be appreciated and acknowledged for your competence and dedication. Your boss appeals to your loyalty by requiring you to work many extra hours on a high priority project. You are asked to work through your vacation days, holidays, and sick days, being assured they will “roll over” and you can enjoy paid time off at the end of the project. The project lasts a year and a half, and you learn that it is against company policy to “roll over” paid time off. You were the good little boy or girl and now you are out of luck. What went wrong in boundary land? You failed to set them, hoping your company and boss would take care of you. Sorry.
This leads us to the crucial topic of “self-parenting.” If you do not parent yourself well, no one else will. It’s not their job. It’s yours. Eric Berne, MD explains this in detail in his transactional analysis theory. We most often parent ourselves as we were parented, or in reaction to the way we were parented. This is usually not the best policy. (After all, that is why we were in therapy, right?) Besides keeping out the unwanted (saying “No”), there is also the option of allowing in what is wanted (saying “Yes”). However, if we are critical in our self-parenting, we will have rigid boundaries and be unable to accept accolades and compliments. Not a pleasant pattern.
So I suggest that you reflect on your boundaries, and also on how boundaries are handled in your workplace. “Best places to work” respect employee boundaries and set healthy workplace boundaries. People are not overworked, they are listened to, and they are highly compensated for their service and work product. What if you don’t work in a place like that? Remember it is your responsibility to parent yourself. This means to show up, speak up, and shove off if your workplace is not a healthy one. You always have choices. And it is always your responsibility to make the ones that serve your physical, mental and emotional health. Got boundaries? Hope so, because the good ones go a long way!