Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits (according to Wikipedia). All people handle stress in different ways. Ways in which people manage their stress can be healthy or damaging. There are people in our lives that have a difficult time dealing with hardships. When our world is turned upside down for whatever reason. They may be grieving a loss, dealing with a breakup, trying to handle career struggles or sometimes they will find anything and everything to complain about. It’s easy to get sucked into their negativity. Did you ever notice how your mood changes after talking with or spending time with that ‘Negative Nelly’? I’m not making light or joking about their disposition, the struggle is real. We all have people like this in our lives. It pulls us down. We can feel negative, grumpy, sad or even depressed all of a sudden. We may not realize at first that it was spending time with a negative person that affects our feelings. It alters our thinking and affects our mood in a negative way. When it becomes a real downer for us and starts to affect our own disposition, it’s time to back away. We have to protect ourselves. It may sound selfish to say we need to ‘protect ourselves’ from a loved one, I know. But when we get dragged down into what feels like an abyss, it becomes a toxic relationship. The problem is when it’s a co-worker, a dear friend or even a family member, how do you avoid them?
In my own life, there have been a few times this has happened. Actually, truth be told, it’s happening right now. As I write this I am heartbroken for someone I love. It pains me to see her hurting and watch her struggle. I want to listen. I want to to do anything and everything I can to stop her pain. My heart hurts to watch her hurting. So, like most of us, I listen and I empathize. I offer advice thinking that I might just have a positive impact. I’ve been exactly where she is now. I truly understand the emotional struggle and the mental torture she has to endure on a daily basis. The thing is people only change when they are ready to do so. We all have to go through heartache, grieving or disappointment in our own way and in our own time. I noticed lately that even after trying to help, I sometimes turn angry and upset after a phone call or time spent together. My whole mood changes and not for the better. I feel myself getting pulled into the relentless complaining. That’s when I realize I have to set boundaries. I can not allow her to turn me negative as well. Especially since I have my own daily struggles, stressors and worries (we all do) and can easily get on that ‘complain train’ myself. Knowing that about myself, I have to be careful. I listen, truly empathize, show concern, validate her feelings and even offer advice. After that it’s up to her to make a change. As painful as it is, there’s nothing more I can do.
This is truly a difficult situation. I hesitated to even write about this topic. I actually worry about her reading my blog and knowing it’s all about her. (If you’re reading this right now, I’m so sorry for all you are going through. I love you.) However, knowing I’m not the only one who struggles with this, I felt compelled to share my thoughts. Setting boundaries is not about avoidance or creating conflict. We don’t have to tell the person off to protect ourselves or even explain that you need to ‘set boundaries’. We certainly don’t want to hurt them further or make them feel we’re turning our back on them. They are not in the proper frame of mind to ‘hear’ what you’re saying. So what CAN we do then? HOW do we set boundaries? Simply step away. We can still show our concern and continue to support and love them, but we must set a time limit to protect our own mental state of mind. We know the point in which it starts to affect us poorly. Maybe we can only withstand talking twice a week, a quick coffee date or maybe our limit is only 10 minutes on the phone. When we’ve reached that point, it’s time to remove ourselves. Quietly, exit stage right (so to speak). We can plan talking purposely right before we need to be at an appointment, or right before the kids get off the bus, or prior to entering work. That way you can be honest in saying you MUST leave or get off the phone. Personal boundaries are crucial. Creating limits of acceptable and healthy behaviors are needed. Be sure to take part in positive mental-emotional activities. Many of us are people please-ers and love to help others. Love yourself that much. Take care of you. Go ahead! Live YOUR best life!